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Monster win as Loch Ness firm named UK small business of 2019

Cruise Loch Ness was named the UK Small Business of 2019 at the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) annual awards last night. 

The family firm - which provides scenic cruises and Nessie spotting trips from its base in Fort Augustus - sailed past over 2,000 entrants and 120 region and nation award winners to land the top accolade.

Established in 1968, Cruise Loch Ness won both Family Business of the Year and the FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards grand prize, rising to the top amongst hundreds of UK area winners. The business, which has set sail with Ewan Macgregor and the Olympic torch aboard their boats, was singled out for sustained investment over their 50 years in operation. 

Most recently, the aquatic tourism operators launched a bespoke online booking system – delivering a wave of new bookings from 120,000 passengers in 2016 to 147,000 in 2018. 

After years of investment the business now runs five boats from the bank of the loch and employs 18 people, many of whom have been with them for more than 20 years. In 2018, the business launched a new custom designed catamaran - The Spirit of Loch Ness – allowing them to set sail with 354 passengers across all their vessels. 

Debi MacKenzie, director of Cruise Loch Ness, said: “After more than 50 years in operation, we’re thrilled to see our family firm recognised by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).  

“Year after year, we’ve reinvested in the business, testing new ideas and making sure that our customers have absolutely the best experience possible. While we can’t guarantee they’ll spot the monster, we can ensure that they have a world class experience in one of Scotland’s most iconic locations. It is fantastic to see the service we offer recognised.”

Mike Cherry, FSB’s National Chairman, said: “Cruise Loch Ness illustrates that you don’t need to be a multi-national to offer a world class service. Our judges were impressed by their family team’s determination to improve and invest, both through the expansion of their fleet but also through new digital technologies.

“I have been astounded by the high volume and excellent quality of this year’s FSB awards, demonstrating that there are fantastic smaller firms operating in every corner of these islands. Cruise Loch Ness epitomise excellence in small business and they should be tremendously proud of their success.” 

FSB’s Celebrating Small Business Awards took place at Battersea in London last night, attracting 600 guests from across the UK, including Chancellor Philip Hammond and the UK Government’s Small Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst MP. 

Eleven businesses scooped 12 UK-wide prizes at the event. Another Scottish winner, Liv Conlon, was named UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the awards.