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Tourist body enlists Nessie to help highlight other Highland attractions

By Gregor White

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Loch Ness is a major attraction for domestic and international tourists.
Loch Ness is a major attraction for domestic and international tourists.

EVERYTHING looks set for another bumper tourist year in Inverness and Loch Ness according to industry bosses – with Nessie continuing to play a major role in promoting the area to the world.

Overseas visitors to the Highland capital soared in 2015, up 21 per cent on the previous year to 316,000, and it appears that 2016 may have been similarly buoyant.

While cautioning that official numbers are still to be processed Graeme Ambrose, chief executive of VisitInvernessLochNess, said: “Almost universally the feedback from members has been positive and anecdotally the word we’ve had from a number of attractions in the area has been that performance has been very strong,” he said.

“It helps that we’re perceived as a safe place to come to, but also it’s now easier to get here than it perhaps was before, with more flights into Inverness, and word is also getting out in terms of the range of activities that are available and so on. I think all of that, and more, is playing its part.”

The Loch Ness Monster has long split opinion between dedicated Nessie lovers and those who feel it paints an image of the area as too twee and quaint.

Mr Ambrose defended his group’s recent joint marketing campaign with VisitBritain that put Nessie front and centre in what he regards as a clever, forward-thinking way.

The six-week digital campaign targeted potential visitors in France, Germany and the Netherlands and included “monster-hunting tips” such as “cover as much ground as possible” by exploring the area in a campervan and “stay as quiet as possible” while among deer and other countryside wildlife.

“It was played absolutely right – playing with the ideas everyone has about Loch Ness and the Highlands, but then using it to show everything else that is available,” Mr Ambrose said.

“It’s certainly not a twee campaign and though there might have been issues with that in the past I think now it’s about a knowing sense of fun.

“There’s no point denying what we’re famous for, but you can use that to tell a much bigger story.”

Gary Campbell, who keeps the official register of Nessie sightings, backed calls for some kind of giant artwork – similar to the Kelpies in Falkirk – of the Loch Ness Monster.

“I don’t know why it hasn’t been done,” he said. “Something like that would be a clear marker that ‘now you’re in Monster Country.’

“I think that even just 10 years ago there was a feeling among some people that Nessie was a bit of a cliché and that we needed to get away from it along with the whole whisky, tartan and shortbread image. But I think what people are realising now is that very often it’s a useful hook to grab people’s interest. You definitely can’t underestimate the pull of the monster.”

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