Another Rise in Scottish Distillery Visits

Rise in Diageo distillery visits as Scotch Whisky Association reports record levels of Scotch tourism

As the Scotch Whisky Association reveals that a record 1.7 million tourists visited scotch distilleries last year, Diageo sees strongest growth in tourists visiting from China and Russia, increasing up to 154%

Blair Athol Distillery sign in Scotland

China is the single largest alcohol market in the world with a growing luxury consumer base. There is also a large penetration opportunity for international spirits, particularly Scotch whisky which currently represents just 2% of the total NSV pool.

By 2022, 75% of the nation’s urban population will be classified as middle class; a trend which is also helping to grow the demand for more premium products. Diageo archive records point to Johnnie Walker’s presence in the Chinese market from as early as 1910 and this year Diageo’s net sales for scotch in Greater China were up 5%, driven by big brands such as Johnnie Walker and Singleton.*

At Diageo distilleries, the number of Chinese visitors has grown 154% in admissions and revenue over the past year. While Chinese tourist numbers remain fewer than those from Germany, USA and France (the top three tourist markets), Chinese spend per head is significantly higher. Diageo data nets Chinese consumer spend at nearly a third higher than visitors from Germany, USA and France.

The Dalwhinnie Distillery in Scotland in winter
The Dalwhinnie Distillery

On the ground in China the trend continues, with over a hundred new whisky bars or collector’s clubs opening in the country in the last year. Scotch’s heritage, provenance and craft credentials are important factors in locals’ love of the liquid. Gifting also provides another cultural moment of significance for scotch, with the super-deluxe scotch malts preferred in this context. Chinese consumers have a thirst for knowledge on whisky and a desire to refine their appreciation.

The Diageo Whisky Academy invites Chinese scotch fans to attend a three level education course; the final level includes an immersion trip to Scotland to learn in the home of Scotch whisky. Next November (17th-18th) Diageo will also hold its second ‘Greater China Whisky Summit’ in Guangzhou, an event bringing together industry experts, scotch adorers and business partners to discuss and share whisky knowledge, trends and opportunities in a series of panels, workshops and tasting masterclasses.

Diageo figures also highlight Russia as an emerging scotch tourist market, with admissions and revenues from these tourists at Diageo distilleries up 146% year on year and an average spend per head from the Russians similar to that of the Chinese market. Also in 2017 Diageo reported that Russia achieved double digital growth in Johnnie Walker.

The Glenkinchie Distillery in Scotland in winter

As with China, scotch is often used to demonstrate prominence in Russia – not just as a drink of choice, but also in acquiring knowledge of the blending process and range of malts available. While overall numbers of Russian tourists remain relatively low, those heading to Scotland are seeking to learn first-hand about the liquid, perhaps to impress when back home at one of a number of new whisky bars in the country such as the Whisky Rooms in Moscow or Saint Petersburg’s Fiddler’s Green.

Diageo Scotland Director, Ewan Andrew, said: “Scotch is not only Scotland’s most valuable export industry, it is the world’s most popular spirit, attracting thousands of international visitors to Scotland every year. The latest Scotch Whisky Association tourism figures indicate that a record 1.7 million tourists visited scotch distilleries last year, up almost 8% on 2015.

“As demand for premium products and interest in scotch grows in China and Russia, tourists from these countries are visiting distilleries not only to purchase whisky straight from the distillery, but to discover the expertise and craft that goes into making every bottle.”

The Dalwhinnie Distillery in Scotland
The Dalwhinnie Distillery: Photo by Angus Bremner