This marks a 13.4% increase on 2017 when visitor numbers reached 814,000.
The figures are based on returns from 13 Irish whiskey distillery visitor centres and brand homes located across the island of Ireland.
Overseas visitors made up 88% of total visits, with the largest number coming from the US and Canada (40%) followed by the UK (14%), Germany (8%) and France (7%). Visitors from the island of Ireland (North & South) accounted for 12% of total visits in 2018.
The 13 Irish whiskey visitor centres and brand homes employed 356 staff directly including seasonal posts last year and the survey results show that the industry is well on track to reach target visitor numbers of 1.9 million by 2025 as set out in the Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy.
At least eight new Irish whiskey distillery visitor centres are set to open in 2019 including Blackwater Distillery, Ballyduff, County Waterford; Boann Distillery, Drogheda, County Louth; Clonakility Distillery, Clonakilty, County Cork; Dublin Liberties Distillery, Mill Street, Dublin 8; Roe & Co Distillery, St James Gate, Dublin 8; The Powerscourt Distillery, Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, County Wicklow; The Shed Distillery, Drumshanbo, County Leitrim and Lough Ree Distillery, Lanesboro, County Longford.
While the opening of these visitor centres should put the sector on target to break the one million visitor milestone in the coming months, the Irish Whiskey Association has warned against complacency in light of the expected challenges this year.
“Just as Irish whiskey remains the fastest-growing premium spirits category in the world, Irish whiskey distilleries are now among the fastest-growing attractions in Irish tourism,” said William Lavelle, Head of the Irish Whiskey Association, “Irish whiskey tourism is attracting international visitors, creating jobs and supporting local economies, both urban and rural, right across the island of Ireland.”
“Tourists and Irish whiskey-lovers alike are keen to know more about the back-story of the whiskey – where, how and by who it is made. They want to experience the heritage and vibrancy of our distilleries. The Irish whiskey industry has a great tourism offering and it’s only going to grow as more distilleries open their doors to the public in 2019.”
However the recent increase in the VAT rate on the hospitality sector poses challenges for Irish tourism, he added. It means moreexpensive food, drink and accommodation for tourists, putting pressure on the already relatively low proportion of tourists spending on paid attractions like distillery visitor centres.
“At the same time, a disorderly Brexit will likely lead to a further weakening of Sterling, harming tourism from the UK and Northern Ireland.
“The recently-enacted Public Health (Alcohol) Act will constrain opportunities for the advertising of Irish whiskey distilleries as visitor attractions,” he warned, “The act also imposes an internationally-unprecedented stigma on Irish whiskey in the form of cancer warning labels which our competitors, the Scotch and Bourbon whiskey tourism industry, don’t face.”