For the first time ever over one million people visited Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes in 2019, according to newly released statistics from Drinks Ireland | Irish Whiskey Association.

The report covers how the Irish whiskey industry contributed to tourism in Ireland over the course of 2019.

In total, just over 1.02m people visited distilleries in 2019, an increase of 10.5% compared to 2018.

While North America remains the top market of origin for visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries, their numbers fell by 8% in 2019. The number of visitors from Great Britain also fell slightly by 2%.

Regardless, the US and Canada still account 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.

There are now 17 visitor centres 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 numbers employed at these visitor services icnrease by 15% in 2019, up to 409 from 356.

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

Commenting on the figures, William Lavelle, Head of Drinks Ireland | Irish Whiskey Association, 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 1.02m.

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

While 2019 numbers are up, Mr. Lavelle warned that potential challenges lie 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 IrishWhiskey360° 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.

“Recognising the disappointing fall-off in visitors from North America, we will be seeking to prioritise 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.”

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