'Long may her reign continue' – Loch Ness Monster still making impact 90 years on
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The story of the first Nessie sighting – 90 years ago tomorrow – is to be brought to life in a specially-made film at the Loch Ness Centre as part of a £1.5 million revamp.
A 1930s-style hotel bar is being recreated at the centre in Drumnadrochit where visitors will be able to watch a screened re-enactment of hotel manageress Aldie Mackay describing her encounter with the "whale-like beast" on April 14 1933.
Her experience, which was subsequently reported in The Inverness Courier before becoming a global media sensation, was the first reported modern-day sighting of the Loch Ness Monster which today boosts the Highland economy by millions of pounds each year.
The lure of Nessie – along with the landscape, attractions, historical sites and cultural events – is an important part of the region's tourist industry which brings in 1.6 million visitors a year to the area and generates about £330 million as well as supporting hundreds of jobs.
In Highland Council's Aird and Loch Ness ward alone, 26 per cent of people are directly employed in tourism jobs.
According to business leaders, the Nessie phenonomen shows no signs of abating as the the main summer tourist season gets under way.
The Loch Ness Centre, which is expected to reopen in late spring, is now putting Aldie Mackay in the spotlight in the very building where she was manageress.
The centre was taken over earlier this year by Continuum Attractions which previously helped transform the award-winning Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh into a five-star experience, and also works with ITV to provide Coronation Street and Emmerdale tours.
Paul Nixon, Continuum's general manager said although Aldie Mackay's story has been documented in newspapers and books, he believed it was the first time it had been re-enacted.
"It would be remiss not to retell that moment when Aldie Mackay came back to the hotel where she was manageress and share her story with the barman of the time who was working there," he said.
Filming has already taken place in an Edinburgh studio with actors taking the roles of key characters.
"What we are inviting our guests to do is to sit in the bar and watch that moment unfold in front of them," he said.
Mr Nixon said they have drawn on a rare face-to-face interview with Mrs Mackay in the 1980s by Adrian Shine, naturalist and leader of the Loch Ness and Morar Project.
Footage from that recording will be played within the centre.
Mr Nixon did not think Mrs Mackay would have ever dreamt that the Loch Ness Monster phenomenon would be as enduring or as big as it is today.
"There had been legends and myths before about water beasts but I don't think Aldie Mackay knew what she had started – and I don't think that was what she wanted," he reflected.
"That was not her motivation at all. It really is a lovely fascinating story."
Michael Golding, chief executive of Visit Inverness Loch Ness, said Loch Ness was a huge magnet around the globe.
"You can walk into a room almost anywhere in the world and someone in that room has heard or knows something about Loch Ness," he said.
"That is unique for anywhere in Scotland.
"I was in Athens last year for a conference and everyone had heard something about Loch Ness."
He said new webcams which livestream images from different points around the loch are also generating astronomical interest from around the world including USA, Germany, Canada, Australia and China.
"Our aim is attract people with an interest in Loch Ness and then for them to plan a visit here because what you see on the cameras is so amazing," he said.
Jo De Sylva, chairperson of Visit Inverness Loch Ness, said Nessie had been incredible in piquing people's interest to visit the Highlands which had always been full of history and mystery.
Although she has never had a close encounter herself she would not rule out there being "something" there.
"It is such a vast expanse of water," she said.
Over the Easter weekend, Loch Ness by Jacobite welcomed 5000 visitors on its boats and it is expecting over 260,000 visitors will take a cruise in 2023.
Freda Newton, managing director at Loch Ness by Jacobite, said: "Everyone wants to believe in Nessie, we see it every day on the faces of visitors from all over the world,
"There is palpable excitement when people board our boats that maybe, just maybe, they’ll get a glimpse of our most elusive friend in the Loch."
Highland PR company, Whale-like-fish, took inspiration for its name from the first Nessie sighting.
Eilidh Marshall, director and co-founder, said Nessie's draw was still there 90 years on.
"She contributes to our tourism industry and local economy, and is still making headlines all over the world," she said. "Long may her reign continue!”
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Leading tourism business leader Willie Cameron said the Loch Ness Monster had recently spotlighted in several TV programmes including Jonathan Ross's Myths and Legends on Channel 4
"Global interest in Loch Ness has never been hotter than at the present time," he said.