Scotch Whisky (Contribution to Tourism)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 27th February 2018.

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Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I thank Rachael Hamilton for securing the debate and for her speech. She made a point about the French consuming more whisky than cognac, and it is worth noting that they consume more whisky in one month than they do cognac in a whole year. I thank all members who have contributed to what has been a very interesting debate on Scotland’s national drink.

We heard from Richard Lochhead, who has been and continues to be a great champion of whisky. An important point that he made was about how whisky opens the door to other products in terms of exports. He also spoke about the sheer dynamism of the sector. Colin Smyth referred to the mission creep of the south of Scotland, and I was also pleased to hear about the Annandale constituency. Stewart Stevenson introduced us to Jane Walker.

There are not many constituencies in Scotland that do not have a link to the Scotch whisky industry in some form or another. Indeed, I recall that, when I visited the Pixar studios in Los Angeles on a Government visit, I was served a St Magdalene whisky from Linlithgow, which is in my constituency. That extensive reach of whisky demonstrates the foundations that that fantastic industry has across Scotland and its importance to the economy, people and communities of our land.

Alison Harris mentioned the opening of the Rosebank distillery, which sits on the edge of my constituency, but is in the Central Scotland region.

Many of the distilleries lie in the heart of our rural and island communities right across Scotland, from the Highlands and Islands to the Lowlands. The role of those businesses in supporting communities in remote areas and providing jobs cannot be overstated .

We can celebrate another success story in the Lowlands: the Three Stills Company, which is investing £10 million in its distillery and visitor centre and is the subject of Rachael Hamilton’s motion. Together with the planned £40 million Mossburn distillery near Jedburgh, it will open up the Borders to new tourism opportunities. Those investments will provide firm foundations for the success of our iconic Scotch whisky in future years.

The whisky sector continuously builds on its success, its brands are increasingly recognised internationally and its distilleries are must-see destinations for our tourists. The Scotch Whisky Association’s latest annual survey found that visits have increased by around a quarter since 2010 and that more than half of Scotland’s 123 distilleries now welcome members of the public. An example of that success is the Tomatin distillery visitor centre near Inverness, which experienced its most successful year in 2017; its visitors exceeded 49,000 and it had record sales of 1 million. According to Diageo, its 12 malt distilleries have seen a 96 per cent rise in visitor numbers over the past five years.

It is interesting that 43 per cent of German visitors visited a distillery on their visit. That is the second biggest activity for visitors from that market. On average, 20 per cent of all visitors to Scotland visit a distillery.

Collectively, Scotch whisky distilleries rank among the most popular Scottish and UK attractions. When visitors step into a distillery, the passion, knowledge and enthusiasm of those who work in them is evident from the outset, and there are high-quality presentations and exhibitions. The visitor sees the striking contrast of traditional whisky making combined with modern technology, high-quality attractions and gift shops. The timeless and unmistakeable smells nod to days gone by and give tourists an evocative sense of Scotland’s rich heritage.

Every distillery has its own heritage and story. The point about the folklore, the story and the heritage is very important. I have visited a number of distilleries on Islay, and every one of them had its own story. The social, economic and cultural heritage must not be underestimated. Richard Lochhead referred to Speyside smuggling. There are different aspects to those stories.

When a visitor visits a distillery and walks into the cold, dark rackhouse, they step back in time. The muffling silence and the years of dust on the barrels emphasise the rich and historic tradition that we have in Scotland. It is difficult for anyone not to feel a sense of awe when they are surrounded by the work of a previous generation that has yet to be enjoyed. Then, of course, there is the taste. That is why it is easy to see why visitors spent a total of £53 million on whisky in 2016. The average spend per person has increased by 13 per cent to £31 from £27.

The high standards that those attractions offer is more than ably illustrated by Oban distillery’s winning the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions best visitor experience award in 2017, against very stiff competition.

There are new developments, of course. In a fascinating speech, Sandra White told us about the Clydeside distillery and the great opportunities there for Glasgow to tell its story, which is a distinct one.