WEST Dorset tourism is bathed in gold, silver and bronze after local businesses scooped top honours in the county tourism awards.

In an emotional and ground-breaking evening Dorset celebrated its best at the inaugural Dorset Tourism Awards ceremony, held in the Tank Museum, Bovington.

And Martin Cox, who runs West Dorset Leisure Holidays with centres at Eype, Seatown and Burton Bradstock won the award for outstanding contribution to tourism for his 30-plus years of innovative contribution to tourism in Dorset, the South West and the holiday park sector.

His Highlands End Holiday Centre also took gold in two categories as the county's best holiday park and in the sustainable tourism award.

The BridgeHouse Hotel in Beaminster also struck gold when it was named as hotel of the year.

The Beaminster Brasserie at the BridgeHouse took a bronze award in the eating out section.

Hotel owners Mark and Joanna Donovan said: 'We are totally thrilled by these awards. It's recognition of all the hard work and dedication of all our staff through some difficult times for both Beaminster and the hotel. We have always believed the BridgeHouse to be a very special place to both stay and eat. It's wonderful that the judges agreed.

"What is particularly great about the Hotel of the Year Award is that it is recognition of our total product from food, to service and bedrooms to ambiance. It involves the entire team all working towards one aim - a fantastic customer experience.'

Lyme Regis Tourist Information Centre is celebrating gold after the team were named as best tourist information service.

Lorraine Knowles, manager of the TIC said: “We are all really, really pleased with the award, absolutely delighted. We have had a really busy season and it is nice to get some recognition for the service we provide.

“We were up against some stiff competition so to get a gold award is fanstastic and a real credit to the hard work we have done this summer.

“We have a great team here who really enjoy what they do and work really hard, so the award is a credit to them.”

West Bay-based Lyme Bay Rib Charter bagged a silver as runner- up in the best tourism activity, sport or experience, just behind the mighty National Trust's Brownsea Island and ahead of winemakers Furleigh Estate at Salway Ash, which took the bronze.

Lyme Bay Rib charter owner Simon Miles said he was delighted.

“There were a lot of very big hitters in there. The National Trust is a major organisation and there was some stiff competition.

“It is very nice to be recognised.”

Ian Simpson, from the Whitehouse Hotel in Charmouth which took bronze in the bed and breakfast category said he and his wife Elizabeth were too busy to go to the awards ceremony.

“We were actually working on the night so couldn't go to the awards, we were keeping up to date with the night on Twitter and found out we won through somebody tweeting us.

“We have just done a major refurbishment on the hotel, so to win a bronze award on our first year back is a great achievement, and we are both really pleased.”

The awards attracted 60 entries in 12 different categories, each undergoing a rigorous three-stage judging process comprising initial scoring, visits by a team of mystery shoppers and final assessment by an independent judging panel.

Chairman of the panel, Professor Peter Jones said: "I was delighted to act as chairman of the judging for the Dorset Tourism Awards and very impressed with the quality of the submissions. We have excellent tourism businesses in Dorset and to be involved in recognising them in this way has been a privilege and a pleasure."

"Dorset can often be overlooked as a premier tourist destination, but the quality of our tourism businesses is testament to the excellence of which we should be proud. This is reflected in the submissions for the Dorset Tourism Awards and all entrants should be complimented on how well they contribute to what Dorset has to offer."

Successful businesses in the Dorset Awards will now be fast tracked into the South West Tourism Excellence Awards in January 2014 and then possibly on to the National Visit England Awards later in 2014.