An attempt to make Loch Ness a Unesco world heritage site was launched on Thursday by business and tourism leaders, who are keen to improve visitor numbers and spending.
If successful, Loch Ness would rank alongside 830 other world treasures including the Egyptian Pyramids and the Great Wall of China – as well as Edinburgh’s old and new towns and the Atlantic archipelago of St Kilda.
The bid will include the Great Glen between Fort William and Inverness, the 60-mile Caledonian Canal that runs along part of its length, and the area’s flora and fauna. The organisers, Destination Loch Ness, a group of the area’s biggest private businesses, said the Great Glen – gouged out during the last ice age – represented one of the world’s great geological wonders, while Thomas Telford’s Caledonian Canal, built in the 19th century, was an engineering triumph.
The area attracts 400,000 visitors a year, bringing in an estimated £25m. But LDN believes world heritage status could quadruple that contribution, as well as ensuring the environment is protected.
According to the latest economic reports, day-trip visitors spend only £14 per trip compared with £54 per trip for the rest of the Highlands. Overnight visitors spend just £83 per trip compared with £123 for the rest of the Highlands.
Professor Terry Stevens, an international heritage and tourism consultant advising DLN, said: “I have rarely experienced such a high level of leakage of visitor spending from an iconic destination with such strong international appeal . . . World heritage status would provide the stimulus to encourage investment in tourism as well as the essential commitment to the conservation of the environment.”
Loch Ness is the largest body of water in Britain by volume, at 24 miles long, an average of a mile wide and up to 740ft deep. Reports of a monstrous inhabitant first hit the headlines in the 1930s, after a series of local sightings.
The famous Wilson photograph of 1934, supposedly showing the head and neck of “Nessie”, sent the legend reverberating around the world. Sceptics have noted that sightings often coincide with the start of the tourist season. It is estimated the Loch Ness bid would cost up to £150,000, and would eventually need the backing of the Scottish parliament.