Scotland’s whisky industry fuels tourism and economy in resilient comeback

Scotland’s whisky industry fuels tourism and economy in resilient comeback

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has reported a rebound in visitor numbers to Scotch Whisky visitor centres across Scotland, reaching over 2 million in 2022, marking a recovery to pre-pandemic levels.

This notable upturn in footfall represents a 114% increase compared to 2021, showing that these centres collectively have risen to become Scotland’s prime tourist attraction.

Visitor spend per head at Scotch Whisky visitor centres has risen by 8.65%, with more than £85 million spent in total at sites across Scotland’s five whisky regions, up 90% since 2010.

The opening up of international travel following pandemic lockdowns has played a significant role in the recovery of Scotch Whisky tourism, with visitors from the United States, Germany and France – all key export markets for Scotch Whisky – among the top five demographics. Visitors from the UK account for over half of all visitors to Scotch Whisky sites (51%), amounting to more than 1 million people for the first time.

The Scotch Whisky industry employs over 1,100 people at Scotch Whisky visitor centres, many of which are based in rural areas, and investment in Scotch Whisky tourism has totalled more than £300m over the past decade, with a number of new visitor centres having opened. The industry has also seen investment to deliver improved high-quality experiences at existing sites to ensure the expectations of visitors are met.

Despite the 2022 recovery, the 2023 tourism season has been more difficult. The cost-of-living crisis, the impact of the 10.1% tax increase in August, and ongoing infrastructure challenges mean that the positive impact of whisky tourism to the Scottish economy cannot be taken for granted.

Wellbeing economy secretary Neil Gray MSP said: “The Scotch Whisky industry is extremely valuable to the Scottish economy in terms of production and exports and, as latest figures show, increasingly also for tourism and hospitality.

“Achieving more than two million visits to Scotch Whisky visitor centres in 2022 demonstrates the allure of world-class Scotch Whisky visitor attractions, and the successful efforts of the wider tourism industry to rebuild Scotland’s profile post-pandemic.

“It is heartening to hear that the whisky industry’s investment and innovation in Scotch Whisky tourism have encouraged continued growth. This will help create more jobs, sustains communities and enables visitors and residents to experience the incredible offer we have here in Scotland.”

Scotland’s whisky industry fuels tourism and economy in resilient comeback

Mark Kent

Mark Kent, chief executive of the SWA, said: “Scotch whisky forms a key part of the Scottish economy, helping to put Scotland on the map and driving tourism from around the world.

“Visiting a Scotch Whisky site is an unforgettable experience, and our industry’s focus on delivering a world-class tourism offering is helping to make memories for millions of people who travel to Scotland to discover Scotch for themselves.

“The recovery of Scotch Whisky tourism as travel opened back up in 2022 demonstrates the continued global appeal of Scotch Whisky, but this recovery should not be taken for granted.

“Scotch Whisky visitor centres are a key part of the attraction for tourists, with wider benefits seen through regional employment and increased visitor spend in hospitality and accommodation. Tourism is growing for Scotch Whisky, but it needs to be sustainable growth.”

Mr Kent continued: “Whilst these are positive figures on the back of significant industry investment, we know that ongoing work is needed to ensure that they can be sustained for the long term.

“For the Scotch Whisky distilleries operating within rural communities, urgent improvements to infrastructure will not only support needs of those living in and visiting these areas, but the ambitions of our sector to grow, invest and reach net zero.

“We look forward to continuing our positive relationship with the Scottish Government to ensure that the Scotch Whisky industry can maintain our sector’s success in balance with the priorities of the communities we work in.”

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “It’s great news to read such positive results around a strong return of international travellers visiting our distilleries.

“Whisky tourism plays a vital role in driving the growth and future sustainability of Scotland’s tourism industry. A globally important cultural and economic phenomenon, whisky is a hook that draws thousands of visitors from around the world to our shores, year after year to enjoy uniquely immersive experiences across Scotland’s distilleries.

“The importance of being able to promote and market whisky and whisky tourism in the future should never be underestimated; those who visit distilleries also spend significant sums in our local economies which supports job retention and creation particularly within rural communities.”

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