Diageo invests £150m in Scotch whisky tourism

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Edinburgh will host the new Johnnie Walker experience. Pic:getty/bnoragitt
Edinburgh will host the new Johnnie Walker experience. Pic:getty/bnoragitt
Diageo is investing £150m ($215m) in Scotch whisky tourism, including a ‘state-of-the-art’ Johnnie Walker immersive visitor experience in Edinburgh.

It represents the largest single investment ever made in Scotch whisky tourism.

Diageo will also upgrade 12 existing distillery visitor centres to create a ‘new generation of Scotch attractions’ and new centre for food and drink tourism.

The beer and spirits giant says the investment will help attract people to Scotland and ensure they return home as ‘life-long ambassadors for Scotch and Scotland’.

Growth in whisky tourism

Tourism in Scotland is experiencing record growth. Meanwhile, the global appeal of Scotch whisky is helping attract more visitors, with many interested in the provenance of local food and drink.

Diageo has been operating in Scotland since 1627 and now has 50 sites in the country, including 28 malt distilleries and one grain distillery, alongside other operations. It has a total of 14 visitor attractions in Scotland.

Year-on-year growth in visitor numbers to its distilleries has been growing over the last decade, reaching a total of 440,260 people in 2017 - an increase of 15.2% on the previous year.

Diageo says its investment in the Johnnie Walker visitor experience will ‘bring to life’ the story of the world’s most popular whisky in the centre of Edinburgh, ahead of its 200th​ anniversary in 2020.

Johnnie Walker - Entrance (L)

Meanwhile, further investment will be made in other Scottish visitor experiences.

“Whisky from Diageo’s distilleries all over Scotland contribute to Johnnie Walker, but four distilleries, Glenkinchie, Cardhu, Caol Ila and Clynelish, will be linked directly to the Johnnie Walker venue in Edinburgh, representing the ‘four corners of Scotland’ and the regional flavour variations of Lowland (Glenkinchie), Speyside (Cardhu), Island (Caol Ila) and Highland (Clynelish) crucial to the art of whisky blending,” ​says Diageo.

“Together this will create a unique Johnnie Walker tour of Scotland, encouraging visitors to the capital city to also travel to the country’s extraordinary rural communities."

Diageo says it has a ‘track record’ in tourism, having welcomed 1.71m visitors to the Guinness storehouse in Dublin. This makes it the leading paid-for tourist attraction in the Republic of Ireland, contributing €361m ($447m) to the economy each year.

Other distilleries - Lagavulin, Talisker, Glen Ord, Oban, Dalwhinnie, Blair Athol, Cragganmore​ and Royal Lochnagar​ - will also benefit from investment to support the growth of single malt Scotch whisky.

Last year Diageo also committed £35m ($50m) to re-opening the ‘lost’ distilleries​ of Port Ellen and Brora.

Local impact

Scotch whisky and Scottish salmon are the country’s top two food and drink exports, making up 22% of UK F&B exports by value. The value of Scotch whisky exports rose 9.9%​ in 2017: the top destination is the EU, followed by North America and then Asia.

As well as further boosting the reputation of Scotch abroad, Diageo says its investment in visitor centres will bolster the local economy. Diageo currently employs around 3,500 people in the country.

Welcoming the investment, First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, said:  “This significant investment will not only help attract more tourists to Scotland, offering world class visitor experiences, but it also underlines the fundamental importance of the whisky sector to Scotland’s economy.”  

Diageo says it will use the venue to mentor Scotland’s next generation of entrepreneurs and exporters. Meanwhile, it will extend the £1m per year funding for its ‘Learning for Life’ programme that helps young unemployed people in Scotland get into the hospitality industry.

Johnnie Walker and Edinburgh

Diageo has chosen Edinburgh for its Johnnie Walker experience thanks to the growth of tourism in the city. The building will also become a new hub for its business in Scotland, which will include creating opportunities in the hospitality sector for young people and becoming a destination for mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs and exporters. There will be particular focus on supporting young entrepreneurs from John Walker’s home town of Kilmarnock.

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