Visitor numbers at Scotch whisky visitor centres have topped two million for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has announced.
A total of 2,004,918 people visited Scotch whisky distillery or visitor centre in 2022, according to data from the trade body – while this footfall is still slightly below the number achieved in 2019 (2,610,678), it is more than double the level reached in 2021, when visitor numbers were just shy of 950,000.
The amount of money spent by visitors is rising, too – more than £85 million was spent at sites across Scotland's five whisky regions last year, up by 90 per cent since 2010.
The significant increase in visitor numbers in 2022 followed the opening up of international travel following lockdowns and travel restrictions put in place during the pandemic. Visitors from the United States, Germany, and France were among the top five demographics. Meanwhile, visitor numbers from the UK topped one million for the first time, accounting for just over half (51 per cent) of all visitors to Scotch whisky sites last year.
However, there was a cautionary note about the 2023 season, which the SWA said had proved more challenging by cost-of-living pressures and “ongoing infrastructure challenges”. This is in addition to a 10.1 per cent tax increase on spirits which came into effect in the UK in August.
The SWA estimates that more than £300 million has been invested in Scotch whisky tourism in the past decade, with more than 1,000 people now employed at the country's whisky visitor centres.
Mark Kent, CEO of the SWA said: “Scotch whisky forms a key part of the Scottish economy, helping to put Scotland on the map and driving tourism from around the world. Visiting a Scotch whisky site is an unforgettable experience, and our industry’s focus on delivering a world-class tourism offering is helping to make memories for millions of people who travel to Scotland to discover Scotch for themselves. The recovery of Scotch Whisky tourism as travel opened back up in 2022 demonstrates the continued global appeal of Scotch whisky, but this recovery should not be taken for granted.
“Whilst these are positive figures on the back of significant industry investment, we know that ongoing work is needed to ensure that they can be sustained for the long term. For the Scotch whisky distilleries operating within rural communities, urgent improvements to infrastructure will not only support needs of those living in and visiting these areas, but the ambitions of our sector to grow, invest and reach net zero.”
The Scottish parliament's wellbeing economy secretary, Neil Gray, said: “Achieving more than two million visits to Scotch whisky visitor centres in 2022 demonstrates the allure of world-class Scotch whisky visitor attractions, and the successful efforts of the wider tourism industry to rebuild Scotland’s profile post-pandemic. It is heartening to hear that the whisky industry’s investment and innovation in Scotch whisky tourism have encouraged continued growth. This will help create more jobs, sustains communities and enables visitors and residents to experience the incredible offer we have here in Scotland.”