The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh has spent £3m revamping its tour, followed most recently by a £1m refurbishment of its shop. General manager Susan Morrison tells Neil Gerrard why it was important to evolve, and how whisky is driving international visits to Scotland.
You have arranged all the whiskies in the shop by region. Why?
By the time our tour customers come down to the shop they have a basic understanding, so it makes much more sense to be able to see all the Speyside whiskies lined up in front of them, for example.
The shop refurbishment is the last stage of a bigger programme. What else did you do?
In 2009 we spent £3m redoing our tour from top to bottom, so we were delighted when we were in a position to spend another million to get the shop done. We wanted it to be attractive and engaging. One of the things we have introduced was our flavour map, where customers can plot the distilleries based on their flavour profile.
You also have the Amber restaurant. Where does that fit into the experience?
Amber had a makeover about four years ago, and they are very innovative. We have just started a new product called Taste of Scotland as part of the final tour of the day. You go to the Amber restaurant where you have the equivalent of a three-course meal but you get three very small starters, three very small mains - all very Scottish - and then little desserts as well, matched with whisky.
How many visitors do you get in a year?
We are sitting at 287,000. They start coming from Easter weekend, and that kicks off our high season right until the end of October, with another peak at Christmas and New Year.
Do you think Scotch whisky draws people in to visit Scotland specifically?
Certainly. Over the last few years it has had more and more impact. Scotch has always been synonymous with Scotland but due to the way it is performing, especially in emerging markets, people are actually making the trip with the intention of visiting a distillery or the Scotch Whisky Experience.
We have just announced £4.2b whisky exports from Scotland in 2011, which is a record.