New venture aims to tap into whisky tourism boom

A new business has been launched to tap into the growing whisky tourism market which sees more than 1.5 million people visit Scottish distilleries every year.

Visitor numbers at distilleries like Cardhu on Speyside have soared. Picture: Gavin Host.

Whisky Co has been founded by freelance marketing and PR manager Kirsty MacGeoch who has spent the past five years creating and hosting trips on behalf of brands including Johnnie Walker Blue Label, The Balvenie, Monkey Shoulder and The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Backed by RBS’s Entrepreneurial Spark start-up business accelerator, the Edinburgh-based firm aims to create bespoke itineraries for visitors covering everying from transport to tastings.

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MacGeoch, who originally hails from Speyside, which is the biggest region in terms of Scotch production, said: “Whisky is a huge Scottish success story, but there’s a missing link between the distilleries and the whisky lovers coming to visit.

“I’ve always felt that there wasn’t a luxury, personalised service available to the public that offered something special to visitors. Whisky Co. is here to do that, by providing extra-special whisky experiences based on exactly what the customer wants, rather than providing just another pre-packaged whisky holiday.”

A survey by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) last year found that distilleries are attracting more visitors from the UK and across the globe than ever before, with more than 1.5 million people coming to see how the product is made during 2014. The figure was up around 6 per cent on the previous year, and an increase of more than 15 per cent from just under 1.3 million in 2010.

The largest proportion of visitors came from Scotland and other parts of the UK, Germany, USA and France. The source of visitors reflects some of the largest markets for Scotch.

Visitors to distilleries spent a total of almost £50 million last year on tours and in shops and cafes, up from £27m in 2010.The average spend per visitor last year was around £32.50.

The SWA said that the increase in spend in recent years reflects investment by producers to enhance their visitor centres and to provide a wider range of offerings, such as special bottlings, tailored tasting and blending sessions.

Increased spending will also have a positive impact on local communities around distilleries and the wider economy.

A Scottish tourism survey last year found that 20 per cent of visitors said they had been to a distillery on their holiday, making it one of the top activities for overnight tourists on trips.