As someone who has banged the gong for whisky tourism and urged distilleries to open visitor centres, I’m delighted to see that everyone from the Scotch Whisky Association to VisitScotland is singing from that same hymn sheet.
In a nutshell, whisky tourism is big business growing in leaps and bounds. Figures from the industry show that of the 122 distilleries in Scotland, more than half (66) have visitor centres and another six have facilities for visitors by appointment. And that number is set to grow in the years ahead.
Last year, distilleries welcomed 1.9 million visitors, just behind Edinburgh Castle and the National Museum in numbers. That is a 45% rise since 2010 and the average spend per visitor at each distillery was £32. That is £61 million Scotland-wide and one must add all the money whisky tourists are spending at hotels, restaurants, shops and other facilities.
Most visitors are from Germany, the US and the UK, followed by China, Japan and India. What is equally important is that these visitors return to their home countries and will seek the whiskies they enjoyed on their trip and become, each in their own small way, brand ambassadors. After all, UK tourists enjoying holidays in France, Spain and Italy have certainly helped those countries export their wines to the UK.
Hence I am delighted by Angus Dundee Distillers’ plans to create a visitor centre at Glencadam Distillery in Brechin. I have long seen it as one of the industry’s undiscovered gems, with nigh on two centuries of history behind it—and Glencadam would welcome any photographs, films, letters or other memorabilia of the distillery to enhance the visitor centre experience. These should be brought or sent to, and gratefully acknowledged by, manager Doug Fitchett.
Glencadam is the last historic distillery in Angus, the east of Scotland having suffered many distillery losses during the great closure wave of the 1980s and 1990s. It and Fettercairn are virtually the sole survivors.
In the longer term, I hope more of the 50-plus distilleries without visitor centres will opt for one. True, they cost money and the rewards do not materialise overnight. However, tourism is the world’s growth industry and whisky distilleries are increasingly on our visitors’ must-see list.