Irish Whiskey tourism thrives in post-covid era yet sector braces for challenges

Survey reveals a surge in distillery visitors and staff but rising operational costs and tourism pressures pose future hurdles for the Irish Whiskey industry

The Pot Stills in Powerscourt Distillery

The Irish Whiskey Association released a survey showcasing Irish Whiskey distilleries have had a strong boost in staff and visitor numbers this year, but also signals the future challenges for the sector, with rising operational costs and tourism industry pressures.

The Irish Whiskey Association represents 48 Irish Whiskey distilleries, 29 of which operate visitor centres around Ireland. The Association conducted a survey of its members in August 2023 on visitor numbers post-Covid.

The survey revealed significant developments in the Irish whiskey sector, with 58% of respondents expanding their staff numbers in 2023, accompanied by a notable 30% increase in reported staff figures. Distillery visitor centres experienced a 93% surge in visitors, largely attributed to a resurgence in key overseas markets, including North America, the UK, France, and Germany. Furthermore, there’s a noteworthy shift in the age demographics of distillery tour enthusiasts, with a 43% rise in visitors aged between 18 and 34. Additionally, 50% of visitor centres reported a more balanced gender distribution among their visitors.

However, despite these positive trends, the industry confronts several challenges. For instance, 35% of respondents highlight the adverse impact of escalating production costs, particularly in energy expenses. Another 15% express concerns about supply chain disruptions, specifically citing the scarcity of essential materials like glass and wooden casks. Additionally, respondents noted challenges related to the availability and high costs of holiday accommodations, along with the broader economic impact on domestic tourism spending due to the increased cost of living.

Eoin Ó Catháin, director, Irish Whiskey Association, said: “This survey has given fresh insight into the challenges – and the opportunities – facing the Irish Whiskey sector in 2023. It is heartening, in particular, to see a strong rebound in the number of visitors and that our members are growing their staff numbers to meet this demand.

“After a turbulent number of years, this demonstrates the strength of the Irish Whiskey sector, whose export value exceeded one billion euros for the first time in 2022, and the value it adds to the Irish economy in being a key player in tourism offerings and the promotion of our heritage and culture.”

Gerry Ginty, chair of the Irish Whiskey Association Tourism Committee, said: “We are heartened to see a strong recovery post-Covid for many of our distilleries, but remain concerned about the impact of rising costs on visitor numbers. Our distilleries and tourist experiences face the exact same pressures as businesses throughout the country, and it’s important that the government recognises the contribution we make to local economies and helps us, where necessary.”

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