It is a story that has been around since the sixth century, but businesses in the Highlands will look at the Loch Ness Monster with extra interest next month as they learn how to exploit the economic potential of the legend.
Nessie is estimated to attract around 300,000 visitors a year to the banks of the freshwater loch, swelling the coffers of local businesses to the tune of £30m annually.
Only last week there was feverish excitement after a satellite image appeared on Apple Maps, apparently showing the creature in the first major sighting for more than a year – the longest gap between confirmed reports since 1925.
In a year in which Scotland will be welcoming visitors from across the world for the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup – as well as being at the centre of international attention with the independence referendum – attempts to promote the association make compelling financial sense.
Gary Campbell of the University of the Highlands and Islands Management School, who along with VisitScotland will be hosting the Monster Marketing seminar, denied that official efforts to exploit the legend detracted from the magic.
Mr Campbell, who is also president of the Loch Ness Fan Club, which was at the centre of verification attempts with the Apple Maps image, said: “I think the marketing man moved in a long time ago. The Loch Ness Monster phenomenon is a product of some very slick marketing in the 1930s.” He wants to get local attractions thinking about ways of linking up.
One of the speakers will talk about how he was asked by the American actor Charlie Sheen for help in finding Nessie. While modern interest in the phenomenon of giant inland marine creatures dates back to the inter-war years – sparked in part by the success of the 1933 film King Kong – the first alleged sighting was recorded, about 100 years after the event, in The Life of Saint Columba, written in the seventh century.
But it was the famous pictures from 1933 and 1934, including the so-called Surgeon’s Photograph that was revealed as a hoax in the 1970s, which kick-started decades of serious international scientific investigation into the existence or otherwise of Nessie.
Belief in water beasts or kelpies is not confined to Scotland and they continue to exert a powerful influence on the human imagination around the world. Yet amid the pranks, the fame-seekers and the merely drunk, there have been more than 1,000 unexplained sightings.
Mr Campbell, a chartered accountant whose interest began in 1996 when he saw a “black hump coming out of the water twice in quick succession”, said the evidence was real. “Even the most hardened cynic who comes to the area will have a quick look just in case,” he said.
Adrian Shine, a naturalist who has been involved in the underwater search for the monster since the 1970s as well as running an award-winning exhibition, described official attempts to exploit the legend as “manifestly cynical”.
“The whole point about the Loch Ness Monster is that it has not been promoted in this official manner. It has arisen through ordinary people’s experience and what they see and report. It has flourished in spite of official promotion and therein rests in its authenticity,” he said.