Visitors to whiskey distilleries exceed 1m for first time

The old guard of Ireland's whiskey tradition is setting out to assist newcomers with a new IWA initiative
Ireland's whiskey industry is booming, and with it, tourism

Over one million people visited Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes last year, the first time visitor numbers have exceeded the one-million mark. 

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21 January 2020 | 0

Drinks Ireland and the Irish Whiskey Association have published statistics which reveal how much Ireland’s booming whiskey industry contributed to tourism in Ireland during 2019.

The key figures include:

  • A 10.5% increase in visitor numbers – from 923,000 in 2018, to 1.02 million
  • North America remains the top market of origin for visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries, with tourists from the US and Canada accounting for 34% of all visits in 2019, followed by Ireland (13%), Great Britain (12%), Germany (10%) and France (7%)
  • There were reported increases in visitors from Australia, Italy, and the Benelux and Nordic countries
  • Between 2018 and 2019, the highest increase – 32% – was seen in visitors from Germany, while visitors from Ireland (north and south) grew by 16% and visitors from France grew by 15%
  • The number of staff directly employed in visitor services in the Irish whiskey industry increased by 15% in 2019 – from 356 to 409

There are 17 visitor centres and brand homes in operation across the island of Ireland, with more planned to open this year, including The Hinch Distillery close to Belfast and a new visitor experience at The Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim. While existing visitor centres recorded slight growth in 2019, the bulk of the increases was accounted for by the opening of four new visitor centres during the year: Clonakilty, Powerscourt, Dublin Liberties, and Roe & Co distilleries.

‘Star Performer in Ireland’s Tourism Offering’

Commenting on the figures, William Lavelle, head of the Irish Whiskey Association, said that exceeding one million visitors annually is a massive achievement. “I congratulate the managers and staff of our 17 visitor attractions on achieving this milestone,” he said. “Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes are now firmly established as a star performer within Ireland’s all-island tourism offering.”

The Jameson Distillery on Dublin’s Bow Street remains the number one Irish whiskey visitor attraction in Europe; in addition, it was recently voted the world’s leading distillery tour for the second year running at the World Travel Awards in 2019.

Mr. Lavelle said the continued popularity of Irish whiskey visitor experiences could be attributed, in part, to the diverse range of tourism offerings within distilleries and brand homes.

“Irish whiskey is set to be a world leader in experiential tourism,” he said. “Many distilleries and brand homes have innovated and expanded their offerings. We’ve seen a marked increase in blending and cocktail classes, for example, along with more ‘meet the maker’, food-pairing and seasonal special events.”

“The increase in visitors last year was undoubtedly supported by the ‘Taste the Island’ food and drink tourism promotion led by Fáilte Ireland. Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes look forward to enhancing our participation in Taste the Island in 2020. By throwing open the doors of our distilleries, by showcasing our people, our places and our practices, we are putting our authenticity and the uniqueness of Irish whiskey on display.”

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