Mercat Tours was born in an Edinburgh classroom. The simple belief that fired my father’s passion for teaching has been Mercat’s mantra since we established our walking tours in 1985 – “history is a damn good story, what it needs is a damn good telling”.
Since then, we’ve worked to keep traditional storytelling alive. This is enjoyed by both guides and visitors, who relish our rich heritage. What may be a surprise is that the majority of those we attract are UK visitors. What also may surprise is the £1million we spent on our 90-strong team in 2018. From limelight loving guides to eagle-eyed finance, tourism is inclusive and accessible, with attitude counting for more than academic skills.
Our investment in the team is rooted in an ambition to nurture our people, because a happy, fulfilled team is loyal, and proud of giving visitors the best experience. This belief led to remodelling the business in 2017 when, following team consultation, we introduced annual contracts for all. We invested in people, giving added securities and benefits, and removing seasonal or zero-hour contracts. These benefits ensure buy-in from our team, boosting pride in their work and encouraging skills development, resulting in a better customer experience and growth for all.
The key is flexibility. We offer our team flexible opportunities, adapting our model to accommodate early starts, late finishes and split shifts, as well as part time working. For example, in 2003, Jane joined us as a storytelling guide. When she started her family, we changed Jane’s work pattern to ensure she could continue to earn. When Jane wished to pursue further education, we adapted her working week again and assisted her in gaining qualifications. This led to Jane staying with Mercat for 16 years and progressing through the business. Without our flexible approach, neither we nor Jane would have been able to grow.
Mercat is a profit-sharing company with all staff benefiting from our success. In 2017, we became the first walking tour operator in Scotland to secure Living Wage employer accreditation. Investing ten per cent of our annual profits in team development, we provide access to several training courses, in addition to fully funded three-month training for guides, which is accredited by Napier University.
Looking forward, we give equal consideration to the next generation of employees as we do the current. We’re proud of our Day In Edinburgh project, which aims to inspire local pupils to consider tourism as a career, showcasing the jobs available using a collaborative, practical approach. We have worked with Holy Rood High School and Craigroyston High School and have hosted 685 students and 120 staff alongside 24 organisations in Edinburgh and aim to grow this. We also offer paid placements to local university students.
Being a responsible business is not a strategy, it is in Mercat’s DNA. Our ethical approach has resulted in above average success; 19.5 per cent year-on-year growth, 87 per cent staff satisfaction, 97 per cent customer satisfaction and 100 per cent trade satisfaction. This tells the story of a thriving company embedded in the community, respected by trade, with a fulfilled team helping happy visitors.
Sharing the tourism story is crucial. If the local authority, tourism businesses and residents work together then everyone can enjoy the benefits tourism brings. By understanding how investment in the city benefits both visitors and residents we can support each other to grow, celebrating our thriving industry, giving the warm welcome for which we’re famous now, and in the future.
Kat Brogan is managing director of Mercat Tours.