It is the hook that reels in thousands upon thousands of international visitors to these shores, according to industry advocates, and the impact of Scotch whisky on the country’s tourism sector is continuing to grow with hefty investment by the distillers.

In 2022 Scotland’s 70-plus whisky visitor centres collectively became the country’s top visitor attraction with two million people passing through their doors, narrowly nudging the National Museum of Scotland into second place with 1.97 million paying guests.

Footfall at whisky venues more than doubled compared to 2021, helped in large part by the combination of the post-pandemic rebound in international travel and the September 2021 opening of the award-winning Johnnie Walker Princes Street in Edinburgh, part of a £185 million investment in Scottish whisky tourism by owner Diageo.

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Graeme Littlejohn, director of strategy and communications at the Scotch Whisky Association, said industry-wide figures for 2023 won’t be available until May or June of this year. However, the industry group anticipates a similar set of numbers despite the effects of the cost-of-living crisis.

“Whisky is vital – it’s central – to Scotland’s tourism offering,” Mr Littlejohn said. “Two out of every three visitors to Scotland will go to a Scotch whisky attraction, and that is the window upon which Scotland is seen by many tourists from around the world.

“It is that entry point for many tourists around the world, so it’s vital to the future success of Scottish tourism not only that we have whisky as an increasingly world-class tourism attraction – that’s important – but also that we realise they are also going to see other parts of Scotland’s tourism offer. That’s good for the Scottish economy, that’s good for other businesses, and it’s good for future investment into Scotland.”

More than 1,100 people are employed at whisky visitor centres across Scotland, many of which are based in rural areas, as total investment across the sector has totalled more than £300m during the past decade. That has included the opening of many new attractions as well as upgrades at existing sites as the industry has worked to broaden its appeal.

“Whisky now in terms of the tourism experience of the visitor attractions is well geared up now to respond to a broad audience base,” says Marc Crothall, head of the Scottish Tourism Alliance.

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“It’s not just typically male-focused, hardcore specialists. The whole experience of a tour in a distillery now is much more inclusive.”

Venues such as Johnnie Walker Princes Street are also using technology in “a very clever way” to take an old and traditional product and bring it alive for a modern audience, Mr Crothall added.

“The Macallan, which is in its 200th anniversary year, you are noticing the transformation of The Macallan estate – there’s lots of different things that are happening up there,” he said.

“Harris is another unique product and experience in the sense that the actual distillery itself doesn’t have a lot of heritage in terms of the old buildings, it’s a very young distillery, yet you’ve got this incredible product with its gin which is world-renowned, and now the release of the Hearach single malt and the tour experience.”

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Mr Littlejohn said one aspect that is often overlooked is the role of Scotch whisky in supporting rural economies.

“We talk quite a lot in the industry about the macro numbers of the size and the scale of the industry – exported to around 180 countries around the world, Scotland’s biggest food and drink export by far, one of Scotland most strategically important economic sectors – but what’s often not as well understood is that global scale comes from some of the most rural communities we have, and the tourism aspect is really important to them,” he said.

“You’ve not only got the production side at distilleries on the Isle of Harris or the Isle of Raasay or across the Highlands and Islands, but you’ve got the tourism angle there as well which brings people from the Central Belt into the Highlands and Islands area, creates jobs that are outside production in those tourism environments, and also help to support the wider supply chain, the hospitality industry, and Scotland’s accommodation sector.”