Here it is: during my latest Scottish visit, I realised – once again – that there’s still a very long way to go before visitors can get the most out of their distillery tours.
I’m not going into some name-dropping/public shaming here (and anyway, if you follow me on social media, you’ll probably figure out which distillery made me go :/), that’s really not the point of this article. It’s actually more of a hopeful plea to distilleries to take even the most basic-tour visitors more seriously.
Yes, I saw a guide answering “hmm not sure #LeaveMeAlone” to very basic questions such as “what makes this whisky smokier than this one” or go “yeah you’re so right #DontBotherMeAndLetMeFinishMySpeech” when this posh Londoner interupted the warehouse explanations to say to the world that Single Malts were better than blends, oh, and, only Scotch. Are we still seriously there? I mean, not blaming this guy for having this opinion, but don’t you think the guide, who’s supposed to know his/her whisky would stand up to this and actually seize the opportunity to educate the visitors? Oh hell no… Time is counted, you should have taken the £90 1h30 tour if you wanted a bespoke experience -__-
So yes, I visited this world-famous distillery, owned by a huge spirits group, taking the most basic tour they were running at the speed of light every 15 minutes. What stroke me first, was the lack of history: when all newly-built distilleries (which may rely more on tourism revenue I hear you say…) I visited in the past put so much efforts into going back in time and even sometimes find some slightly far-fetched historical facts to link their very recent distillery to, you’d think an Established-1830 distillery would have A LOT to say when it comes to history… Well you’ll probably be as disappointed as I was as we probably spent 35 seconds discussing this aspect.
And what I just said about the history part also applied to craft, territory and other important topics that would deserve more than a one-minute explanation. Hopefully, I already visited many distilleries and my passion for whisky isn’t going to be in jeopardy because of a disappointing tour. But I’m not thinking about me here, more of the people that were visiting with me, maybe it was their first time discovering a distillery? And they were curious, they had many relevant questions to ask… And they didn’t get them answered.
I just think this is a pity at a time when educational efforts brands are showing are more and more important. I think this is a pity for one of the most visited distillery in Scotland. I think this is a pity for us, whisky lovers, who would probably be missing the opportunity to welcome many new members in our community.
You know my passion for whisky tourism, especially Scotch tourism, as I dedicated my whole master’s degree researches during my uni years to this very question: how can Scotch whisky distilleries improve the visitor experience?
Figures of tourists visiting Scotch distilleries have been on the rise since a few years, hitting record-breaking numbers, so let’s capitalise on those and turn them into fellow whiskyheads 😀
For distilleies, there’s one simple question you should be asking yourself: at the end of the day, are those tourists likely to grow an interest for whisky? If the answer is closer to IDK or “who cares”, then you should probably rethink your tourism strategy.
So as I promised this article won’t simply be about telling you about a bad experience I had #StoryTime, here’s just some thoughts for those distilleries that would like to enhance their visitor experience:
- Storytelling is key – I think I’ve said that a billion times on this blog but what makes whisky an exciting and magic drink to me, apart from the product itself, is all the aspects behind it: the history, the people, the craftmanship, the legends, the anecdotes, the territory… So yes, explaning the production process is more than important (and the basis of a distillery tour) but liven up your tour with some spot-on anecdotes and an emphasis on those other aspects is 156498748 more enjoyable than simply talking science & temperatures & cuts.
- Fun is more than welcome – You’d think I shouldn’t need to say that x) But yes, sometimes, a lighter tone is much appreciated, especially when discussing a drink of enjoyment…. Come on it’s just whisky after all! 😉
- Recruiting the right candidates, with a real passion, should probably be mandatory (And we all know there’s a bunch of them waiting in line!). How can you transmit a passion if you don’t like the product yourself? I do realise that’s a pretty basic observation…
- Look into sensorial experiences: I mean, more than simply passing around this piece of peat that don’t smell anything anymore or this bowl of malted barley. Don’t get me wrong, getting to touch, smell & taste the raw materials is essential, but we can do much more than that. The Scotch Whisky Experience & The Speyside Cooperage (with its smellovision technology) are for instance doing well in this field 😉 – I get that you may not want your distillery to become some sort of whisky Disneyland though but maybe find the suitable balance or the right experience that would make your distillery stand out from the crowd. Oh and don’t find a great idea and then offer it under a £50 tour, no, that’s not what we’re talking about here.
- Interact with visitors – please, enough of those known-by-heart-and-Im-not-going-to-change-a-single-word speeches given by dehumanised robots. What makes a visit thrilling is the interaction with other visitors and the guide, questions shouted at random, laughters & well-informed answers. A bit of personality in a tour can make a much-needed difference.
I reckon those tips could feel a bit patronizing, who am I to tell you that anyway? Just another annoying blogger who visited 578798789 distilleries and now start to get bored very easily.
Yes, I believe Whisky Tourism could be Better, Smarter, Stronger.