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A row has broken out among tourist centre bosses in Scotland over the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, with one accusing another of selling fake photographs of the creature.
Tony Harmsworth, the former boss of the Loch Ness Centre, responded by accused him of “palming his customers off with fake photographs”.
The row is now threatening to split the local business community, 80 years after the first modern-day sighting of the monster put the loch on the map as a tourist destination.
In a letter to the chamber, Mr Edwards, criticised the overly scientific approach taken by 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.
Mr Edwards said: “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 Mr 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 said: “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 people’s 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 the decision, saying the website was there to promote the businesses of Drumnadrochit.