Whiskey tourism could be hit by cancer label bottle law, sector warns

Cancer warnings on Irish alcohol products could impact the country’s burgeoning whiskey tourism industry, the sector has warned.

Restrictions on advertising distillery tours also enacted in the recent Public Health (Alcohol) Act will present another challenge for producers hoping to attract visitors from around the world, the Irish Whiskey Association said.

The notes of caution came as the association toasted a successful year for whiskey tourism.

Distillery visits were up by 13% in 2018, with 923,000 people touring producers around the island – a trade that supported 356 jobs.

The figures are based on the returns of 13 distillery visitor centres and brand homes located across the island of Ireland.

Overseas tourists accounted for 88% of those visiting distilleries last year, with the largest number (40%) coming from the US and Canada.

The IWA said eight new whiskey distilleries were due to open visitor attractions in 2019.

The organisation said the positive figures indicated the sector was on track to reach its target visitor numbers of 1.9 million by 2025.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>William Lavelle of the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA/PA)</figcaption>
William Lavelle of the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA/PA)

But IWA head William Lavelle has warned against complacency in light of a number of expected challenges in 2019.

As well as the crackdown on advertising and introduction of health warning labelling, the association also flagged Brexit and the rise in tourism VAT as other causes for concern.

“Just as Irish whiskey remains the fastest growing premium spirits category in the world, Irish whiskey distilleries are now among the fastest growing attractions in Irish tourism,” said Mr Lavelle.

“Irish whiskey tourism is attracting international visitors, creating jobs and supporting local economies, both urban and rural, right across the island of Ireland.

“Tourists and Irish whiskey lovers alike are keen to know more about the back-story of the whiskey – where, how and by who it is made. They want to experience the heritage and vibrancy of our distilleries.

“The Irish whiskey industry has a great tourism offering, and it’s only going to grow as more distilleries open their doors to the public in 2019.”

Mr Lavelle added: “The recent increase in the VAT rate on the hospitality sector poses challenges for Irish tourism. It means more expensive food, drink and accommodation for tourists, putting pressure on the already relatively low proportion of tourists spending on paid attractions like distillery visitor centres.

“At the same time, a disorderly Brexit will likely lead to a further weakening of Sterling, harming tourism from the UK and Northern Ireland.

“The recently-enacted Public Health (Alcohol) Act will constrain opportunities for the advertising of Irish whiskey distilleries as visitor attractions.

“The act also imposes an internationally-unprecedented stigma on Irish whiskey in the form of cancer warning labels which our competitors, the Scotch and Bourbon whiskey tourism industry, don’t face.”

- Press Association

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