A BALLOCH-BASED cruise boat company is celebrating after clinching a prestigious tourism accolade.

Sweeney’s Cruises, which operates a fleet of passenger boats from Balloch, Loch Lomond Shores, Luss and Balmaha, has come top in the best outdoor experience category in the Scottish Thistle Awards for the west area.

The company will now go through to Visit Scotland’s national finals in Edinburgh in March.

Cruise company owner, John Sweeney, told the Reporter: “We strive to make improvements all the time and never rest on our laurels so this is a very welcome boost for the company and staff.

“Earlier this year we were awarded five-star status from Visit Scotland, so this award caps off a very successful year for us.”

John’s three sons – John, Craig and Marc – are the fifth generation of Sweeneys working in the long established company, which employs 30 seasonal workers between April and October and a further 12 all year round.

In another boost, the company has been given planning permission for a new covered slipway at Balloch which will speed up repairs and servicing when boats are taken out of the water.

John said: “It will also mean we can maintain boats to a higher standard and we will not be at the mercy of the weather.”

The covered slip is part of a £800,000 development which will also incorporate new toilets and office block.

Rebecca Brooks, chair of the Scottish Thistle Awards Industry Panel and Visit Scotland Board member, congratulated Sweeney’s Cruises and all the regional winners.

She said: “They are a credit to themselves, their local area and the entire Scottish tourism sector.

“Tourism is more than a holiday experience, it creates jobs and sustains communities.

“These awards let us recognise the unsung heroes of our industry who show real dedication and enthusiasm for Scotland’s tourism industry.

“It also offers the opportunity to recognise those people who have made valuable contributions to the sector across the country.”

More than a thousand nominations were submitted to Visit Scotland by members of the public keen to recognise hotels, restaurants, B&Bs, visitor attractions and individuals who go the extra mile to provide customers with exceptional service.