A Highland attraction is coming out of hibernation to embrace a “new normal” as it celebrates its 40th anniversary.
Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition is throwing open the doors to visitors from today after being forced to shut up shop for the first time in four decades.
The Drumnadrochit attraction, established by Ronnie Bremner in May 1980, welcomes thousands of visitors through the door each year to learn about 500 million years of history.
The five-star VisitScotland attraction, on the A82 Inverness to Fort William trunk road, became one of thousands of premises to close just days before the start of Easter Break in March, serving a devastating blow on the industry’s busiest time of year.
With tourists beginning to head north for the first time in months Mr Bremner’s son and director Robbie is aiming to salvage what’s left of the season in an effort to recoup the losses dealt by the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “Lockdown could not have come at a worse time. We closed on 20 March, 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.
“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.
“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.”
Capacity inside the museum will be reduced to less than 50% of their normal intake due to the two –metre distancing rule in place.
Additional measures have also been imposed including sanitising stations and protective screens, following a thorough deep clean throughout the two-storey property.
Passengers onboard their Loch Ness cruises, capturing the beauty of Urquhart Castle, will also be reduced from 12 passengers per hour to private sailings for up to eight members of the same family.
Mr Bremner added: “Ironically, our visitors will be the winners in this troubled situation.
“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.
“Make no mistake, these are still uncertain times.
“Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition is opening because our staff and many local businesses – restaurants, cafes, shops – rely on us.
“We feel it’s our moral obligation to try and salvage something from this season. Will it work? Who knows.”