Why connectivity matters to whisky

22 Dec 2014

It was a pleasure to speak recently at an SCDI conference looking at the issues around Scotland's aviation connectivity.  As a former diplomat, and now as SWA chief executive, I have spent my fair share of hours waiting in, or transiting through, airports.  Living in London, I got used to heading to the airport and getting more or less directly to where I wanted to go.   Working in Scotland, the comparative weakness in connectivity, both domestic and international, is striking.
International connections of course matter to the whisky industry.  As an export-oriented sector - nine out of every ten bottles are sold overseas - our people are regularly travelling to sell, promote, and grow the sector in developed and emerging markets.  That will only grow over time as the industry looks to expand into new markets in Africa, Asia and the Americas. 
Ideally, of course, we would like to see as many direct flights as possible from Scottish airports to regional hubs, for example Miami for the Americas, Hong Kong or Singapore for Asia.   Second best would be a focus on developing a more efficient UK hub to deliver global connections.  From a UK perspective, however, we must wait to the see the results of the Airports Commission after the General Election in 2015.  In the end, businesses will take decisions on the basis of level of service, cost and practicality, meaning that unless there is a real step change at Heathrow, airports like Amsterdam and Frankfurt are just as likely to become the 'go to' hub for Scottish businesses. 
Domestic connectivity is just as important for an industry rooted in Scotland, often in more remote rural areas.  What is really needed is an infrastructure policy that encompasses air, sea, road, and rail.   There remain challenges. Having spent time in Denmark, I'm surprised by the relative lack of internal flights in Scotland and see the need for more responsive ferry services to the islands, not least important whisky industry locations like Islay.   More could be done to ensure that the more remote areas of Scotland are connected, for example helping the industry to move raw materials to distilleries and whisky to bottling and blending facilities in the central belt.  Within the UK, frequency and speed of connections to London are of course also a priority given its continued status as a global business and financial centre.
An industry like Scotch Whisky relies on long term planning on connectivity and infrastructure, both at home and to our overseas markets.  But it is also a key to Scotland's ability to grow and internationalise its economy in the future.

David Frost, SWA Chief Executive