Irish Distillers Up Their Tourism Game and Welcome More Than 1 Million Visitors in 2019

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In years past distillery tourism around the world was something that just kind of happened. In today’s spirits world of experiential tourism a visit to a distillery has taken on a whole new level of importance. Distilled spirits groups of all kinds are now creating more formalized tours, trails and passports.

In the case of Ireland the spirits may be older than the hills but the association that pulls the distilled spirits groups together for a common cause is Drinks Ireland – IBDC. Under this one umbrella sits six distinct groups including Drinks Ireland Beer, Drinks Ireland Cider, Drinks Ireland Wine, Drinks Ireland Spirits and Drinks Ireland Irish Whiskey. On the spirits side of the world Drink Ireland Spirits was formed in 1997 to promote the interests of the Irish spirits industry in Ireland and internationally and Drinks Ireland Whiskey was added on in 2014 to represent the rapidly expanding Irish whiskey industry.

Goal = Make Ireland the No. 1 Destination for Whiskey Tourism

The association’s goal is to make Ireland the No. 1 destination in the world for whiskey tourism. William Lavelle, Head of the Irish Whiskey Association in Drinks Ireland said, “The Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy, which we published in 2016, sets out an ambitious target of 1.7 million visitors by 2025.”

2019 Irish Whiskey Tourism Traffic Up 54% in 4 Years

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

The Irish Whiskey Association reports these key facts.

  • There was a 10.5% increase in visitor numbers last year – 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%.
  • 2019 also saw an increase in visitors from outside the top five markets of origin, with 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%.
  • These increases were offset slightly by falls in the numbers visiting from North America and Great Britain. While North Americans are still the highest proportion of visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes, their numbers fell by 8% last year.
  • The number of visitors from Great Britain also fell slightly – by 2%.
  • There are 17 visitor centers 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. The full list is below.
  • The number of staff directly employed in visitor services in the Irish whiskey industry increased by 15% in 2019 – from 356 to 409.

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While existing visitor centers recorded slight growth in 2019, the bulk of the increases was accounted for by the opening of four new visitor centers during the year including Clonakilty Distillery, The Powerscourt Distillery, Dublin Liberties Distillery and Roe & Co Distillery.

Irish Whiskey Association - William Lavelle Head of the Irish Whiskey Association in Drinks Ireland

William Lavelle Head of the Irish Whiskey Association in Drinks Ireland.

Lavelle said, “In just four years, the total number of visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes has grown by 54% – from 653,000 in 2015 to our 2019 record of 1.02 million.

“Exceeding one million visitors annually is a massive achievement and I congratulate the managers and staff of our 17 visitor attractions on achieving this milestone. Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes are now firmly established as a star performer within Ireland’s all-island tourism offering. Jameson Distillery, Bow Street remains the No. 1 Irish whiskey visitor attraction; and indeed the No. 1 whiskey visitor attraction in Europe; in addition to being voted the world’s leading distillery tour for the second year running at the World Travel Awards in 2019.”

“Irish whiskey is set to be a world leader in experiential tourism. 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.”

Potential Challenges Ahead

Lavelle said that while the 2019 visitor numbers are undoubtedly positive, year-on-year trends point to potential challenges ahead.

“Future growth in visitor numbers to established Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes will require a fresh approach to attracting visitors,” he said. “Drinks Ireland | Irish Whiskey Association has developed the tourism-focused Irish Whiskey 360° campaign to raise international awareness of the depth and diversity of Irish whiskey’s tourism offering. We will be rolling out IrishWhiskey360° over the coming months.

You can watch one of the Irish Whiskey 360° tourism videos here.

“Recognizing the disappointing fall-off in visitors from North America, we will be seeking to prioritize our promotional activities in the US and Canada, working closely with our state tourism agencies. We will also continue to keep a close eye on the impact of Brexit on tourism figures.”

View all Ireland Distilleries.

Irish Whiskey 360° Distillery Visitor Centers and Brand Homes

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