We are fortunate to live in a beautiful country that, despite our somewhat unpredictable weather, draws people from all over the world to enjoy the scenery, history and culture that Scotland offers. Since the years when the writings of Sir Walter Scott and the paintings of the artists of the early Victorian era first attracted English tourists to Scotland, an added attraction has been that Scotland is the home of the world’s finest whiskies.
Through the decades, Scotch whisky and its links to the economic benefits that tourism brings have grown and grown. More than half of Scotland’s distilleries now welcome visitors: as we have heard, in 2016, there were 1.7 million visits to distilleries. We could say that that means that Scotch whisky distilleries rank among many well-known UK attractions, including the Scottish national gallery and St Paul’s cathedral. In financial terms, visitors’ spend at distilleries was almost £53 million.
The popularity of Scotch whisky continues to take the name and reputation of Scotland to the four corners of the globe. Although people from the rest of the UK are vital to Scottish tourism, the largest numbers of visitors come from Germany, France and the United States, with the United States and France being two of the largest markets by value for Scotch. Scotch exports to many other mature and emerging markets have increased, and there has been a marked return to growth in the Chinese market and in exports to Japan.
Such is the popularity of whisky that about 20 per cent of tourists now include a distillery visit while they are in Scotland. About 30 new distilleries are either planned or are being built, and for many new-build distilleries a state-of-the-art visitor centre is front and centre of their plans. Visitors are spending more than ever at distilleries—the average spend is £31 per person.
Although distilleries are undoubtedly concentrated in some parts of the country, including the Highlands, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown, and do much to boost the economies of those areas, I want to highlight that there are also lowland distilleries, such as Glengoyne and Glenkinchie. Further, later this year, a new distillery will open in my region. It is many years since residents of Falkirk lost the distillery that produced Rosebank, which was known as the king of lowland malts, so I know that many of my constituents are looking forward to the Falkirk distillery opening near Polmont. It will recognise the importance of attracting visitors by offering retail and restaurant facilities as well as the whisky experience. Because it is in close proximity to attractions such as Blackness castle—which appears in “Outlander”—Callendar house, the Kelpies and the Falkirk wheel, the distillery and visitor centre will seek to attract up to 75,000 visitors a year.
Lowland malts are known for their malty, zesty flavours, with slightly fruity, citrusy and sometimes floral notes. I am sure that with a description like that for its product, the new Falkirk distillery will add to the existing tourist attractions in the Falkirk Council area.
It is difficult to overestimate whisky’s contribution to the Scottish tourism industry, or the potential that still exists for growth in the sector. As more distilleries open their doors and improve and expand their offering, I am confident that it is one industry that can look forward to a bright and glowing future.
Slàinte mhath, as they say.