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Nessie at centre of major fall-out

By Duncan Ross

Loch Ness Centre has quite the chamber of commerce.
Loch Ness Centre has quite the chamber of commerce.

A bitter war of words has broken out over how to promote the Inverness area’s biggest tourism asset — the Loch Ness Monster.

The row is threatening to split the local business community and has already led to resignations from Drumnadrochit Chamber of Commerce. Among those to go is the influential Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition.

In a letter to the chamber, George Edwards of Loch Ness Cruises, criticises the scientific approach taken by veteran researcher Adrian Shine and others at the Loch Ness Centre. He says visitors come out of the exhibition feeling disappointed after being told that Nessie is "a myth".

"Just about every time that Mr Shine appears in the media he talks about big fish and big waves," Mr Edwards said. "I believe they are doing more harm than good in promoting Loch Ness tourism with their negative theories.

"How many people come here to see the Loch Ness Big Fish or the Loch Ness Big Wave?

"In recent years, we have seen a decline in tourism across Scotland and maybe it is time for Mr Shine to put up or shut up.

"Mr Shine and his cronies have been making a nice living out of Loch Ness for the past 20-odd years and if they cannot see the logic in promoting Nessie then maybe it’s time they moved on, as they seem intent on destroying our industry.

"I am sure the members would see the financial rewards if we were to buy them one way tickets back to where they came from and let Nessie breathe easy again!"

Mr Edwards told The Inverness Courier: "At the end of the day there’s no such thing as an expert on Loch Ness, just people with an opinion.

"Most of the people I talk to on my boat know that it’s just a bit of fun. What brings more people to Loch Ness — my little stories about Nessie, or the so-called experts going on about big waves and big fish. They should stop taking themselves so seriously."

His letter, circulated to all 70-plus members of the chamber, drew a strong response from former chairman Tony Harmsworth, who accused Mr Edwards of palming his customers off with fake photographs and sending them away "with their heads full of garbage".

Mr Harmsworth, a former managing director of the Loch Ness Centre, added: "Today’s tourists are more discerning. They want to understand the culture, legend and natural history of the places they visit."

He told Mr Edwards: "Entertain your passengers by all means, but do you really need to fake pictures and discredit the whole legend in the process? Surely not. You are a sufficiently accomplished raconteur to keep peoples’ attention, educate, inform and keep it fun for them without resorting to fakery."

Mr Harmsworth has now resigned as editor of the chamber’s website after being ordered by the committee to remove a piece he wrote criticising Mr Edwards.

"They said it was attacking a member business," Mr Harmsworth said. "I was expecting to hear that I had their full support, but they would not back me."

He has also cancelled his business membership of the chamber.

Chamber of Commerce chairman Robert Cockburn, who runs Drumnadrochit post office and stores, defended its stance and stressed the website was there to promote the businesses of Drumnadrochit.

"It is not there for Mr Harmsworth to criticise another member of the business community, so we asked him, quite rightly, to take it down."

The row has also sparked another resignation from the chamber of commerce committee.

Debbie MacGregor, manager of the Loch Ness Centre, believesthe committee should have been consulted before Mr Edwards’ letter was sent out to all members.

"It was a decision taken by the treasurer to circulate it and then subsequently the removal of the material from the website was the chairman’s decision," she said.. "I don’t work with committees like that. You should be circulating the entire committee before you are going to make decisions that will reflect on the whole community.

"An argument like this is not good for the community, but it could have been avoided if the committee had been advised before the letter was sent out to the membership."

Mr Shine described his approach to the monster as "objective and honest" and pointed out the centre enjoyed its best ever year in 2012.

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