Drink giant Diageo has predicted a whisky tourism bonanza for the north after unveiling £150million plans for the “biggest single investment” ever seen in the sector.
The company aims to “transform” visitor centres at distilleries including Cardhu on Speyside and Clynelish at Brora, in a major tourism drive based around its Johnny Walker brand – the world’s top selling Scotch.
Other distilleries, including Talisker on Skye, Glen Ord at Muir of Ord, Oban, Cragganmore on Speyside and Royal Lochnagar – on the edge of the Balmoral estate – are also in line for investment to support growing demand for single malts around the world.
In addition, Diageo will create an “immersive visitor experience”, in Edinburgh, wholly dedicated to Johnnie Walker.
David Cutter, chairman of Diageo in Scotland, said the company’s investment would spread the economic benefits across “all four corners of the country”.
He added: “We want to encourage many more people to come and find out all about our whisky.”
Investment in four distillery visitor centres – Cardhu, Clynelish, Caol Ila on Islay and Glenkinchie in East Lothian, will be heavily focused on their contribution to the Johnnie Walker brand.
The aim here is to “create a unique Johnnie Walker tour of Scotland, encouraging visitors to the capital city to also travel to the country’s extraordinary rural communities”.
Mr Cutter said: “Over the past six years we have invested over £1billion in building our Scotch whisky production infrastructure to grow exports of Scotch around the world.
“With this new investment, we turn our focus to bringing the world to Scotland.
“This will not only build the Scotch whisky industry, it will bring economic benefits to communities throughout Scotland.”
Diageo global Scotch whisky director Cristina Diezhandino added: “Scotch is the world’s favourite whisky and Scotland is the greatest distilling nation on earth.
“New generations of consumers around the world are falling in love with Scotch and they want to experience it in the place where it is made and meet the people who make it.
“This investment will ensure that the people we attract to Scotland from around the world go home as life-long ambassadors for Scotch and for Scotland.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Diageo’s “significant” investment would help to attract more tourists to Scotland, while it also highlighted the “fundamental importance” of whisky to the nation’s economy.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: “It is not just our biggest export, but an iconic product which draws visitors here from around the world.
“I welcome Diageo’s major new investment. It is hugely exciting, not just for Scotland but for whisky drinkers around the world who want to learn more about the history and traditions of our national drink.”
Diageo, which has 50 sites in Scotland, including 28 malt distilleries and one grain operation, is gearing up for the 200th anniversary of the Johnnie Walker brand in 2020.
The company is on the hunt for a suitable site for its new visitor attraction in the heart of Edinburgh.