Irish Whiskey Tourism: A Reality Check


We need this kind of thing.

There is absolutely no doubt that Irish Whiskey Tourism is on the Up and that is a wonderful thing for all of us.  In my mind the ideal situation we will have on this Island in about a decade is a tourism system that emulates Scotland or Kentucky. Both have scenic winding Whiskey Trails, which snake all over the lovely state of Kentucky and Up hill and down dale and over ferrys in Scotland. The reality is though that we don’t have that right now. We have a concentration of tourism sitting with a few large scale attractions or concentrated in Dublin.

Let’s just look at the stats for a moment. A Note here: the distillery specific stats I have quoted are the most recent on public record and taken from a Drinks Industry Group of Ireland Report published in Sept. 2017. Therefore some of the below stats are 2016 and not bang on date. This is then an illustrative exercise rather than a literary one. I am open to corrections on the below numbers for 2017 but I imagine they will be upward revisions rather than down. For the purposes of this post I am assuming 2016 visitor stats stayed flat rather than speculating.

The Stats

  1. Total Irish Whiskey Tourism visitors in 2017-—814000
  2. Total Visitors to Bow Street Experience Dublin 2017—350000
  3. Total Visitors to Jameson Distillery Midelton —150000

Ok that means about 61% of all Irish Whiskey Tourist visits are to Jameson. I’m not saying that is a negative thing, both of those experiences are wonderful representations of Irish Whiskey there is no doubt about that. Pernod have done a great job, they are good at experiential. They are of course though not the full picture of Irish Whiskey today., nor are they supposed to be, they are brand led experiences through the Pernod Ricard lens.

That leaves 314,000 whiskey tourists outside of Jameson visits. Lets look at how they are spread.

  • Teeling Dublin 100,000 (2016 )
  • Irish Whiskey Museum Dublin 56,000 (2016)
  • No stats available for Pearse Lyons so not included here

OK, that means then 80% of the 814,000 Irish Whiskey Tourists visited an attraction either run by Jameson, which has powerhouse draw, or one in Dublin our capital city,

The other big powerhouses Beam Suntory & Grants can’t get close to Dublin numbers or compete with the lure & global recognition of Jameson.

68,000 visitor to Kilbeggan (2016)

37,000 visitors to Tullamore Dew  (2016)

That leaves 53,000 tourists left for everyone else. The other tourism offerings that I know of right now are spread around the country and total Four, that would leave an even distribution  of visitors of  13,250 each let’s say. With an average spend per visitor of 20 euros that is about 265,000 in revenue per annum, minus overhead, minus marketing spend, minus running costs, licenses, fees etc. it is a tight business.


This Sort of Thing Please

I can only speculate that as Whiskey Tourism Grows to the predicted 1.9 million per annum, so will the Jameson Bow Street visitor figures. I can further speculate that once Diageo open Roe & Co. beside The Guinness Store house (WHICH 50% OF DUBLIN TOURISTS VISIT!!!) concentration of whiskey tourism in Dublin will also grow. Remember too DWC and Pearse Lyons are coming into their own, so Dublin tourists will be spoilt for choice but Diageo & Pernod will ultimately dominate that market.  No doubt Brown Forman will kick into high gear this year with the irresistable attraction at Slane which is within striking distance of Dublin so we’ll some numbers spread there, but only due to some serious marketing spend and advertising.

Any rural distillery off the beaten path will tick along but could really do with help to maximise this opportunity. As tourism numbers grow so do distillery offerings if the current uneven spread of tourism continues there simply won’t be enough tourists to go around to make tourism truly viable for a multitude of rural distilleries.

It is clear and has been for some time that in order to truly strategically approach the long game that is Irish Whiskey Tourism we need a joined up approach. The IWA has laid out a great whiskey tourism strategy for the Island. It is a great read and is basically bang on. The problem is though that we don’t really have the might of Failte Ireland behind said strategy and that is absolutely vital to its success. There is no mention of an Irish Whiskey Tourism Trail on the Faite Ireland website at all just a disparate number of whiskey related events.

Let’s compare that to the equivalent body across the water ‘Visit Scotland’s approach. For quite a while now The Scotch Whiskey Trail has been a core offering and program for them. Its internalised studied and reported on and owned by that particular state body. They champion its success and publicise it globally. As a result Scotland is a global destination for Whiskey Tourism. 1.7 Million visitors to 40 distilleries in 2017 according to the most recent figures. Those 1.7 million visitors are not concentrated in cities they are spread around the country, they are all basically rural. I can say from experience that Scotland’s distilleries are even more remote and far flung than our own, yet 1.7 Million people toured them in 2017. People are more than willing to leave the city and hit the road to visit far flung distilleries, they just need to be made aware its possible and some infrastructure or guidance needs to be provided in the form of guides etc. There needs to be a decent impartial budget behind the initiative too and only the state can really do that.

In short we need a Wild Atlantic Way style branding and publicity exercise for an “All Ireland Whiskey Trail” and very specifically we need Failte Ireland to lead this initiative in consultation with the IWA and vitally rural independent non-members. Otherwise we are really missing a trick here and depriving rural areas of much needed employment opportunities.

Sadly the current political climate in Ireland is not massively conducive to the above suggestion. If the attitude that all alcohol is bad alcohol is pervasive throughout the Irish Government in line with the Health Bill then I fear the above is a pipe dream.


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