Irish Whiskey tourism shows continued strong post-Covid recovery, but fresh challenges face the sector

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Irish Whiskey tourism shows continued strong post-Covid recovery, but fresh challenges face the sector

Irish Whiskey tourism shows continued strong post-Covid recovery, but fresh challenges face the sector
November 16
11:07 2023
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A recent survey of Irish Whiskey distilleries shows a strong boost in staff and visitor numbers this year, but also signals the future challenges for the sector, with rising operational costs and tourism industry pressures. The Irish Whiskey Association represents 48 Irish Whiskey distilleries — 29 of which also operate visitor centres around the island of Ireland. The Association conducted a survey of its members in August 2023 on visitor numbers post-Covid.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • 58% of respondents increased their staff numbers since the start of 2023.
  • There was an increase of 30% in staff numbers reported by those who increased their staff numbers.
  • 93% of distillery visitor centres have noticed an increase in visitors since the start of the year.
  • This increase is attributed to a strong rebound in visitors from key overseas markets, including North America, the UK, France and Germany.
  • A more varied age range of visitors is increasingly interested in distillery tours, with 43% of distillery visitor centres reporting an increase in visitors between ages 18 and 34.
  • 50% of respondents with a visitor centre reported a greater gender balance amongst visitors.

However, the sector faces a number of challenges:

  • 35% of respondents said that an increase in production costs, in particular energy, is impacting their business.
  • 15% said they are being negatively impacted by supply chain issues, specifically the lack of availability of glass and wooden casks.
  • Respondents also cited a lack of availability and the high price of holiday accommodation as having an impact, as well as the increased cost-of-living impacting domestic tourism spend.

Speaking at the announcement of the survey results, director of the Irish Whiskey Association, Eoin Ó Catháin, said: “This survey has given fresh insight into the challenges – and the opportunities – facing the Irish Whiskey sector in 2023. It is heartening, in particular, to see a strong rebound in the number of visitors and that our members are growing their staff numbers to meet this demand.

“Irish Whiskey has long supported local communities and it’s encouraging to see this continue. The thousands of visitors that distillery tours attract right across the island drive much-needed economic activity for other businesses in the local area.

“After a turbulent number of years, this demonstrates the strength of the Irish Whiskey sector, whose export value exceeded one billion euros for the first time in 2022, and the value it adds to the Irish economy in being a key player in tourism offerings and the promotion of our heritage and culture.”

Ó Catháin added: “The survey demonstrates the reasons why collaborative engagement with key policy-makers and government is so crucial to the success of Ireland’s whiskey distilling industry. The need for forward-thinking policies and support for this sector of growth has never been clearer.”

Views from distilleries:

Gerry Ginty of Powerscourt Distillery, chair of the Irish Whiskey Association Tourism Committee, welcomed the results of this survey, saying: “We are heartened to see a strong recovery post-Covid for many of our distilleries, but remain concerned about the impact of rising costs on visitor numbers. Our distilleries and tourist experiences face the exact same pressures as businesses throughout the country, and it’s important that government recognises the contribution we make to local economies and helps us, where necessary.”

Ruth Wyer, manager of Kilbeggan Distillery Visitor Centre, added: “At Kilbeggan, we are delighted to see so much varied interest and passion for Irish distilling. We’ve had visitors from all over the world this year, with a positive shift in gender balance and age ranges. As the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland, we are pleased to continue sharing Kilbeggan’s history and stories, to welcome both new and familiar friends of the distillery, and to continue to contribute to the local economy in Ireland.”

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