Scotland’s whisky tourism industry makes a significant contribution to the economy with numerous visitors arriving from countries around the world to partake in the tours each year.
One person treading a different path when it comes to building a business on this whisky heritage is entrepreneur Camilo Gómez, Director of tour company ‘Once Upon a Whisky’. Camilo’s tours take a different approach to most, drawing on popular culture to deliver a unique visitor experience.
“I want to invite people to come to Scotland to engage with Scotland’s whisky culture – it is the best in the world,” explains Camilo. This might not seem so surprising a statement until you understand that Camilo’s journey to become a part of this world-renowned industry began not in Scotland but in Colombia.
“I studied business administration at the university in Colombia – after which I went on to work for a number of companies including car manufacturers and drinks companies. I always knew I wanted to do something related to the business world but I was itching to have my own project.
“I went to New York to study mixology – the art of mixing cocktails and I started up a small enterprise, providing a mobile cocktail bar for special events. I also found a role as an Ambassador for William Grant & Sons – the largest independently owned Scottish whisky company – in this capacity, I visited Scotland a number of times and my interest in the whisky industry grew stronger.
“These two facets of my work, complemented each other enormously, meaning I had experience of setting up a small business and working for a larger corporation, plus both enhanced my knowledge of a product I had grown to love – whisky.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spark and I knew that ultimately I’d want to work for myself, so after a few years, and having got to know Scotland through my work – I decided to enrol on the MBA at the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School.
“The Glasgow MBA was the perfect fit for me, giving me an excellent grounding in strategic thinking, leadership and entrepreneurial skills – helping me to develop the skills necessary to succeed in business.”
The cohort of students on the course is kept small, with 30 to 40 students on the MBA each year, making for an excellent learning experience which is delivered through tutorials, interactive workshops and discussions. A calendar of social, networking and guest speaker events is also organised to enhance the student experience still further.
The small intake of students means that the needs of each student can be catered for, as Camilo explains, “each student is assigned a mentor and great care is taken in finding the right mentor for each student – mine was a key figure in the whisky industry.
“In addition, all students on the Glasgow MBA have access to a brilliant careers advisor who goes the extra mile to improve your career situation, it is a personalised service which is extremely valuable in setting your career on the right track. The mentoring and careers advice available on the MBA is outstanding.
“The Glasgow MBA helps different people in different ways and this is its strength. As well as providing students with the knowledge and skills to set up a business, the MBA provides you with the means to re-orientate or make a step change in your career – like taking on a leadership role, for example.
“The flexibility of the Glasgow MBA was particularly valuable, as it provides students with the opportunity to specialise in a particular field such as finance, marketing or strategy – an opportunity that few MBA programmes afford.”
“Studying for the Glasgow MBA was a life-changing experience for me.
“Not only is Glasgow a well-regarded university and the campus is wonderful too. The location of the university in the West End of the city is ideal, it is a artistic, and hipster area, with fantastic restaurants along with beautiful architecture and parks, all of which provide a great quality of life.
“Glasgow is a multicultural city and so too is the MBA, over 15 different nationalities were represented on the course with students from North America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Meeting people from different nationalities, backgrounds and cultures was an important part of the whole experience.
“I visited a couple of distilleries during the MBA and focused on them in my case studies, before writing my dissertation on the whisky industry. It was during this time that I realised that the whisky industry was going through a transformation and that this presented me with an opportunity.
“Where once the emphasis was on the age of whisky, the assumption being that the older the whisky, the better it was, now that perception was changing.
“There was a lot of innovation within the industry in terms of the whisky itself, the flavours created and the marketing used to promote it – bringing whisky to a new and younger audience. This evolution of the industry provided me with an opportunity to set up a whisky tour business that took a different approach.
“I wanted to reach out to a new audience and pique their interest in Scotland’s whisky culture and so, with just my laptop, I set up my own tour business. Now I am working every day, leading whisky tours in Glasgow and Edinburgh. As a Colombian, living and working in Scotland, perhaps I bring a fresh perspective to the industry.
“My company’s name – Once Upon a Whisky – was chosen because on each tour I tell a story. I integrate quirky and curious facts into the tours which show how the Scottish national drink has influenced directors and musicians throughout history. I focus less on the production of the drink and more on its links to popular culture and in this way I’ve engaged a new audience.
“We also arrange bespoke tours and corporate events, tailored to the needs of the individual client. I also like to organise special events that pair whisky with food, with some unlikely combinations proving exceedingly popular. Doughnuts and whisky served up at a film viewing was a particular hit.
“I set up my company last year and the university has been instrumental in its success – the MBA careers advisor and continued to support me even after I had completed my MBA. I find great inspiration and support in the network of friends, mentors and contacts that I made there.
“The skills I learnt on the MBA enabled me to set up my own company, to undertake the digital marketing to promote it and set up the strategic alliances I needed with hotels, restaurants and whisky companies to make it a success.
“Visit Scotland and People Make Glasgow have been instrumental in bringing visitors to the region and have been very supportive of my venture too, inviting me to events and involving me in the tourism forum – helping me raise the profile of my business. “
It is clear that Camillo’s venture is going from strength to strength and that he has added new impetus to the whisky tour industry – it will be interesting to see where the tale of ‘Once Upon a Whisky’ takes him next.
“In the future, I’d like to organise more special events,” says Camilo “and I plan to branch out offering tours in more cities in Scotland and further afield. There is great potential for tours that utilise local food and drink in other parts of the UK too.”