Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition ready to reopen after coronavirus lockdown
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The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition in Drumnadrochit is to reopen to visitors tomorrow.
Apart from its annual Christmas Day closure the coronavirus lockdown period is the first time the tourist attraction has had to shut since opening in 1980.
"Ironically, our visitors will be the winners in this troubled situation," said director Robbie Bremner.
"Aside from the addition of sanitising stations, protective screens, and a carefully-controlled ‘flow’ through the seven themed rooms, the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition experience will be the same as it ever was – just with fewer customers.
"The two-metre distancing rule significantly reduces our capacity and, even if this relaxes to ‘one metre plus’, as it has in England and Northern Ireland, we’ll still only be around 50 per cent – great news for visitors.
"Meanwhile, our Loch Ness cruises, taking in the beauty of Urquhart Castle, would ordinarily host 12 passengers per hour, but these will now be fully private for members of the same family – up to eight passengers in total.
"I suspect these will prove to be very popular given the current mood."
Mr Bremner acknowledged the centre still faced "uncertain times".
He said: "Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition is opening because our staff and many local businesses – restaurants, cafés, shops – rely on us.
"We feel it’s our moral obligation to try and salvage something from this season. Will it work? Who knows.
"Lockdown could not have come at a worse time. We closed on March 20, little over a week before the Easter break, the start of our peak trade period, and we’ve now missed an entire third of 2020.
"It’s important to maximise the next 12 weeks until the furlough scheme comes to a close at the end of October, and then tough it out until spring.
"To compound matters, our supply chain has, in parts, completely broken down.
"Social distancing measures have all but eliminated private coach travel and the cruise season never got out the blocks at Invergordon this year, so we’ve missed out on literally thousands of shore excursions.
"Passenger numbers at Cromarty Firth were projected to reach over 180,000 in 2020, but operators such as Seabourn, Princess and Norwegian, will not be sailing until at least August or September, a huge blow to businesses such as ours who rely significantly on the cruise industry."
Despite the difficulties he believes there are positives for the Highland tourist industry to cling to.
Covid-19 has sparked a trend for self-catering holidays in healthy natural environments which can be reached easily by private car – with the Highlands ticking all the boxes.
Also, Nessie has managed to keep herself in the headlines with no less than five sightings in 2020 so far, all of them confirmed by the Official Loch Ness Monster Register.
"Usually there is some kind of plausible explanation, but these recent webcam sightings have left even us flummoxed," Mr Bremner said.
"In total, there have been over 1100 recorded sightings of Nessie, and they can’t all be wrong.
"In fact, in a year marked by so many extraordinary events, a handful of Nessie sightings doesn’t seem quite so wild anymore."