Global ap­peal of lo­cal spirit

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - NEWS - KAREN BETTS CHIEF EX­EC­U­TIVE SCOTCH WHISKY AS­SO­CI­A­TION

Scotch whisky is with­out doubt one of Scot­land’s great­est as­sets, while Scot­land’s land­scapes and world-class tourist at­trac­tions have made it a des­ti­na­tion for vis­i­tors for many years. But now the Scotch whisky and tourist in­dus­tries are work­ing to­gether like never be­fore.

Around half of Scot­land’s 126 Scotch whisky dis­til­leries, scat­tered right across the coun­try, now open their doors to vis­i­tors. Each has a unique set­ting and story, as well as a dis­tinc­tive way of do­ing things, and each has their place – old dis­til­leries and new – in the evo­lu­tion of Scotch over many years. Vis­it­ing a dis­tillery al­lows vis­i­tors from Scot­land, the UK and all over the world to learn about the her­itage of our na­tional drink, its craft and its in­no­va­tion, and its dy­namic re­la­tion­ship with the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. They can meet the peo­ple who make Scotch whisky to­day and in­dulge, or de­velop, a pas­sion for Scotch.

Dis­tillers love open­ing their doors. They are proud of what they do, of the tra­di­tions and the com­mu­ni­ties they sup­port.

In the 19th cen­tury, Scot­land’s whisky barons put Scotch on the map by tak­ing it to the four cor­ners of the globe, woo­ing con­sumers from Ja­pan to the USA. These days the in­dus­try con­tin­ues to ex­port our na­tional drink at scale, but now we also con­nect with peo­ple all over the world on dis­tillery tours and tast­ings right here in Scot­land.

Dis­til­leries all over Scot­land are now re­port­ing record num­bers of tourists flock­ing to see how Scotch whisky is made and to hear the story of how our lo­cal spirit went global. Dis­til­leries are now an es­tab­lished part of lo­cal and na­tional tourist ecosys­tems, and the in­dus­try is ben­e­fit­ing from in­creased vis­i­tor num­bers along­side ho­tels, restau­rants and other at­trac­tions.

In­deed, Scotch whisky is the main at­trac­tion for many tourists. It’s some­thing of a pilgrimage for many of Scotch’s global fol­low­ers to see for them­selves where their fa­vorite dram comes from. In spend­ing time at dis­til­leries in Scot­land and with our mem­ber com­pa­nies over­seas, I have be­come fas­ci­nated by the num­ber of fans of Scotch whisky for whom the map of Scot­land is the map of Scotch. I’ve been equally struck by the range of for­eign-reg­is­tered cars in dis­til­leries’ vis­i­tor cen­tre car parks, and by the range of na­tion­al­i­ties on tours.

There is no doubt that whisky tourism is play­ing its part in open­ing up Scotch and Scot­land to a vi­brant world­wide au­di­ence. And the au­di­ence is sig­nif­i­cant: in 2016, 1.7mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited Scotch whisky dis­til­leries, and that num­ber con­tin­ues to rise.

Last night in the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment, we cel­e­brated Scotch whisky’s con­tri­bu­tion to tourism. MSPs heard vis­i­tors from all over the world spent an av­er­age of £31 per per­son on dis­tillery vis­its – to­talling £53mil­lion in 2016 alone. It is fab­u­lous to see such recog­ni­tion of the value, not sim­ply in ex­port fig­ures, of Scotch to Scot­land.

This month, I vis­ited two of our new­est mem­bers: the Isle of Raasay Dis­tillery and the Torab­haig Dis­tillery. They have both been built with the twin aims of mak­ing su­perb whisky and wel­com­ing tourists – and they very neatly tell the modern story of Scotch.

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