In 1985 there were no walking tours of Edinburgh. You might, if you were lucky, catch one of the volunteer Festival guides who operated in August, but there were no regular, scheduled, walking tours of the city.
So my father, Des Brogan, founded Mercat Tours with three other history teachers. They researched and wrote four walking tours – and two of them, Secrets of the Royal Mile and Ghosts and Ghouls, are still running today.
Why ‘Mercat Tours’?
Traditionally, every city had a Mercat Cross on the High Street. It was a place to seek out local information, organise a taxi – and perhaps pay the cabbie a little extra for the gossip. Edinburgh’s Mercat Cross lies at the historic heart of the town, and we decided to continue the tradition of giving visitors a warm welcome and a damn good story. So we called our company Mercat Tours.
The year of ‘firsts’
The first tour took place 1st July 1985. Throughout that first summer we learned a lot of lessons – the importance of marketing, the need for advertising, the importance of an efficient administrative system, the paramount position of product and quality assurance.
The next stage
As time passed, Des became sole Director of Mercat. The business continued to grow but there was only so much that could be achieved by a part-time administration in the summer holidays – Des was still a full time teacher. The tour competition grew – so my father stopped teaching and devoted himself entirely to Mercat Tours.
Recognition and reputation
Mercat grew exponentially. We attained 'Investors in People' recognition in record time; we won the contract from City of Edinburgh Council to open and operate tours of the Mary Kings Close, which we did successfully for five years; we doubled our guiding staff and trebled our income in five years; we were named a Five Star tourist attraction by VisitScotland and in 2001 we won the coveted Scottish Thistle Award for Cultural Tourism.
Since then the company has continued to flourish – based on the value of truly excellent guides.
The Mercat family
We have diversified and now provide a wide range of tours in and around Scotland, as well as historic characters for historic settings and even tours of the battlefields of Europe provided by our sister company, Mercat Tours International.
What began as a project for the summer holidays has grown into a fully-fledged family business. My father retired in 2015, leaving me to lead our family business to many more years of success. The secret? A lot of hard work, highly motivated permanent staff, and an exceptionally talented group of guides who share a common passion – history.