A CHALLENGE is being laid down for more businesses and communities to share in the success of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.
Last year’s five-day event contributed £1.3 million to the local economy, and the organisers have launched a New Year drive to get more people involved this May.
Chairman James Campbell said: “It brings a huge boost to the economy and attracts thousands of visitors from all over the UK and abroad, some for the first time and many returning year after year.
“They need goods and services for their stays, and they want to get involved with local experience by eating out with us, enjoying the food experience, and by joining with us at entertainment events.
“Businesses all over Moray should start thinking now about how they can benefit from this influx of people and the money they bring, and we want to encourage communities to think about how they can be more involved in the festival, perhaps by putting on events and entertainment that would draw visitors while here.
“It’s an opportunity not to be missed.”
Mr Campbell and festival manager Mary Hemsworth are heading up an initiative to seek local involvement in solving two problems surfacing as the festival grows bigger year by year – finding enough beds for visitors and moving people around the area’s many events.
“We need to know if there is accommodation in the Speyside and Moray area that has not been identified,” said Mr Campbell. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to find beds for visitors and last year we were pointing people towards Grantown, and this year Aviemore is preparing to take visitors, with both places also becoming involved in festival events.
“If there are B&Bs in Speyside and Moray that will have places then we want to hear from them now.”
Ms Hemsworth is also calling for bus companies to come forward and participate in talks on how to move festival goers around the area more easily.
“We have tried various systems but we would love to hear from bus companies on what they think and how they can benefit from the festival. We want people visiting distilleries and other events, and having a dram, to be transported there and back.
“There were 28,500 visits to festival events last year, which shows the scale of the challenge, and there is obviously a great opportunity there for local transport companies.”
More music events are planned for this year and the festival is also opening up its prestigious awards judging to more local people and visitors.
Instead of judging being held before the opening Thursday night dinner, it will be spread over seven locations over several days, in the run-up to the winners being announced at a separate function on the Sunday.
“We are taking the judging out to the people,” said Mr Campbell. “There will be tastings events and dinners for people to attend, blind-tasting the finalists in the three different age categories and making their choice.
“We are the only festival that does this and it makes the Spirit of Speyside special. It makes these the people awards and again encourages the involvement of different communities.”
Ms Hemsworth said the Spirit of Speyside Festival was building a massive fan base throughout the world through its website and other forms of social media.
“We hear from people in many countries who have been to the festival before or will be coming for the first time. There is tremendous interest as soon as our programme of events goes up and tickets go on sale. It is quite remarkable.
“This is bringing great prestige to Speyside and Moray and we want local businesses and local communities to get involved with us and benefit. Now is the time to do that.”
This year’s opening dinner will be at The Glenlivet Distillery on Thursday, May 2, and the festival will run until Monday, May 6.
Ms Hemsworth can be contacted through the website www.spiritofspeyside.com, by writing to her at Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Ltd, PO Box 6764, Elgin IV30 9AW, or by telephone at 07789 671 635.
‘The Northern Scot’ is a media sponsor of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.