mercat tours royal mile

How Mercat used the pandemic to improve customer experience

Conceived in 1985, Mercat is a family owned business with a focus on history walks and ghost tours in the heart of Edinburgh. Known for their distinctive and high-quality visitor experiences, the business recognised the Covid pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate a review of their processes.

Just 2 months before the first lockdown, they had appointed Pete Duncan as Head of Visitor Experience. As part of his new role, one of Pete’s objectives was to streamline internal processes, reducing both the dependency on manual day-to-day operations and duplication of data between environments.


A self-proclaimed data enthusiast, Pete attended a DDI Data Skills for Work event in Dec 2020, supported by TORCH Senior Solutions Architect, Margery. After reading more about the service (and tuning into our live webinar with Traveltech for Scotland, ‘Breaking up with Spreadsheets’), he connected with TORCH for advice and support in undertaking his review of Mercat Tours’ operations and supporting systems. The aim, to assist in business recovery and enable growth post-COVID.

Like many businesses, Mercat has a lot of data. They had developed their own, bespoke-built operations system, but much of what should have been recorded on the system (to help streamline the service) was being recorded on spreadsheets. Managing Director, Kat Brogan, was aware that the current system was not as efficient as it could be, but wasn’t sure how to adapt it to support the adjustments required to stay competitive and make the most of their data.

Pete knew what the possibilities were, but was very much self-taught and needed support when it came to identifying solutions and maximising the potential.


I built a lot of work around Pete’s process maps and, for me, that really characterises TORCH. We ask people what they’ve got in the way of collateral and assets that portray their thinking and, of course, we treat this in confidence.

– Margery McConnell, TORCH Senior Solutions Architect


TORCH engagements are tailored to the requirements of each individual organisation. Mercat’s strong understanding of their processes meant that, in this instance, time in discovery sessions was minimised, whilst time building a development roadmap was maximised.

Pete told us, “It was amazing how quickly they took that basic information and pinpointed potential areas for development.”

mercat ghost tour


“Small companies have limited time and resources to spend with prospective suppliers”, noted Margery …

Mercat have chosen to invest in this process with money that they could have put elsewhere. So, for me, it’s important that they feel they can have informed conversations and ask those smart questions of their prospective suppliers. Once you’ve got that, you’re much more capable of making choices around the people you work with and what they do for you.

One of TORCH’s key focuses was that of Mercat’s data landscape, helping them ensure that it was well-defined and clearly understood. A number of specific recommendations were made to support this, including the “de-coupling” of the four key areas: Product Management, Tour Sales, Storyteller Management and Tour Scheduling.

In our client report, TORCH also recommended the automation of the Mercat Support Team’s manual activities. This would free up expertise to deliver more value-add activities to Mercat’s customers, storytellers and partners alike.

As part of the review, TORCH noted that their bespoke booking system had some limitations. This was an area worth exploring, as there are now many cloud-based options available on subscription to support with this, introductions were made to trusted experts within our TORCH Supplier Network.


Following the TORCH engagement, Mercat have already engaged with Managed IT Experts (as per TORCH Supplier Network recommendations). They have agreed on a plan and have begun working towards implementation.

Their team have responded enthusiastically to the proposed changes. In a bid to make the most out of furlough, most are now undertaking some form of digital training (from basic Excel skills, through to coding with Python and utilising specialist BI tools). Additionally, a number of the Mercat leaders are continuing their data journey by investing time in courses with The Institute of Data & Marketing and Edinburgh Napier University.

The news of Mercat’s work has been well received, as many businesses look towards their next steps in post-pandemic world. Highlighting the TORCH engagement and Mercat’s digital goals, Scottish Business Insider reported on The Data Lab grant opportunities and the benefits they’re bringing to Edinburgh Tourism. Our Deputy CEO, Brian Hills, also presented the project as a glowing example of how The Data Lab are supporting SME recovery and growth.


Reflecting on the TORCH process, Pete told us,

“It’s shown us how to think about data differently …

In order to make the most of data, it requires a business to be committed to embracing the data journey. Mercat had already decided that was the way forward so, that part was easy. However TORCH showed us that we weren’t viewing our problems from a data-first perspective. It has challenged our thinking and we’re still in the process of really understanding what that means for us going forward. But, we’re undertaking a follow on project with a TORCH partner to investigate that …

It’s been a pleasure to talk to someone who doesn’t care about what our business does or how big or small we are. I got a genuine sense that Margery was there to help and do the best for us. Best of all, I genuinely felt like no question was a stupid question.”



Interested to learn more about the ways in which TORCH can help your business within the Tourism & Hospitality space? You might also like our case study with Hotelfone – working with The Data Lab to upgrade and transform their systems.