26 JAN 2015: On a typical wintery night in Toronto I traipsed into a wee pub in the city’s west end to observe a now atypical Toronto event. At this pre-Burnsian gathering - which means pre celebratory birthday toasts to Scotland’s national poet whose fete was on January 25 - the wall-to-wall punters were there to discuss peaty whiskies and the aging of a good malt.

The Caledonian Pub felt like I had travelled to Scotland.

And for Richard Knight, director of marketing for the Americas from VisitScotland Business Tourism, it was the ideal time to discuss the country’s recent accolades and reasons to visit Scotland this year.


Knight explained how Scotland was at the media forefront last year and for the five years leading up to such successful international events as The Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games.

But by far the biggest headline-making event was the Scottish Referendum. The eyes and the ears of the world were on Scotland as the “No” vote won to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. “People are interested in what we have to see and do,” he said of the media blitz.

The Top Reasons

According to VisitScotland Business Tourism the tourism industry with a mix of public and private funds has invested £7 ($13) billion this year on new venues, new properties and new developments.


Watch for brand new hotels like the 25-bedroom ‘boatique’ hotel, MV Windsor Castle. The Royal Yacht Britannia has acquired the iconic heritage vessel which is currently undergoing a £1 million refurbishment. Expected hotel opening: Spring 2016.

Then there are the hotel refurbishments at the Waldorf Astoria, The Sheraton and Gleneagles just to name a few.

The Trump Touch

“Even businessman Donald Trump has built two golf courses in Aberdeen,” Knight says adding the American tycoon’s growing list now includes the purchase of Turnberry, a luxury golf resort in Ayrshire on the west coast. “It’s near where Hendrick’s (gin) is bottled and distilled.”

To put the recent mega-million pound purchase into perspective, Knight explained that the creator of the successful reality TV series “The Apprentice” has spent £150 ($280.4) million toward refurbishments of the 151-room hotel. “We’re talking about a rate of £1 ($1.8) million per room. Obviously it’s not all being spent on rooms but he’s spending a lot of money.”


Story telling is a big draw in whisky experiences.

Gordon Stevenson, spokesperson for the International Beverage company which has an exceptional collection of premium drinks and MC for the whisky tasting at The Caledonian comes over with a bottle of AnCnoc Cutter. The top shelf peaty single malt which retails for roughly $100 a bottle is crafted at the Knockdhu Distillery in the picturesque village of Knock in Aberdeenshire. (note: sadly it is not available in the LCBO).

He pours me a sampler and inquires if I can taste the peat. First, the smell taste: Ripe, earthy and yes - the smell that’ll curl hairs on the chest is a good analysis coming from someone who is not a whisky snob.

The taste: ‘Aye Laddie! With neck swung back just let it slide down yuh and wait for the heat.’

Stevenson explains that peaty whisky isn’t a huge draw but more of an acquired taste; but better still, “Outside Ireland where it’s more common it’s difficult to find this peaty whisky in Scotland.”

That is until you visit some of the whisky making towns. There’s a small village in the north called Wick. In the old days no man could get to Wick (it was roadless). It was revered as the town of gold and silver due to its whisky manufacturing of peaty, salty undertones and for the robust herring industry.

These days Wick is reportedly the only place in the UK in which one of the world’s largest cruise ships The World can moor off the natural deep harbour.

Folks who visit Wick (a population of about 7,300) will certainly cross paths with the town’s unofficial ambassador Malcolm Waring the distillery manager at Pulteney. In his kilt, with the sgian-dubh “dagger” the size too long to describe, Stevenson jokes, “He’ll also say he’s an international sex symbol” at the distillery where genuine maritime malt has been crafted since 1826.

Robert Burns Day, January 25

What do you do when you happen to be “the” country which champions the most celebrated poet in the world?

Throw a big birthday party. “In every single country in the world there’s a Burns Night,” Knight explains and adds the celebrated fete includes a fun, lively dinner with dance, bagpipes and humorous sparring between the ladies and the gents who don’t take themselves too seriously but manage to get kilted up and dressed to the nines as they dine on haggis, ‘neeps and tatties’ and drink whisky.

Meanwhile back at The Caledonian pub, owners David and Donna Wolff, have been showcasing the poet’s birthday all week through various whisky nights and specially-themed dinners.

Food and Drink

Scotland’s natural larder and quality produce is showcased this year as the “Year of Food & Drink.” VisitScotland Business Tourism reports nearly 500 businesses are participating in the programme aimed at furthering awareness of Scotland’s reputation as a Land of Food and Drink.

“Scotland is famous for seafood,” says Knight adding some 95 percent of seafood farmed in Scotland is bought by “our friends in Europe and abroad.” Discover a high standard of salmon, prawns and oysters.

In Edinburgh alone, the Michelin Restaurant Guide lists five restos with 1-star status and three lauded with the Bib Gourmand, a Michelin rating for good food at moderate prices.

Check them out here.

New Air Route

WestJet announced Glasgow as its newest European destination offering daily non-stop flights from Halifax beginning May 29, 2015. Daily connections will also be available via Halifax or Toronto to Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.


Robbie Burns
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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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