Tomatin Distillery hopes to see an almost three-fold increase in whisky tourists in future as it plans a new multi-million pound visitor centre.
The distillery has lodged proposals for a visitor hub next to the existing centre it opened in 1992.
Work is under way to demolish two warehouses on the site to make way for the new building which it is hoped will open by May 2025 .
It comes amid increasing demand from whisky lovers to visit the homes of Scotland’s national drink.
Top visitor attraction
In September, the Scotch Whisky Association said numbers to whisky visitor centres across Scotland topped two million in 2022.
It said collectively the centres are the top visitor attraction in Scotland, with footfall more than doubling (114%) since 2021.
Spending has also risen by 8.65%, up to £85 million.
Martin Macalister Hall, Tomatin’s visitor centre manager, said it attracted about 35,000 visitors this year, up 5,000 on 2022.
This is expected to rise to 50,000 when the new centre opens, with ambitions to reach 100,000 in five years as facilities develop.
“It’s a considerable cost, but this is the right time to invest. The demand is huge”, he said.
“We’re confident, and our owners are confident, it’s the right thing to do.”
‘We want to create a welcoming space’
The visitor centre will include a new bar, tasting rooms and tours, and a blending academy where visitors can make their own blend of whisky.
There are also plans to create paths and cycle tracks in a landscaped area.
Longer term, it is hoped to convert three empty former managers’ houses into upmarket accommodation, allowing visitors to live on site.
“We want to create a welcoming space where people can relax and spend more time”, said Mr Macalister Hall.
“At the moment after the tour, people come in, have a dram and move on to the next place, like Loch Ness or Culloden.
“What we plan to do here is make it more comfortable, to give them more options on site so they want to stay longer.
Centre will be a base for ‘a number of experiences’ on site
“We also want to open up the space – we have about 140 acres but only use a small percentage of that currently.
“We want the area used, not just as a distillery, but somewhere to spend a morning or an afternoon.
“The visitor centre will be a hub, but it’s not the be all and end all. It will be the base for a number of experiences on site.”
He said the conversion of the former manager’s houses could add an extra element to visits.
“I believe we’re the last distillery to still have houses on site.
“They could be used to help provide what, increasingly, people are looking for, an individual bespoke experience.”
Community support for plans
The plans were outlined to the community at an informal meeting at the distillery and to Strathdearn Community Council.
Barbara MacAskill, the community council chair, said the project has local support.
“It’s going to bring more revenue into Tomatin and put us on the map a bit better.
“It can only be a good thing for the village. I’ve not heard of any opposition.”