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Johnnie Walker to Open Edinburgh Attraction

Harry Crombie

Most of us will be aware of Diageo… it is one of Scotland’s major employers, boasting 50 sites across the country and is the largest exporter of Scotch whisky and other spirits.  At the centre of this, is their world-renowned Johnnie Walker brand. 

On 16th April 2018, Diageo announced that it was investing heavily, to the tune of £150million, over the next three years into the Scotch Whisky tourism industry, creating state of the art visitor experiences.  The jewel in the crown, will be the immersive centre in Edinburgh, which will bring to life the story of the world’s most popular Scotch whisky and create a unique welcome for whisky fans from all over the globe.

Tourism in Scotland is already at record highs in terms of year on year growth, especially in Edinburgh, where in 2015, the number of visitors reached 3.85 million, bringing over £1.3billion to the local economy.  These numbers continue to rise, and Edinburgh is 2nd only to London in terms of international visitors (*source Edinburgh Tourism Action Group).  Therefore, it makes complete sense that Diageo would throw their efforts into creating this world class facility in Scotland’s capital.

The proposal is to transform one of Edinburgh’s most important sites, 146 Princes Street.  The building here was, until recently, home to House of Fraser since 1976, at the West end of Prices Street, and always used for department stores since the late 1800’s.  Diageo will meticulously restore the building to its former glory with its many heritage features, integrating these to the new development, including the famous clock protruding from the building.

The plans include:

  • A multi-sensory, immersive visitor experience across three floors, guiding people through the 200 year history of the brand, the art and science of whisky-making, and taking them on a journey through the flavours of Scotland.
  • A flexible events space for staging music, theatre, arts and community events, making the venue part of the thriving cultural life of the city.
  • A bar academy that will be a home for Diageo’s award-winning Learning for Life programme, which creates training and employment opportunities in the hospitality industry for unemployed people, and works to improve hospitality standards and promotes the responsible serving and consumption of alcohol.
  • Roof-top bars with stunning views of Edinburgh Castle and across the city skyline to east, west and north, with the intention of making it one of the world’s most extraordinary iconic hospitality destinations.
  • At street level the plans include a significant retail space, bringing a contemporary shopping experience and interior design inspired by the Johnnie Walker retail flagship store in Madrid, which opened in November.

With Britain’s exit from the EU looming and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, Diageo’s boss in Scotland, David Cutter has highlighted that despite this, Diageo is making arrangements to “take Brexit in our stride”, to trade tariff free with the EU as per rules with the World Trad Organisation.  Good news that the company will continue to prosper in what could be a rocky couple of years. 

As an occasional whisky drinker myself, enjoying a dram of some of Diageo’s other brands of single malts, this is exciting and welcome news.  More diverse use of buildings across the city, that don’t just fall into the struggling retail sector, continue to demonstrate the global appeal of Edinburgh and why the city continues to thrive.

Sláinte.