Irish Whiskey Distilleries See Record Tourism Growth

By Nino Kilgore-Marchetti / January 22, 2020

General interest in visiting whisk(e)y distilleries, particularly in places like Scotland and Kentucky, has grown steadily in the last several years as the spirit category continues to see new drinkers exploring it. Now Irish whiskey distilleries are getting in on the game as well, with it being announced that, for the first time, over one million people visited them.

1.02 million people, according to the Irish Whiskey Association trade group, visited in 2019, a 10.5% increase in visitors from 2018. It is also a growth of 54% in visitor numbers over the past four years. A bunch of other revealing statistics were put out also, including the following:

  • North America remains the top market of origin for visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries, with tourists from the US and Canada accounting for 34% of all visits in 2019, followed by Ireland (13%), Great Britain (12%), Germany (10%) and France (7%).
  • 2019 also saw an increase in visitors from outside the top five markets of origin, with reported increases in visitors from Australia, Italy, and the Benelux and Nordic countries.
  • Between 2018 and 2019, the highest increase – 32% – was seen in visitors from Germany, while visitors from Ireland (north and south) grew by 16% and visitors from France grew by 15%.
  • These increases were offset slightly by falls in the numbers visiting from North America and Great Britain. While North Americans are still the highest proportion of visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes, their numbers fell by 8% last year.
  • The number of visitors from Great Britain also fell slightly – by 2%.
  • There are 17 visitor centres and brand homes in operation across the island of Ireland, with more planned to open this year, including The Hinch Distillery close to Belfast and a new visitor experience at The Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim.
  • The number of staff directly employed in visitor services in the Irish whiskey industry increased by 15% in 2019 – from 356 to 409.
  • While existing visitor centres recorded slight growth in 2019, the bulk of the increases was accounted for by the opening of four new visitor centres during the year: the Clonakilty, Powerscourt, Dublin Liberties, and Roe & Co distilleries.
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“Exceeding one million visitors annually is a massive achievement and I congratulate the managers and staff of our 17 visitor attractions on achieving this milestone,” said William Lavelle, Head of Drinks Ireland | Irish Whiskey Association, in a prepared statement. “Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes are now firmly established as a star performer within Ireland’s all-island tourism offering. Jameson Distillery, Bow Street remains the No. 1 Irish whiskey visitor attraction; and indeed the No. 1 whiskey visitor attraction in Europe; in addition to being voted the world’s leading distillery tour for the second year running at the World Travel Awards in 2019.

The Midleton distillery (image via Pernod Ricard)

“Irish whiskey is set to be a world leader in experiential tourism. Many distilleries and brand homes have innovated and expanded their offerings. We’ve seen a marked increase in blending and cocktail classes, for example, along with more ‘meet the maker’, food-pairing and seasonal special events.”