Scotch Whisky distilleries achieved a record 1.7 million visits last year – up almost 8 per cent on 2015 - and more sites than ever are opening their doors to showcase the skill and craftsmanship of this iconic industry.
The Scotch Whisky Association’s (SWA) latest annual survey found that visits have increased by around a quarter since 2010 and more than half of Scotland’s 123 Scotch Whisky distilleries now welcome members of the public.
Collectively, Scotch Whisky distilleries rank among some of the most popular Scottish and UK attractions, with a similar number of visits annually to the likes of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Albert Hall and the Scottish National Gallery.
Visitors are also spending more than before at distilleries. A total of almost £53 million was spent by visitors in 2016, up from last year. And average spend per person increased 13 per cent to £31 from £27.
The current Scottish Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology is likely to give a further boost to visitor numbers as Scotch Whisky is a key part of Scotland’s past and its present.
In the short term, many distilleries believe that Brexit has given tourism a boost with more visitors coming to Scotland because of the weak pound and spending more at distilleries while they are there. But the longer-term impact of Brexit is not yet clear.
However, current uncertainty has not adversely affected investment in visitor facilities. Over the last year distilleries have spent money on new bar areas, staff, technology, such as apps for visitors, and staff, partly as a result of longer opening hours to meet demand. Over the next 12 months, many plan to continue to invest, for example in upgrading shops and tasting areas to enhance the visitor experience.
Distilleries reported that the largest proportion of visitors came from Germany, Scotland and other parts of the UK, the USA, and France. Distilleries are also popular with whisky enthusiasts from Sweden and Norway. The success of whisky festivals, such as Islay and Speyside, are also helping to attract new visitors to distilleries.
Karen Betts, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, said: “Scotch Whisky – Scotland’s most popular export – is known throughout the world. It is produced right across Scotland, in some of our most beautiful landscapes and some of our remotest communities. Each distillery is distinctly of its place. Their histories, stories and modern-day craftsmanship fascinate locals and overseas visitors alike. It’s not surprising that more and more tourists are visiting Scotland’s distilleries to see how Scotch is made and to meet the people involved.
“Last year, Scotch Whisky distilleries achieved a record 1.7 million visits, up almost 8% on 2015, and people are spending more than before – often to take a taste of Scotland home with them. Brexit and the weakness of sterling have given a short term boost to distilleries, and, despite some uncertainty about the long-term, they are continuing to invest to improve visitor facilities.
“A welcome further boost to the whisky industry during this time of change would be to see a cut in excise duty in the UK autumn budget. The high 80 per cent tax burden on an average priced bottle of whisky means that foreign visitors often pay more tax for Scotch in Scotland than in their own countries. That can’t be the right way to encourage more visitors and to support an industry that plays such an important role in the economy, tourism and local communities.”
Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop added: “These figures are certainly good news, showing the esteem with which Scotch whisky is held around the world and the value of the whisky industry to Scotland, beyond simply revenue generated by sales and exports.
“With further enhancements to the visitor experience at distilleries around Scotland, the Scotch whisky industry can continue to generate interest among domestic and international audiences.
“I am confident that as we see new whisky markets being opened up, we will also see a further increase in visitors, strengthening local economies in the process.”