“In response to the Covid-19 crisis, our industry had to step back and in some cases step-up,” said William Lavelle, Head of Drinks Ireland|Irish Whiskey Association, “Sales channels have been restricted and in many cases, such as bars and travel retail, have shut down. We closed our visitor centres. Cashflow has dried-up. Jobs have been lost, hopefully only temporarily.
“The Irish whiskey industry has proven itself to be resilient,” he continued, “After decades of decline, we’ve just experienced a remarkable decade of recovery. That recovery will continue. We’re ready to bounce back again.”
Irish whiskey enjoyed a successful 2019 selling 11.4 million cases globally, a doubling of sales since 2010, along with a record one million people visiting Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes.
Promoting Irish whiskey in key markets
A key priority for the Irish whiskey industry over coming weeks and months will be to consolidate and reboot sales in key existing markets for Irish whiskey. To support this, Drinks Ireland|Irish Whiskey Association is developing new programmes to promote Irish whiskey at home and abroad.
“This crisis has knocked back sales growth,” commented William Lavelle, “Orders have been cancelled and in some cases companies have been called on to take back stock. The challenges are particularly stark for many smaller and new-entrant companies.
“But our industry intends to win back these sales losses across all our key markets. Our Association is finalising ambitious plans to promote Irish whiskey in our key markets from the US and Canada right back to the domestic Irish market where we’ll be seeking to re-position Irish whiskey in what is quite likely to be a re-imagined Irish hospitality scene.”
Targeting domestic tourists
Last year over one million people visited Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes. But 87% of those visitors were from overseas which is likely to see a significant decline this year.
North America remains the top market of origin for visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries, with tourists from the US and Canada accounting for 34% of all visits in 2019. However, the total number of tourists from the US and Canada fell by 8% last year in real terms.
“Irish whiskey visitor attractions are more exposed than other attractions to the loss of international tourism,” claimed William, “We will be actively targeting domestic Irish tourists once our visitor centres re-open in July.”
“The second half 2020 is likely to see a surge in ‘stay-cations’, short breaks and day-trips by Irish people right across the island of Ireland,” he said, “As part of this we’re encouraging Irish people to visit an Irish whiskey distillery.
“International visitors to Ireland have up to now flocked to Irish whiskey distilleries on the basis of their worldwide reputation as exciting and enjoyable attractions where people can learn how Irish whiskey is made and explore the influence of the people and place in crafting our unique national spirit. We now want more Irish visitors to discover the depth and diversity of our Irish whiskey distilleries and brands homes, starting with their local distilleries.
“Distilleries and brand homes are ready to re-open their doors in July, many with new and redesigned tour experiences – such as more intimate tour offerings for couples, families and small groups – all designed to ensure the safety and enjoyment of visitors.”
The Irish whiskey tourism offer ranges from the Jameson Experience in Dublin, the most visited spirits tourism attraction in Europe (with over 350,000 visitors annually), to distilleries in locations such as Dingle, Kilbeggan and Slane. These bring jobs, visitors and income to rural communities.
The Irish whiskey industry is also calling on the Irish and Northern Irish governments to back Drinks Ireland’s proposal for an ambitious programme of support – with up to 70% funding – to allow companies to directly and exclusively employ graduate Brand Ambassadors in key markets for at least 12 months.
“Supporting Irish exporters to reboot their brands and regain market position should be a key priority for Government,” he added, “Funding ‘boots on the ground’ in key markets around the world has long been the key to Irish food and drinks export success and is now more vital than ever.”
For more information on Irish whiskey distillery visitor attractions visit https://irishwhiskey360.ie/