By James Campbell

By James Campbell

When we wrapped our phenomenally successful Spirit of Speyside Festival 2019 with plans in place for an even bigger and better collection of events in 2020, we never could have imagined we would be where we are today. The festival has been cancelled and cultural gatherings across the country have been put on hold or postponed.

It goes without saying that in these times our priority is the health and safety of our families, our loved ones – whether that’s hugs with grandchildren, seeing friends or enjoying shared experiences such as the Spirit of Speyside Festival which should have been held last week. However, what I have witnessed emerging is hope, resilience and a strong Scottish can-do attitude. In the whisky industry, in particular, within days of lockdown being announced, distilleries rallied together to manufacture large quantities of vitally important hand sanitiser.

It’s a true testament to our Scottish fighting spirit that we will not take this lying down. We adapt and move forward as best we can. I’m extremely proud of the Speyside community and our wider Spirit of Speyside Festival family across the world for keeping the spirit of the festival alive.

Whisky and tourism are pivotal sectors to the Scottish economy. Three out of every five tourists come to Speyside for whisky tourism. In fact, the Spirit of Speyside Festival welcomed visitors from 34 different countries to its 20th anniversary event last year. The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival has become an iconic event on the international whisky calendar, appealing to both the whisky curious and connoisseurs in a region that has become one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the UK.

As well as being home to the highest concentration of distilleries of all whisky regions in the world, Speyside also produces the largest volume of whisky, as well as an increasingly wide range of spirits – we are now home to 13 different gin companies.

This is why we introduced our Speyside Gin Festival in June, to create a new weekend for both locals and visitors to enjoy, then we celebrate all our great Speyside whisky companies and local gin and craft beer companies at our Distilled Festival, all under one roof in Elgin, normally at the end of August.

This year’s Gin Festival has sadly been cancelled and a decision is yet to be made about Distilled. However, based on current guidance, we feel it’s unlikely it will go ahead.

But the appetite for whisky is there and it will remain. I am confident our economy will be rebuilt and we will work hard to do this together. According to VisitScotland, the Spirit of Speyside Festival welcomed visitors from 34 different countries to its 20th anniversary festival last year. This is a sector that is worth £130 million to the region’s economy. When we emerge from the other side of the pandemic I’m certain these figures will only increase.

International travel is sure to take a downturn in the short term, while people look for local and regional travel opportunities on their doorstep. Domestic travel is set to be the first to bounce back when restrictions are eased, and I can’t wait to welcome tourists from all over the UK to beautiful Speyside.

Our Team Speyside approach to tourism will pull us through these tough times in our part of the world, of that I have no doubt. Our whisky distilleries will reopen, glasses will be raised to good health, and visitors from across the world will once again immerse themselves in Malt Whisky Country. Never will the term “sláinte mhaith” hold more weight than it will when this is all over. Let us all toast to that this World Whisky Day on May 16.

James Campbell, is the chairman, Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival

Read more: First Look: Diageo’s Edinburgh whisky tourism experience at night

Read more: Coronavirus: Tourism rallying call to help firms tackle crisis