Over one million people visited Ireland’s 17 Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes last year, the first time visitor numbers have exceeded the one-million mark from 923,000 in 2018 according to Drinks Ireland|Irish Whiskey Association which released statistics recently on how the Irish whiskey industry contributed to tourism in Ireland over the course of 2019.
This 10.5% increase comprised tourists from the US and Canada who accounted for 34% of all visits last year followed by Ireland (13%), Great Britain (12%), Germany (10%) and France (7%).
But existing visitor centres recorded only slight growth in 2019 so the bulk of the increases were accounted for by the opening of four new visitor centres during the year: the Clonakilty, Powerscourt, Dublin Liberties and Roe & Co distilleries.
2019 also saw an increase in distillery visitors from outside the top five markets of origin, with reported increases in visitors from Australia, Italy, the Benelux and Nordic countries.
Between 2018 and 2019 the highest increase – 32% – was seen in visitors from Germany while visitors from Ireland (north and south) grew by 16% and visitors from France by 15%.
These increases were offset slightly by falls in the numbers visiting from North America and Great Britain. While North Americans are still the highest proportion of visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes their numbers fell by 8% last year. The number of visitors from Great Britain also fell slightly – by 2%.
The number of staff directly employed in visitor services in the Irish whiskey industry increased by 15% in 2019 – from 356 to 409.
More visitor centres and brand homes are due to open this year including The Hinch Distillery close to Belfast and a new visitor experience at The Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo, County Leitrim.
The growth in both brewery and distillery visitor centres has become important for Ireland’s broader tourism strategy as highlighted in Fáilte Ireland’s Food & Drinks Strategy 2018-2023. This specifically refers to visitor experiences as key to growing the value of Irish tourism over the next 10 years. It notes that it will help increase the time tourists take in regional locations and increase their spend.
‘Star Performer’ in all-island tourism offering
“In just four years, the total number of visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes has grown by 54% – from 653,000 in 2015 to our 2019 record of 1.02 million” said William Lavelle, Head of Drinks Ireland|Irish Whiskey Association, commenting on the figures, “Exceeding one million visitors annually is a massive achievement.
“Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes are now firmly established as a star performer within Ireland’s all-island tourism offering. Jameson Distillery Bow Street remains the No 1 Irish whiskey visitor attraction and indeed the No 1 whiskey visitor attraction in Europe in addition to being voted the world’s leading distillery tour for the second year running at the World Travel Awards in 2019.”
He added that the continued popularity of Irish whiskey visitor experiences could be attributed in part to the diverse range of tourism offerings within distilleries and brand homes.
“Irish whiskey is set to be a world leader in experiential tourism,” he predicted, “Many distilleries and brand homes have innovated and expanded their offerings. We’ve seen a marked increase in blending and cocktail classes, for example, along with more ‘meet the maker’, food-pairing and seasonal special events.
“The increase in visitors last year was undoubtedly supported by the ‘Taste the Island’ food and drink tourism promotion led by Fáilte Ireland. Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes look forward to enhancing our participation in Taste the Island in 2020. By throwing open the doors of our distilleries, by showcasing our people, our places and our practices, we’re putting our authenticity and the uniqueness of Irish whiskey on display.”
While the 2019 visitor numbers are undoubtedly positive, year-on-year trends point to potential challenges ahead, he warned.
“Future growth in visitor numbers to established Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes will require a fresh approach to attracting visitors,” he said, “Drinks Ireland|Irish Whiskey Association has developed the tourism-focused IrishWhiskey360° campaign to raise international awareness of the depth and diversity of Irish whiskey’s tourism offering. We’ll be rolling out IrishWhiskey360° over the coming months.
“Recognising the disappointing fall-off in visitors from North America, we’ll be seeking to prioritise our promotional activities in the US and Canada, working closely with our state tourism agencies. We’ll also continue to keep a close eye on the impact of Brexit on tourism figures.”