Why is whisky tourism booming?

One of the most appealing things about collecting alcohol is finding rare bottles from around the world.

Whether you’re investing in South African wines or Scottish whisky, its area of origin will always make people more interested in purchasing them. This consumer fascination with where certain beverages are made has not been lost on the drinks industry, leading to considerable investments being made in opening the places these drinks are made to the public.

Whisky tourism, in particular, is experiencing a considerable boost in popularity. Much like the visits to vineyards glamourised in films like Sideways, distillery tours are becoming a global sensation. Unsurprisingly, Scotland—home of all manner of delectable Scotch whiskies—is the main beneficiary of this boom, with an 11.4% increase in Scottish distillery visits between 2017 and 2018. But what led to this upswing and, come to think of it, what is whisky tourism anyway?

What is whisky tourism?

More goes into the beverages s we love than you might think, and when it comes to alcohol, there’s a certain romance surrounding the places where drinks are made . In the case of whisky, particularly Scotch, the flavour and quality of a bottle is completely indebted to its geographical surroundings and the design of the distillery. As the Scotch Whisky Association(SWA) explains “no two distilleries are the same [and] each has a unique setting and story”. Put simply, getting the chance to explore the terrain which shapes a connoisseur’s drink of choice is like Disneyland for whisky lovers.

Fine wine and whisky merchants Justerini & Brooks note that there are six unique regions of Scotland where whisky is produced, adding that even whiskies from the same region “refuse to be pigeonholed”. With the relatively small Speyside region boasting 84 operational distilleries, compared with just three in the Campbeltown region, Scottish whisky tours give Scotch-lovers a huge range of hot spots to explore. With such a wide variety of distilleries in such a small area, many of which operate on a welcoming, open-door policy to visitors, it’s no wonder the industry has seen a significant level of growth in recent years.

What has caused the boom in whisky tourism?

The boom in whisky tourism is, in no small part, the result of some huge investments courtesy of the companies behind the industry’s major distilleries. Most recently, Diageo pledged a £150 million shot in the arm for Scotland’s whisky regions, creating the “biggest concerted programme ever seen in Scotland’s whisky tourism sector”. This includes the planned creation of a Johnnie Walker visitor centre in Edinburgh, and the revamp of major distilleries including Lagavulin, Dalwhinnie and Cragganmore.

However, there are other factors at play. The SWA has noted that Scotch distillery tours are particularly popular with visitors from the United States and Japan, both of which are also significant players in the whisky market. The sheer popularity of certain brands of Japanese whisky are actually having an adverse effect on the country’s distilleries, leading to a shortage of Suntory, the brand made famous in the 2003 film Lost In Translation.

What’s more, international tourists are enjoying an extremely favourable exchange rate against the pound sterling  as a result of Brexit. As the pound has been consistently weak since the result of the referendum, more international visitors are choosing to visit Scotland’s distilleries, and spend more during their trip. Indeed, the average daily spend per visitor has risen by £11 since the start of the decade.

So while international distilleries are seeing a dip in their fortunes, this is only helping to bolster the Scotch industry. And although the long-term prospects are yet to be determined, the constant influx of cash from distilleries and visitors alike seems to suggest that this boom in whisky tourism is going to be more than just a Highland fling.