The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has revealed that visitor numbers to Scotch Whisky visitor centres throughout Scotland have once again topped 2 million in 2022, which the industry says signals a recovery to pre-pandemic levels.
Figures show that Scotch Whisky visitor centres collectively have risen to become the top visitor attraction in Scotland, with footfall more than doubling (114%) compared to 2021. Visitor spend per head at Scotch Whisky visitor centres has risen by 8.65%, with more than £85m 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 (51.1%), 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.
The first time the Scotch whisky distillery visitor centre numbers broke the 2 million mark was back in 2018, when they were collectively in 3rd place as one of the top visitor attractions in Scotland.
For Reference – Inside the Cask: Record numbers of visitors for Scotch whisky distilleries (2019)
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.” Mark Kent, Chief Executive of the SWA
“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.”