By Mark Gillespie
May 20, 2020 – While distilleries around Scotland have kept their visitors centers closed for the last two months because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been hopes that some of the tourist season could be salvaged later this year as lockdown restrictions are relaxed. However, Glenfarclas Distillery in Ballindalloch has decided that the risk of exposing its distillery workers to the coronavirus is too great to allow visitors on site, and announced via Twitter that it will not open its visitors center or gift shop at all during 2020.
As of now, no other distilleries in Scotland have made a similar announcement. The decision was made with a clear realization of the potential exposure for distillery employees. Grant says a Glenfarclas bottling hall employee was one of the more than 3,500 Scottish residents who has died from the Covid-19 virus, while all of the other employees remain healthy so far.
“Realistically, the lockdown isn’t going to finish here for at least another month, if not longer, and it’s going to be bars and restaurants that are past that, too,” George Grant of Glenfarclas told WhiskyCast in a telephone interview. “We want to ensure that the staff working at the distillery are happy and safe to come into work, and part of the thing about people coming to the distillery is offering them tours, and we just felt that we wouldn’t be able to offer that in a safe environment,” he said.
In previous years, Glenfarclas would have already hired temporary staff to handle the influx of summer tourists, but did not make that move this year because of the lockdown. The distillery was one of the first to open a visitors centre in 1973, and usually is open year-round. However, the lockdowns have already cost Glenfarclas and its neighbors one of the biggest weeks of the year with the cancellation of last month’s Spirit of Speyside Festival. The festival attracts thousands of visitors to the Speyside region each spring, and Grant said that usually results in significant sales at the Glenfarclas gift shop. Grant acknowledged that there had been internal discussions about perhaps opening only the gift shop while not offering tours, but chose to keep the doors closed as a way to support local retailers with the possibility of holding events or offering special bottlings.
With the UK scheduled to require a 14-day quarantine for visitors arriving from other countries beginning June 1, the potential for significant tourist traffic is limited at best. Grant suggested there may be some travel within the UK, but that “people are still going to be cautious around other people.”
“At the end of the day, it’s just safety for everybody.”