As someone who has banged on for years about the great potential of whisky tourism, I must applaud Diageo’s recently-unveiled £150 million plans to boost the cratur to our visitors.
That said, almost every holidaymaker comes to Scotland a) having heard lots about whisky and b) having every intention of visiting at least one distillery. Indeed, some intend to visit as many as they can squeeze into their week or fortnight here.
As I have said before, a good visitor centre with good guides and sales staff is a good long-term investment. It will not produce instant results like a bigger pair of stills or a few extra washbacks but it will put the distillery’s name and single malt in front of thousands of people every year who possibly had never heard of Glen Magnus but, once they have seen the distillery and drunk the house nectar, will spread the word far and wide in their home country and want to buy it again.
True, some distilleries, whose output went almost entirely to the blenders, felt they had nothing to gain by opening their doors to visitors. Others felt their buildings were too remote or ugly. Or that the cost of installing a visitor centre, plus ensuring the distillery itself met all health and safety standards for visitors, was not a good investment.
Yet, significantly, hardly a new distillery opens that does not have a good visitor centre, even if they can only sell gin or clearic (white whisky) for the first three years. Indeed, I can think of some where the visitor centre is almost as important as the distillery itself.
After all, tourism is one of the world’s growth industries and to many people from overseas, Scotland and whisky distilleries go together like fish and chips. True, tourists also come here to visit castles, play golf, admire the Highlands and never fail to visit Loch Ness in the unfailing hope that Nessie will pop her scaly head above its dark waters on the day they are there.
Distilleries are top tourist attractions, and now is a great time to cash in on that. It doesn’t have to be picturesque or sit in a purple-heather glen – good whisky and welcoming staff are all that’s needed.