That represents a 6% spike on the previous year and a 15% increase on the 2010 figure as tourists flocked to learn how the iconic product is made.
The SWA said this puts the distilleries alongside the likes of Edinburgh Castle, Stonehenge and the London Zoo as one of the UK’s leading tourist attractions.
Most visitors came from the UK, followed by Germany, the US and France.
Visitors to distilleries spent a total of almost £50 million last year on tours and in their shops and cafes, up from £27m in 2010. The average spend per visitor last year was around £32.50.
Julie Hesketh-Laird, the SWA’s deputy chief executive, said: “Scotch whisky producers are investing in their centres and shops to give visitors the best possible experience. As well as providing another source of income for producers, the increasing number of visitors is good for the wider Scottish economy. Visitors are spending more at distilleries and are likely to being doing the same with other businesses, including hotels and restaurants. It also helps put Scotland on the map.”
Mike Cantlay, Visit Scotland chairman, added: “There is clearly a growing appetite amongst visitors to sample the secrets behind Scotland’s national drink and with the greatest concentration of whisky distilleries in the world right here on our doorstep there is certainly plenty to enjoy.
“Research shows time and time again how popular distilleries are with visitors and with five distinct whisky regions, each producing their own unique characteristics and flavours, every visit offers a different taste of the county’s important whisky tourism industry.”
Scott Fraser, Tomatin Distillery visitor centre manager, said: “Our visitor numbers are increasing, as is the amount people spend when they come to see us. We’ve completely revived our tour offering and the feedback has been brilliant, both from private tourists and an increasing number of coach tour business. The brand has been performing well in the UK and in our export markets and this has had a direct impact on our visitor numbers. We’re delighted that tourists are now not only choosing to visit Tomatin Distillery because of its convenient location, but also because they now know and love the brand.”
Mickey Heads, Ardbeg Distillery manager, added: “Distilleries like Ardbeg have become a place of pilgrimage for the Single Malt Whisky faithful and these findings echo the growth in visitor figures we have experienced. We pride ourselves on being one of the island’s fastest growing distilleries.
“We firmly believe Ardbeg encapsulates all that Islay has to offer, in all its raw natural beauty. This year marks Ardbeg’s 200th Anniversary and we look forward to sharing the true spirit of this whisky with many more visitors and raising a dram to the next 200 years.”