The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival kicks off in stunning style tomorrow (Thursday, 3rd May) smashing previous records with ticket sales already exceeding those of last year's end-of-event total.
The five-day 'dramfest' is defying the national double-dip, as well as depressions in the global economy, by attracting the biggest potential audience to date. Organisers recorded the busiest first 24 hours in the event's thirteen year history when the festival programme went live online earlier this year; within hours dozens of the Festival's most popular tours, tastings, masterclasses and workshops were sold out and whisky fans had spent a staggering £50,000+ to secure spots at a range of the festival's exclusive and hugely sought after events.
Bookings have continued apace since then and the Festival, which has grown in both size and reputation over the years to become one of the most important whisky festivals in the world, is bracing itself for the influx of thousands of international whisky aficionados eager to base themselves in the world's premier whisky destination.
As interest in Scotland's national drink and the value of Scotch whisky exports has continued to increase, defying global economic uncertainty, advance bookings have proved particularly attractive to visitors from Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and the UK. But the organisers report interest from as far afield as Japan, Australia, Russia, South Africa, Canada and the USA.
A varied and quality programme of over 300 events has tempted loyal whisky fans to Speyside to enjoy exclusive events such as the opening dinner at The Macallan Distillery featuring entertainment from three times Brit Award wining Scottish songstress Eddi Reader. The renowned Spirit of Speyside Whisky School, 'ultimate' distillery visits, whisky and food pairing workshops, as well as the Speyside 'Mystery Bus' and 'Seven Stills' tours have proved popular with regular visitors.
However, festival organisers are keen to point out that whisky fans are still able to book or just turn up to a wide range of more than 200 events over the five-day festival.
This year the Festival is set to breathe 'water of life' into a wider catchment area, as events have been expanded into Badenoch and Strathspey. Last year the Festival recorded 47,000 visits, which generated £613,000 within Speyside and £722,000 across the country, excelling in its aim to boost the area in what was previously perceived as the 'off season'.
As the launch date approaches, Festival organisers are in high spirits. Jim Royan, Festival Chairman, said: "The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival puts Malt Whisky Country on an international stage. We have much to be proud of - a higher concentration of distilleries than any other region on earth and 7 of the 10 top selling single malt whiskies in the world.
"Our visitors come from all over the world to share our passion for Speyside's landscape, history, culture, music, people and, of course, its whisky. We know they enjoy the experience and our hospitality because they are inspired to return to Speyside year after year."
Mary Hemsworth, Festival Manager, has been delighted at the number of whisky fans heading for the Festival. She said: "This is my first year organising the Festival, and the anticipation is huge. We have literally thousands of whisky fans descending on Speyside this weekend, and we want their experience of Speyside and the Festival to be authentic, inspiring and spirited.
"Everyone involved in staging an event has been working very hard to show, once again, that Speyside can rise to the occasion, and put on a world class festival to showcase our world class product and environment."
Paul Bush OBE, Chief Operating Officer for EventScotland said: "The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is one of the highlights on Scotland's events calendar, and we have seen in recent years that its popularity is continuing to grow.
"Whisky is one of the country's most iconic products, and the Festival's 2012 programme will once again attract visitors from all over the world. Scotland is the perfect stage for events, and Speyside provides the ideal location for the Festival with its beautiful landscapes and world-renowned distilleries."