P erhaps that is a matter that falls under your responsibilities to decide on, Presiding Officer. Much in the world of whisky is contested, but I cannot contest the role of Speyside and the Highlands in the development of Scotch whisky.
The importance to tourism is evident, but we can do more to promote whisky trails, such as through local marketing and hospitality opportunities. We see that happening with the north coast 500, and more can be done for whisky. Bruce Crawford referred to whisky festivals. We have seen such festivals in Stirling, Speyside and Islay, and interest in them is growing.
We face challenges, one of which is leaving the EU. Many distilleries rely on EU nationals not least to understand the different EU markets and for their language skills. I visited Deanston distillery on the banks of the River Teith, which Bruce Crawford mentioned, where I heard first hand about the impact of Brexit on the tourism sector. All the senior staff whom I met were from EU countries. They had come to work here and were committed to delivering a fantastic visitor experience.
We cannot rest on our laurels. We want to drive forward our tourism sector and make sure that we promote the combination of food and drink and tourism. The “Ambition 2030” strategy on food and drink is reaching out on tourism, and I inform the chamber that, under my portfolio, the first national food tourism strategy is being developed to take forward those links between the tourism and food and drink sectors.
Gordon MacDonald is right to make what is an important point about the integrity and the reputation of the product, and how we must promote that internationally. It is important that we recognise the interdependence between food tourism, Scotland’s reputation and the hospitality sector, and the integrity of experience and the integrity of product are very much at the heart of that. Skills will be an important aspect of that, so I was very pleased to hear Rachael Hamilton talk about the events that took place in the Borders, because we must all take responsibility to encourage more youngsters in particular into the sector.
There are plans to build more than 30 distilleries over the next five years, from the Borders to the Highlands and across our islands. Tourism can work with whisky and whisky can work with tourism to help to promote our fantastic product and to make sure that the unique and authentic experience of drinking whisky in the place of its birth is the one thing that tourists can do in Scotland that they can do nowhere else on the earth.
Meeting closed at 17:57.