Loch Ness visitor attraction reopens after a year to forget
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After a year of challenges which included not only the pandemic but a devastating flood, a long established Loch Ness attraction has been able to welcome back visitors for the first time since 2020.
Usually a year-round concern, Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition managed to eke out barely seven months trade in 2020 before physical distancing measures and ongoing uncertainty forced a second shutdown in November last year.
The easing of restrictions in Scotland should have allowed the Drumnadrochit business to reopen in late April, but these plans were thwarted by a catastrophic flood.
It was only on Wednesday this week that the 41-year old visitor centre, which tells the story of the hunt for Nessie and explores the environment of the country's most famous loch, was able to welcome its first visitors of 2021.
Director Robbie Bremner said: “At the end of February this year, we suffered a devastating flood.
"The exhibition’s main fuse boards and control systems were completely destroyed. On top of the pandemic, this disaster was absolutely the last thing we needed but, after months of intense repair work, stripping out and rebuilding three storeys of walls, floors and ceilings, we’re back in business."
Despite the worst of starts to the year, Mr Bremner remains optimistic.
“Our future looks bright," he stated.
"There is plenty of pent-up demand and the holiday season is set to be longer than normal. Several of our retailers also operate guest accommodation and they have strong bookings well into September and October. As for 2022, many industry experts predict a bumper year.
"Pre-pandemic, our visitor footfall would reach 300,000 per year, if we can get close to that in 2022, we would be over the moon – so too would the operators of complementary shops, restaurants and cruise businesses in Drumnadrochit village.”
The positive signs include an increase in inbound international travel after pandemic restrictions put a block on overseas visits, while with many British holidaymakers still opting to vacation in the UK, some experts have predicted that Scotland, along with Cornwall and the Lake District, may replace Spain and France as the UK’s top holiday destinations.
Cruise ship visits, an important source of customers for the centre, have also resumed, although at present only for UK passengers, with 17 ships from six different companies scheduled to call into the Cromarty Firth in 2021.
Mr Bremner continued: “Our father, Ronnie Bremner, founded Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition in May 1980 and, up until March 2020, our doors would only ever be shut on Christmas Day.
"It’s been hard to cope with – financially and emotionally – but we are buzzing with excitement at the reopening, and plan to come back even stronger. Necessary post-flood redecoration aside, we’ve been investing in our product, revamping the retail space and introducing new brands."
The centre now hosts Scotland’s smallest and newest craft distillery, Great Glen premium Scottish gin, which produces 250 bottles a week from the tiny 28m square distillery.
"They harvest local ingredients, such as heather, red sorrel and frankincense, and add clean pure Highland water sourced directly from Loch Ness. The bottles are flying off the shelves," Mr Bremner added.