Global appeal of local spirit
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.