THEY are the third most-visited visitor attractions in the country, but Scotland's distilleries have had to close their doors during coronavirus lockdown.

The global pandemic has taken its toll on tourism, and the whisky industry and associated attractions has been hit as well. It has seen the steady flow of international visitors touring distilleries cut off overnight.

May should have been one of the industry’s busiest for whisky fans and the industry alike with World Whisky Day next Saturday and a host of globally important festivals and events taking place all over the country throughout the month. However, all were cancelled because of the Covid outbreak.

On of the biggest festivals, the Spirit of Speyside, set box-office records last year with 173 events completely selling out within 24 hours of tickets going on sale. Huge numbers were snapped up by whisky lovers around the globe – Europe and the USA being among the top locations – with many more being bought by customers in the UK.

This year's six-day festival should have taken place from April 29 to May 4, but already organisers have written that off and are looking to next year with dates set for 2021.

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Planning is under way across the country, so confidence is high that the industry will bounce back quickly after lockdown – but, in the meantime, distillers and suppliers have been getting creative as they strive to maintain public interest in their favourite dram.

Dozens of virtual tastings – where whisky fans order samples in advance and then join an online chat about what they are drinking – have sprung up, and countless other web events, as well as special delivery offers and the like, have been organised.

The Malt Whisky Trail – a tourism route across the northeast of Scotland – is planning to post a virtual dram video which will be shown across its social media channels next week.

Iain Allan, board member of the Malt Whisky Trail and visitor centre manager and brand ambassador at Glen Moray Distillery, said although visitor centres are closed, production and resilience continues – and it is that which will help companies bounce back.

He said: "Together we will return stronger with whisky as our hero offering, and the rural beauty of Speyside on our doorstep. We can't wait to welcome tourists back here when it is safe to do so, but, in the meantime, I hope that people will join us in raising a dram from home this World Whisky Day – there are many great online events and initiatives taking place to get involved with."

Figures from 2018 saw record numbers of visitors, with more than two million visits to Scotch whisky distilleries from tourists for the first time.

The annual survey, compiled by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), revealed visits were up 6.1% year on year and 56% more than in 2010.

The survey also showed spending at visitor centres was up by 12.2% to £68.3 million – £7.4m more than in 2017 and 154% more than in 2010 – a result of the continued industry investment in world-class tourist centres.

Industry experts hope Scotch whisky tourism can play a central part in Scotland’s economic recovery.

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A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: “The health and wellbeing of the Scotch whisky industry’s employees is our primary concern. As most distillery visitor centres are located at the heart of the production process, public access remains restricted while the Covid-19 crisis continues, and visitor centres have been closed since March.

"Scotch whisky remains a globally popular spirit, and plays a key role in the success story of Scottish tourism. Whisky distilleries and their visitor centres support many rural communities across Scotland, through employment and visitor traffic. The recovery of Scotch whisky tourism will be crucial in helping to recover the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, particularly for these communities.

"Once it is safe to start welcoming visitors back, we look forward to working with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to ensure that Scotch whisky tourism can play a central part in Scotland’s economic recovery.”