SWA: ‘Too early’ to assess covid-19 impact on industry

17th March, 2020 by Nicola Carruthers

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said it was “too early” to assess how the industry would be impacted by the coronavirus outbreak as more than 40 visitor centres at Scottish distilleries have closed or suspended tours.

Talisker is one of more than 40 Scotch whisky sites to stop tours

Yesterday (16 March), UK prime minister Boris Johnson warned the British public to avoid pubs, clubs and social venues in a bid to mitigate the impact of coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases escalates.

Karen Betts, chief executive of the SWA, said the trade body “remains confident” in the Scotch whisky sector’s long-term growth.

“This is a rapidly changing situation,” she said in a statement released on 16 March. “It is too early to assess at this stage what the impact on the Scotch whisky industry will be.

“Despite some inevitable disruption to exports, global travel retail and tourism to distillery visitor centres, we remain confident in the long-term growth opportunities for Scotch whisky at home and abroad.

“Our member companies are working with local authorities in the UK and in export markets to ensure we are playing our full role in helping to contain the virus in affected countries. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and share relevant guidance”

In addition, Betts said “it may be necessary for industry sites, including visitor centres, to limit public access or close for a period of time”.

“Most Scotch whisky distillery visitor centres are located at the heart of the production process, with public tours having access to still houses, bottling halls and other areas vital to the ongoing production of Scotch whisky,” she explained. “As ever, the health and wellbeing of our workforce, is paramount.”

Precautionary measure

The SWA has released a list of Scotch whisky distilleries that have closed or suspended tours. The list will be updated daily.

The list includes all 12 of Diageo’s visitor centres across Scotland, including Talisker, Caol Ila, and Lagavulin.

A Diageo spokesperson said: “The health and wellbeing of our employees, visitors and on-site partners is our highest priority. As a precautionary measure, all our distillery visitor centres are now closed until 3 April 2020, when the situation will be reviewed and a further update given.”

Those who have purchased an entry ticket for the affected period will be able to reschedule visits or gain a refund.

In April 2018, Diageo pledged £150 million (US$215m) on an extensive upgrade of its Scotch whisky visitor centres, as well as a new Johnnie Walker experience in Edinburgh.

In 2017, Diageo’s Scotch whisky distilleries welcomed 440,260 visitors, an increase of 15.2% compared to 2016. The world’s largest Scotch whisky distiller operates 28 malt distilleries across Scotland.

In the Highlands, the sites that will close or suspend tours are: Aberfeldy, Ardnamurchan, Balblair, Ben Nevis, Blair Athol, Clynelish, The Dalmore, Dalwhinnie, Edradour, Fettercairn, Glen Garioch, Glen Ord, Highland Park, Jura, Oban, Old Pulteney, Royal Lochnager, Scapa, Talisker, Tomatin and Torabhaig.

Islay distilleries Bowmore, Caol Ila, Laphroaig and Lagavulin were also named, while Lowland sites Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie and Borders Distillery have also moved to close or postpone tours.

Speyside distilleries taking similar measures include: Aberlour, The Balvenie, BenRiach, Benromach, Cardhu, Cragganmore, GlenAllachie, Glendronach, Glenfiddich, Glenglassaugh, Glenlivet, Glen Moray, Knockdhu, The Macallan, Strathisla and Tamnavulin.

A number of Irish whiskey distilleries, including Jameson and Teeling, have also shut to the public due to concerns over coronavirus.

Jim Beam owner Beam Suntory, Bourbon maker Heaven Hill and Jack Daniel’s producer Brown-Forman have also temporarily suspended public tours at its distilleries.

Whisky festivals around the world have been forced to cancel or postpone as a result of the disease.

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