WITH Scotland’s tourism industry on the rocks, whisky is expected to play a key role in helping the country recover from the impact of Covid-19.
Distilleries are our third most-popular visitor attraction, with holidaymakers all over the world keen to learn more about the birthplace of the dram.
Whisky tourism saw a record numbers of sightseers in 2018, with over two million people from more than 20 countries spending £68.3million in the visitor centres.
And with 2019’s figures expected to be even better when they are finally released, hopes were high for the 2020 summer season until coronavirus struck.
Now as the country begins to open up again, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) believes the famed tipple will help get Scotland back on its feet, with staycationers at the heart of it.
Karen Betts, chief executive of the SWA, said: “Tourism is a vital industry for Scotland, and it’s been one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus.
“Scotch Whisky tourism is an important part of this, with more than two million visitors now coming to our distillery visitor centres around Scotland every year.
“So we have a very direct interest in how tourism recovers — for our companies, since many smaller distilleries rely on tourism for over half of their income, and also for the hotels, restaurants, pubs and other attractions that whisky distilleries work alongside locally.
“We are very conscious too that businesses in the sector employ many talented young people and also provide flexible careers for those who need them, and we want to do everything we can to ensure that these vital jobs are protected through the crisis.
“The Scottish Government’s announcement that tourism businesses can prepare to re-open on July 15 is welcome.
“The industry looks forward to working with the government, others across the hospitality and tourism sector and local communities to revive the summer season, which will be vital to the survival of many — in particular, smaller — businesses.”
With 128 operating distilleries, 68 Scotch whisky visitor centres are open to the public and a further eight available to visit by appointment.
One of the most-popular regions is Speyside — home to the Malt Whisky Trail, a partnership of nine destinations.
One of the distilleries involved is Elgin-based Glen Moray, which is also at the heart of the cancelled Spirit of Speyside festival, a whisky extravaganza with 700 events that attracts people from around the world.
Iain Allan, a board member of the trail and visitor centre manager and brand ambassador at Glen Moray, agrees whisky can help the tourism industry bounce back.
He says: “From a tourism perspective, we would like to think whisky will play a key part in that.
“We had a phenomenal year in 2018 and that was followed up on an equal footing in 2019. Then, just as we were starting to see things take off and were investing at Glen Moray, it’s kind of fallen off a cliff.
From a tourism perspective, we would like to think whisky will play a key part in that. Iain Allan
“Most of our growth came from markets outside the UK. We’ve got to see the silver lining so hopefully this gives us the impetus to bring back more UK visitors and see that as a stronger part of our business.
“Over the years tourism has grown phenomenally and it’s a collaborative effort.
“It will be a challenging few months on return and we’re still forming our plan. It’s about gradually bringing it back to life.
“We have to work at it and keep people’s interest. But the confidence is there and we see the appetite for it online.”