The plan intends to build on the 653,277 tourists that currently visit Irish whiskey distilleries to achieve a target of just under 2 million by 2025.
The Association launched the Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy with Michael Creed TD Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine at the Irish Whiskey Museum on Dublin’s Grafton Street recently.
The IWA envisages an internationally-marketed Irish whiskey trail similar to Tourism Ireland’s ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ or ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ trails, with greater support for the tourism infrastructure around distilleries and the international promotion of Irish whiskey festivals.
The strategy forecasts that the future of Irish whiskey tourism is dependent on a collaboration of local communities and state agencies in supporting the growth of Irish whiskey distilleries and visitor centres all around the island. It proposes the establishment of an all-island whiskey trail to attract a significant number of tourists to Ireland, similar to the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky which attracts nearly a million tourists a year and it highlights the paramount importance of working with tourism bodies to develop the necessary infrastructure to facilitate this growth.
The strategy sets out four recommendations which are required in order to achieve that objective:
- Support the growth of Irish whiskey distilleries and visitor centres
- Develop an all-island whiskey tourism product
- Create an Irish whiskey trail and tourism infrastructure around distilleries
- Develop an embassy network of hotels, restaurants and pubs.
Irish whiskey exports are witnessing double-digit growth figures and are currently running at between €420 million and €500 million.
With just four distilleries on the island until 2013, another 12 have come into production in the last 12 months with plans in place for another 13 to begin production in the near future.
But the Irish whiskey tourism numbers and export figures to date pale into insignificance when compared to those of the Scotch tourism industry where one in every five visitors to Scotland visits a distillery during their trip, giving the Scotch industry 1.4 million distillery visits a year.
And the Scotch industry has 109 distilleries with 60 or so visitor centres where the Irish whiskey industry has just four or five significant visitor centres to date.
The Scotch whisky ‘embassy network’ has created 1,370 jobs and contributes over £43 million to the local economy.
Furthermore, at €5 billion, Scotch exports make up a quarter of the UK’s total food and drinks exports.
Here, at around eight million cases, Irish whiskey exports are less than one tenth those of Scotch representing some 5% of the total world market for whiskeys where Scotch is responsible for around half that market.
Despite this, Ireland has grown to become the fourth-largest exporter of whiskey in the world, and the second-largest in the EU.
The IWA strategy recommends the development of a hospitality embassy network connected to the Irish whiskey trail to make it easier for visitors to undertake specialist whiskey tours while extending the benefits of whiskey tourism to local businesses and cultural hubs around each distillery.
With these support systems and solid foundation structures in place, Ireland will be able to offer an even more distinctive all Ireland-whiskey product with global appeal, believes the IWA, setting it on the path to become the world leader in whiskey tourism by 2030.
“This strategy sets the conditions for the next step in growth for the industry,” said Head of the Irish Whiskey Association Miriam Mooney, pointing out that with national and local government support, Irish whiskey tourism has the potential to grow visitor spend to an estimated €1.3 billion every year.
Should the IWA’s strategy prove successful employment could rise to 6,500 by the target date of 2025 from its present 5,000.
Helping this along the way has been this year’s GI agreement towards trademark protection for Irish whiskey which makes it that much harder for anyone – with the exception of those purchasing Irish whiskey – other than an Irish distiller to use Irish Whiskey in their product name or description.
“Irish whiskey is a real success story,” said the Chairman of the Irish Whiskey Association and Chief Executive of Walsh Whiskey Distillery Bernard Walsh at the launch, “We’re reaching new markets and new consumers.
“We’ve an authentic story to tell and a great opportunity to capitalise on growing sales and to drive more tourists to this country by developing the right environment for whiskey-trail tourists. To do this we want to work with state agencies to put the right supports in place and with Government to create the right policy environment to enable the sector to grow and thrive”.
“Our current excise rates mean that a bottle of Irish whiskey that costs €42 in Ireland, costs just €27 in the US. This makes no sense in the context of encouraging whiskey tourism.”
He added that new proposals under the Public Health Alcohol Bill will restrict the new entrants and the smaller distillers needed to promote sustainability through depth and diversity in the Irish whiskey category and so stymie growth in the sector.