People

The most important part of any business is the people

By Ian Wisniewski
IAN What would you like visitors to take away with them?ALASTAIR A much greater knowledge of Scotch whisky, and also the propensity not only to taste it, but to drink it.We’re in the process of a major upgrade, spending £2 million, to create a highly atmospheric experience that will be memorable, educational and inspirational, which will be up and running about February, 2009.We’re proposing to concentrate on production, the regions and history, but we’re also going to produce a sensory experience whereby our guides will take visitors through different aromas found in Scotch whisky and relate these aromas to actual Scotch whiskies, whether malts or blends, and we can then say which sort of whiskies equate to your palate.IAN And there’s also an opportunity to relax?ALASTAIR We have a whisky bar manned by experts, all our staff are fully trained in the serving of Scotch whisky, but we also have a whisky cocktail bar.Our restaurant Amber has its own award winning bar.IAN Howvaried is your visitor profile?ALASTAIR About 70 per cent of our visitors come from overseas so we’re a genuine window on the world.In terms of nationalities the largest number of visitors are from Europe, followed by the USA, Canada and Mexico, then South America, the Far East and Pacific Basin region.I firmly believe emerging markets like Russia, Eastern Europe, India and China are going to be major influences on visitor numbers in the future.We currently offer tours in 10 languages, covering most of the Continental languages and Japanese.We’ve recently included Chinese Mandarin and Russian, and are getting an increasing number of Russian visitors.As part of our major upgrade we will be increasing the number to 15.IAN How challenging is it to cater for various levels of knowledge and interest in Scotch whisky?ALASTAIR We offer many other options apart from the tour.We do tutored tastings and have a Scotch whisky training school with a one day course, where you can learn much more than doing a tour, and you have to pass an exam to receive a certificate of excellence. Additionally, we have the Scotch Whisky Appreciation Society, with about 40,000 members, which gives visitors single malts from each region to taste.IAN What’s the focus of tastings?ALASTAIR We’re emphasising the different characteristics of the regions and the huge range of flavours and aromas in Scotch whisky.We are however always mindful that well over 90 per cent of Scotch whisky consumed world wide is blended and we do try to convey the importance of both single malt and grain whiskies in putting together a really good blend. The art of the Master Blender is fundamental to this.IAN Every visitor attraction nowseems to have a retail element.ALASTAIR The shop is very important, we have an extensive choice of brands and we have seen a major growth in Scotch whisky sales, particularly in our miniature packs, 35 cl and 50 cl bottles.IAN How would you describe your role?ALASTAIR I have been the managing director here since 1987, and for the first few years it was a part time role as I was running a Scotch whisky company in Leith.My role has been much more hands on since 1996, when I took the view that we should start a period of serious investment and we bought the lower basement area which we converted into a bar and restaurant, we refurbished parts of the tour, and we now have a very good events and hospitality area on the top floor.My role is to steer the operation in terms of overall strategy but I still take a keen interest in marketing, financial performance and the operation generally.IAN It’s 20 years since you opened.ALASTAIR Yes, we opened in May 1988, and in our first year we had 70,000 visitors, last year we had well over 200,000.I feel fortunate that I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to start it off, and get the right premises. But the most important part of any business is the people, and we genuinely operate a team approach here.IAN How do you see the Scotch Whisky Experience evolving?ALASTAIR We’ve reinvested the profits we’ve made over the years and continue to re-investment and the current upgrade of our tour will go a long way to make our tour world class, and bring us firmly into the 21st century.