It is a pleasure to rise to my feet today to praise and highlight the great work of the Scottish whisky industry and the boost for tourism that it provides.
All over the world, Scotland is known for its national drink. From New York to Tokyo to Sydney, Scottish whisky is bought and sold in restaurants, bars and shops. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, 39 bottles are exported every second, and it accounts for 80 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively, of all Scottish and British food and drink exports. On a recent trip to Brussels, I reminded Michel Barnier that the French consume more Scotch whisky than they do cognac, to which he replied that he is partial to the stuff himself. We are, quite rightly, proud to be able to sit down in almost any establishment in the world and peruse a list of countless whiskies, many of which are produced only a matter of miles from our own front doors.
I am proud to tell members that that will soon be the case for me in my constituency. For the first time since 1837—more commonly known as the year when Queen Victoria acceded to the throne—whisky will be produced in the Scottish Borders. The Three Stills Company is currently putting the finishing touches to its distillery in Hawick. The Borders has a proud history in food and drink; I look forward to the future growth of the sector, which will shortly include that whisky distillery. It is a pleasure to welcome the company’s representatives and those of many other whisky companies to the Scottish Parliament today. Nothing excites my staff more than having a day dedicated to whisky.
Like many other distilleries across Scotland, the Three Stills Company will look to capitalise on the growing tourism boost that has been seen in the whisky industry and the tourism sector as a whole. World-famous brands bring with them global-reaching interest, and it is great that tourists from all around the world are drawn to visit a world-leading industry at work—and, of course, to try a few drams along the way. I pay tribute to all those who have played their part in the achievement, from tour guides to tour operators, as part of the wider Scottish success story.
Members will be aware that 1.7 million people visited a whisky distillery in 2016. That number is up by a quarter on the number in 2010; no doubt the number will have grown even more in 2017, with the boom in the number of international visitors to Scotland. The draw of “Outlander” has undoubtedly played a part in attracting tourists, as has the creative and tailor-made north coast 500 whisky heritage discovery tour, which showcases the best that the Highland region has to offer.
Because of the very nature of our whisky making, many of the jobs that are provided by the industry are located in rural areas; about 70 per cent of people who are directly employed by whisky companies live in rural areas. That means better career opportunities in those areas for young people, which allows them to stay where they grew up and contribute to their communities. As whisky tourism grows, so too will the number of jobs. I hope that that will go some way towards ensuring that the balance of the Scottish economy is not further weighted towards our main cities and urban areas.
Tourism skills should become a priority for us all, as brand Scotland and brand Great Britain become ever more popular around the world. Only yesterday, I held—with the developing the young workforce programme, Borders College and local businesses—a tourism event for 150 secondary 4 pupils from across the Borders to highlight the massive opportunities that tourism presents, from brewing to distilling to becoming a tour guide.
The w hisky industry, whether it is exporting products or importing tourists, will be of great value as the United Kingdom embarks on a new chapter in its global ambitions. It was great to see just a few weeks ago the Prime Minister, alongside the chief executive officer of the Scotch Whisky Association, Karen Betts, securing a 10-year renewal of the Scotch whisky trade mark in China.
Currently, 25 bottles are exported to China every minute. It is right that our great brand is protected, which paves the way for even more sales in the future, as the Chinese taste for luxury British, Scottish and European products increases.
That is another compelling reason for the Edinburgh-China air link project, which I am sure we all agree is well overdue and which will make it easier for Chinese tourists to come and see our fantastic distillery tours.
Recent figures show that the USA continues to be our biggest export market in terms of value. That looks set to continue as the Americans’ appreciation of single malts grows. We are all very aware of the importance of American tourists to Scotland, whether for whisky or otherwise, and I hope that that continues for many years to come.
Of course, it is worth noting that not all visitors to our distilleries are from overseas. Yes—many of our main export markets, including China and the USA, are significant sources of whisky tourism, but so are Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
I remind members that not all whisky tourism visits are to distilleries. In my previous role as an MSP for South Scotland, I had the pleasure of enjoying the whisky experience at the Glenkinchie distillery in East Lothian. As well as going on the historical timeline tour, customers are educated on how to enjoy and taste whisky, which I certainly enjoyed. Glenkinchie also takes its commitment to the environment seriously and has created wildlife walks among the cooling ponds in the grounds.
It is a pleasure to bring to the attention of Parliament our thriving whisky tourism industry. Members are all very aware—as, I am sure, is Her Majesty’s Treasury in London—of the importance of the Scotch whisky brand and of valuing the tourism that it brings as a consequence. That will be even more important in the coming years, as we strike new trade deals around the globe as well as with the European Union—deals that will perhaps be better suited to UK industries—to ensure a global Scotland, a global Britain and a global Scotch whisky industry.