We talk economics with Chairman & Director of the Spirit of Speyside Festival and Partner Johnston & Carmichael
How did you come to be involved with the Festival?
For some years I have admired what the Festival has achieved in promoting the Moray/Speyside area and have participated in one or two very enjoyable events!! When approached to take over the Chairman’s position and challenged to see if we could take the Festival to another level, I was delighted to accept the challenge.
How many years have you been involved with the Festival now?
This is my second year with the Festival.
You must be incredibly busy with your day job, how do you find the time for your role as Chairman and Director?
10 years ago this would not have been possible. However, with my laptop able to access all of the files at my business address and I-phone and I-pad, in hand, it is now possible to work from anywhere and make sure that I am still contactable and responsive to my business clients, whilst at the same time leaving sufficient time and space to carry out Whisky Festival duties
You are located within the Speyside region, how important is the Festival to the Local Economy?
Last year, over the 5 days of the Festival an independent economic assessment calculated that £1.65M was generated for local distillers, tourism and other businesses.
Do the benefits of the Festival last the region throughout the year?
We have a new website this year and the Festival also acts as a “shop window” for Moray/Speyside all year round.
Many visitors to the Festival return to the area at different times of the year. Often, when they come back, they bring a few more friends with them and we feel that the Festival helps to introduce visitors to this beautiful part of the world and once they have visited, many return year after year.
What do you think the biggest benefit of the Festival is?
Apart from the economic impact, our greatest satisfaction comes from welcoming and looking after our guests, whether they are visiting for the first time or those who have been coming for many years and are now “old friends” of the Festival. In the independent survey conducted last year, we achieved a visitor satisfaction rating of very close to 100% and 95% of our visitors said that we exceeded their expectations. Our aim is for all of our visitors to become “Ambassadors” for Moray /Speyside and to tell all of their family and friends what a great place this is to visit.
What is the estimated visitor expectation for this year’s Festival?
We have been nominated as a Signature Event in the Homecoming 2014 programme. We have secured some extra funding and have created “Spirit of Speyside Sessions” which will be a Music Festival, featuring 30 different music events, taking place within the Whisky Festival. Last year we achieved 32,000 visits to events and with the new Music Festival, we are hoping to add a reasonable number to this figure in 2014.
What percentage of Festival expenditure, comes from foreign visitors?
Our figures show that very close to half of visitors to the Festival, from out-with the Moray /Speyside area, are from overseas whilst the other half come from other parts of Scotland and from England, Wales and Ireland.
How much repeat business is experienced throughout the region, comes as a direct result of the Festival?
This is difficult to measure but we know from the feedback we get from local hoteliers/restaurateurs and businesses up and down Moray/Speyside that many visitors return at different times of the year.
How much revenue is the Festival expected to bring this year?
We are hoping to exceed last year’s £1.65M which was up on the £1.36M achieved in 2012.
Where does the bulk of the revenue go?
Virtually all of the Revenue is earned by local businesses. The Festival really acts as the shop window or clearing house for our Event Providers.
Who benefits the most from increase in tourism?
The revenue generated helps to maintain local jobs in the tourism industry and helps sustain local hotels, shops and businesses, which have to survive a fairly long “winter” season.
There are so many events at this year’s Festival, many of which do not involve whisky (photography, music, nature), in terms of revenue and benefit to the region what do these events bring?
Whilst the Whisky industry does a great deal to underpin the local Moray /Speyside economy and a huge amount to promote the area on a worldwide basis , this area is well known for activities during the different seasons; fishing for salmon on the River Spey, shooting, hill walking, skiing, climbing, mountain biking and many more outdoor activities are on offer. With the Cairngorm National Park at one end of the River Spey and the ability to watch seals and dolphins and stroll on the beautiful sandy beaches of the Moray Firth at the mouth of the River Spey, we try, within the Festival, to show our visiting guests a wide range of activities which they can enjoy at different times of the year, with a view to them returning. The feedback we have is that they very much appreciate trying different events each year.
Is it important to the Festival that there are family events?
Obviously any event involving drinking whisky is not appropriate for children. However, to provide variety and choice to our visitors we have a number of sizeable events, particularly the Market Day in Elgin and the Vintage Vehicle Day in Forres, which are very suitable for families. This year, we also have a 3 week Exhibition in Elgin, in late April/May, telling the story of Whisky production “ From Grain to Glass “ which will be both fun to visit and educational for all ages.
For Scottish tourism as a whole, just how important is the Festival?
We feel that we play our part in attracting visitors to Scotland. On the way to the Festival many of our international visitors often spend some time in Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen.
What public funding is awarded to the Festival and how are these spent?
The Festival is very grateful to Event Scotland and Highlands and Island Enterprise for the important funding they provide.
How important to the continuation of the festival is this public funding?
The Festival does not exist to make a profit. Public Funding cannot continue indefinitely. Any small surplus that we make is put straight back in to building the Festival for the future and trying to become self-sufficient as we continue to grow and improve our offering to visitors.
How supportive are the people who not only work or run businesses in the region, but people who live there?
All of the Directors of the Festival unselfishly give their valuable time for free. bIn my short time in charge, I have been really impressed by the support and public spiritedness of the whisky companies, businesses and members of the local community who are prepared to provide their time to the Festival or to support us with the offer of manpower or resources.
What benefit is there to the community as a whole?
The people, who have the good fortune to live and work in Moray/Speyside are very proud of this area and realise just how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful part of the world. We are only too happy to share this with our visitors and whilst many of our guests could afford to visit any part of the world, the feedback we get is, that it is the people of Moray/Speyside who are one of our greatest assets and it is the welcome and the friendships created that bring our visitors back time and time again.
How important to the Distilleries themselves is the Festival in terms of extra revenue?
In the overall scheme of things, for our Distillers the Festival is only one week out of the year. However, to try and help promote tourism in the area for the benefit of the whole community they all go out of their way during Festival week to put on special events and for example they open distilleries not usually open to the public and it is really gratifying to see how all of the Distillers, large and small, despite being in competition with each other, work closely together to achieve a really special offering for visitors to our Festival.
What kind of an impact does the Festival have on local transport networks?
Again we have had a great response from local transport companies who, with community spirit in mind, are running a very frequent service between all of the towns on Speyside and for the first time, this year are going to run a weekday service on the Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday of the Festival, which is really good news for everyone.
Are you a whisky fan yourself?
Yes, I am a fan of Speyside Malts.
Do you have a top must see Festival event?
There are too many to mention, with nearly 400 events. The difficulty is trying to choose which events to go to, knowing that by doing so you are missing other great events, going on at the same time.
Can you give me a festival fact that might surprise people?
If you stand in the middle of Rothes on Speyside and draw a circle with a 30 mile radius from where you are standing, you will find that 50 of Scotland’s 102 distilleries are within the radius of that circle.
Thanks so much for this interview James, I look forward to catching a dram or two at some point in the festival.
Kirsty Clarke (@kirstyclarke29)