Scotch Whisky Tourism Hit Hard By COVID-19 After 2019’s Record-Setting Attendance

By Hannah Kanik / October 23, 2020

After the Scotch whisky tourism figures reached a record high in 2019, industry leaders are encouraging people to support local attractions to help the industry recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19.

In 2019, two out of every three visits to Scotch whisky attractions were from international visitors, and there were a record 2.16 million visits to distilleries, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. With the lack of travel caused by the pandemic this year, fewer people are able to visit.

“The figures also underline how hard Scotch Whisky tourism is being hit this year when international travel and tourism has all but disappeared as everyone plays their part in controlling the spread of Covid-19,” Karen Betts, Scotch Whisky Association Cheif Executive, said in a prepared statement. “All visitor centers closed in March and although some have now reopened, 2020 is proving to be a very difficult year for tourism.”

National Scotch Day

Scotch whisky aging at Springbank (image via Springbank)

The Scotch Whisky Association sent out a survey to its attraction sites and found just over a third of the industry’s 68 visitor centers are open to the public and COVID-19 compliant. 

Tourism had been on the rise over the past few years, creating jobs and improving employment rates. Visits more than doubled over the past 10 years and over 1,200 people are directly employed in tourism roles at Scotch Whisky Visitor Centers. Visitor spending reached nearly £85 million.

“Scotch Whisky has always been an important part of our tourism offer whether that’s enjoying a dram in our hotels, bars, or restaurants, or visiting one of the many distilleries we have around the country,” Malcolm Roughead OBE, Chief Executive of VisitScotland, said. “Whilst this year we are unable to welcome all of those we’d like to our shores, we know that we can keep the spirit of Scotland alive and look closely at how we encourage international tourists back when the time is right to do so.”

Over £200 million has been invested by the industry in Scotch whisky tourism in the past five years to adapt to this growth.

Marc Crothall, Chief Executive at Scottish Tourism Alliance, said these numbers show the importance of food and drink tourism to the Scottish economy.

“The coming months show real uncertainty over how businesses will fare.  It is more important than ever that all partners in our visitor economy work together with the support of government to ensure our resilience through to next year and beyond.”