Scotch whisky’s global appeal has led to an unprecedented surge in the value of its ‘whisky route’ as new figures reveal more than one million tourists visited distilleries last year, spending more than £25m in the process.

Scotlandwhisky, the national Whisky tourism organisation, will this week announce that the amount spent by tourists visiting Scotland to experience its distillery route has increased by 12% with 1.2 million visitors.

Once dismissed as nothing more than a free dram and a quick distillery tour, the tourist offer is providing the industry with lucrative revenue streams. In recent years a clutch of new initiatives have been introduced, including distilleries building luxury accommodation on site, conference facilities and restaurants and bars.

Chris Conway, chief executive of Scotlandwhisky, said the impressive spend figure reflects the investment that distillers have made in their visitor centres over the last few years.

He said: “There is a real thirst for knowledge with enthusiasts and novices alike wanting to learn as much as possible about the making of Scotch whisky. Distillers continue to innovate to meet this demand and have introduced a whole selection of tours to satisfy consumers’ growing interest in all aspects of Scotch.

“In addition to general tours, many have introduced in-depth masterclasses, often hosted by the distillery manager, which offer the public an opportunity to explore overlooked parts of distilleries and sample rare bottlings.”

In October, Morrison Bowmore announced a £500,000 investment in its Auchentoshan distillery, including a 30-seat cinema and four-star conference centre. At the time, chief executive Mike Keiller told Scotland on Sunday: “The industry is just waking up to the fact of the enormity of the tourist offering. This part of our business has grown 5% in the last year and now accounts for around £1m of turnover. But we are looking to double the number of visitors coming through the doors in the next three years.

“People love coming here, seeing the distillery and learning a bit about the history. The Americans do it very well in the bourbon industry so why can’t we?”

A spokesman for the SWA said: “These encouraging figures show again that distillers are offering a high-quality visitor experience and that Scotch whisky helps to set Scotland apart in the international tourism market.”