THE very best of Bournemouth Tourism was celebrated on Thursday night - with the help of acrobats, a contortionist, jugglers and a host of fairground attractions.

More than 300 representatives from across the town's tourism and leisure industry gathered at a glittering Bournemouth Tourism Awards Gala evening at the O2 Academy to celebrate the very best in the business and marking the biggest Awards' ceremony in its seven year history.

Nowhere was the atmosphere more electrifying as guests were treated to an outstanding line-up of entertainment which included contortionists, knife-throwers aerial acrobatic artists, all seamlessly compered by host Heart Radio presenter Paul Bunker and master of ceremonies Desmond O'Connor.

Twelve awards were presented to key sectors of the industry, including the coveted Large Hotel of the Year won by The Norfolk Royale, Best Tourism Attraction awarded to forest adventure park Go Ape! and Best Restaurant of the Year, won by the Highcliff Grill at The Marriott Hotel.

New for 2012 was The Daily Echo's People's Choice Award, voted by the paper's readers who picked the East Cliff's Hotel Miramar.

Asked what had been the proudest moment of the year by the evening's host and Heart Radio presenter Paul Bunker, Mark Smith, Director of Tourism, responded: “Something everyone here can be proud of is working and living in a destination that attracts nearly five million visitors annually and generates almost half a billion pounds to the economy.

“And this year, Bournemouth has won three prestigious awards, Trip Advisor's UK's Best Beach Award, the Group Travel Award for Best UK Resort and the Government Coastal Excellence Award, which truly reflects the achievement of the industry and Bournemouth as a destination.”

The Victorian circus-inspired evening was mesmerising throughout, with an outstanding line-up of attention-grabbing performers The Acro Chaps wowed the audience with daring feats of strength and balance on the ground and high trapeze, while Amazing Ari spun through the air on silk relying on physical strength and agility. Britain's Got Talent star contortionist Iona, held the guests spell-bound with her flexible act and Jo Foley took circus skills to a new level with her hoop, rope and mind-blowing trapeze performance.

Continuing the Victorian theme, guests dined on Mrs Beeton's cucumber soup, pheasant mandarin and strawberry and lemon syllabub, and danced into the small hours to funk band BB3.

The Bournemouth Tourism Awards' winners 2012

Large/Medium Hotel of the Year - The Norfolk Royale Hotel

Highly Commended

  • Christchurch Harbour Hotel & Spa
  • Hotel Miramar
  • Highcliff Marriott Hotel
  • Menzies Hotels Bournemouth

Best Shopping Experience of the Year - Sam & Sebastian

Highly Commended - Essential Imelda's Wardrobe Iboardsports

Self Catering, Camping and Caravanning Establishment of the Year - South Lytchett Manor Caravan and Camping Park

Highly Commended

  • Bournecoast Holiday Agents
  • South Lytchett Manor Caravan and Camping Park

Small Hotel, Guest Accommodation of the Year - The Living Room

Highly Commended

Tourism Marketing Initiative of the Year - The Whitehall Hotel and The Arlington Hotel

Highly Commended

  • BH Live
  • Norfolk Royale Hotel

Outstanding Customer Service of the Year - Brownsea Island Nature Reserve

Highly Commended

  • Discover Dorset Tours
  • Langtry Manor Hotel
  • Highcliff Marriott Hotel
  • Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway - Mr Jim Langford
  • The Balincourt

Contribution to International Education and Conference and Business Sector of the Year

Bournemouth & Poole College Travel and Tourism Department

Highly Commended - The Escoffier Restaurant Discover Dorset Tours

Best Tourism Attraction of the Year

Go Ape!

Highly Commended -

  • Beaulieu
  • Matchams Karting
  • Monkey World
  • Jetski Safaris
  • Littledown Fireworks
  • Bournemouth Balloon and S&D Leisure Attractions 

Taste of Bournemouth - Restaurant/Bistro of the Year

Highcliff Marriott Hotel - Highcliff Grill

Highly Commended

  • Koh Thai Tapas
  • FJB The Chine Hotel
  • The Escoffier Restaurant
  • 1812 Lounge Bar & Restaurant
  • Zoukinis

Tourism Transport of the Year

Front Bike Hire (Discover Dorset)

Highly Commended Purbeck Breezer Discover Dorset Tours 

Best Evening Experience of the Year

Funnybone Comedy Club

Highly Commended

  • The Escoffier Restaurant
  • Koh Thai Tapas
  • 1812 Lounge Bar and Restaurant

The Daily Echo People's Choice Award 

Hotel Miramar 

Highly Commended 

  • The Norfolk Royale Hotel
  • Guildhall Tavern Poole
  • Sea Safari
  • BH Live