The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is predicting a strong year for whisky tourism as increasing numbers of visitors find their way to Scottish distilleries to see how Scotch Whisky is produced.
With a record 1.7 million visitors from around the world travelling to more than 40 distillery visitor centres in 2016, distilleries are playing an increasingly important role in the Scottish tourism industry.
Distilleries are now “on a par with other large tourist attractions like Edinburgh Castle and the National Museum of Scotland,” said the SWA.
The increase has been driven by growing interest in Scotch Whisky — which last year announced its highest ever export figures — and investment in new visitor centres and increased innovation.
The value of Scotch Whisky exports rose 8.9% to a record £4.36 billion in 2017 — the equivalent of 1.23 billion bottles — according to HMRC data.
The figures showed that Scotch Whisky accounted for more than 20% of all UK food and drink exports.
There was further growth in exports of Single Malt Scotch Whisky, growing by 14.2% in 2017 to £1.17 billion.
Recent new attractions for visitors to Scotland include the The Isle of Raasay Distillery, Clydeside Distillery in Glasgow and a whisky tasting bar made out of a recycled mash tun by the Abercrombie coppersmiths at Blair Athol Distillery.
The new Macallan distillery and visitor centre is due to open in June 2018 at Easter Elchies in Speyside.
Figures released recently by the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions highlighted a boost to whisky tourism in 2017, including Blair Athol Distillery Visitor Centre (+18%), Caol Ila Distillery Visitor Centre (+32%), Glen Ord Distillery Visitor Centre (+28%) and Kingsbarns Distillery (+30%), and The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh (16%).
Karen Betts, chief executive at the Scotch Whisky Association, said full 2017 Scotch Whisky tourism figures will be published in the coming months, and she expects those to demonstrate even more improvement.
Betts said: “It’s fabulous to see Scottish distilleries attracting more and more visitors from the UK and all over the world.
“There has been a 25% increase in visits to Scotch Whisky distilleries since 2010 and we fully expect this trend to continue in the year ahead.
“Scotch Whisky producers have invested in distillery visitor centres, their staff and shops to ensure their guests get the best possible experience.
“As well as benefitting our industry, the increasing number of visitors is great news for the wider Scottish economy, particularly in rural areas, with visitors to Scotch Whisky distilleries staying in local hotels, eating high quality meals in pubs and restaurants, and shopping for local products.”
Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland said: “Whisky is one of Scotland’s most valuable commodities with people from all over the world coming to our shores to experience an authentic Scottish dram.
“A culinary icon, it remains as important as ever to the tourism industry with one in five visitors making a trip to a whisky distillery during their stay and even more visiting a bar, pub or restaurant to sample our renowned national drink.
“Whisky tourism is a vital part of local tourism for many areas in Scotland, such as Speyside or Islay who are renowned for their links to the national drink, and help draw thousands of visitors to the country, creating jobs and sustaining communities.
“It’s fantastic to see the industry recognising the rewards of whisky tourism by investing and improving the visitor experience.”