The council is thinking of introducing a registration scheme and code for those tour operators who take groups to visit the city’s cemeteries on a paid tour. They will discuss it next week.

Members of the Culture and Communities Committee will consider the Cemetery Tour Operator Registration Scheme which also includes a request for a donated contribution to cemetery maintenance when they meet next week. (Tuesday 15 September).

The Council owns and operates 39 cemeteries across the city, five of which are historic city centre graveyards in the UNESCO World Heritage area. Canongate, Greyfriars and Old Calton are Category A listed for the national significance of their monuments, memorials and walls. They require expensive ongoing conservation and maintenance to keep them safe.

They have also grown in popularity with visitors. For example, it is estimated that 600,000 to 700,000 people usually visit Greyfriars Cemetery each year for reasons such as Greyfriars Bobby, graves linked to Harry Potter characters and as part of popular Ghost Tours. 

David Hume Mausoleum and the Monument to Scottish American Soldiers. Photo: Martin P. McAdam

The move would mean that a Cemetery Tour Guide Registration Scheme is introduced to help manage the increasing numbers, as well as raise vital funds towards the maintenance of these historic cemeteries.

The scheme would require all tour guide operators who wish to carry out any tour which starts/finishes or visits a cemetery owned and managed by the City of Edinburgh Council to abide by a formal Code of Conduct to better regulate the conduct of tour guides and their customers and proposes an annual charge for registration of £175.

It is also proposed that Tour Operators donate 50 pence per paying customer as part of the scheme to help raise further funds. For example if 20% of the estimated 600,000 annual visitors contributed, this would raise £60,000 towards maintenance of the five historic cemeteries.  Tour operators, their customers and other visitors would be able to use a contactless donation box placed in Greyfriars Cemetery.  

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convener, said: “As a Council it is our duty and responsibility to provide safe spaces and poignant places of remembrance and reflection and to manage our historic world heritage site cemeteries, protecting and preserving them for the future.

“While it is fantastic that our cemeteries are appreciated by so many, the significant footfall through some of our cemeteries, like Greyfriars, is causing erosion of pathways and path edging which require regular repairs.

“Organised walking tours can charge £10 to £20 per person, but at present there is no contribution by the operators to the maintenance of the cemeteries visited as part of their business.

“It’s important we step in now to preserve as much as we can. What is being asked for here is a fair contribution to their ongoing maintenance so they can continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Councillor Amy McNeese-Mechan, Culture and Communities Vice Convener added: “Our cemeteries are poignant places of reflection and remembrance, as well as a haven for wildlife and fauna and an important part of our larger green spaces network for biodiversity and habitat corridors. Before the Covid-19 restrictions, it would be common to see tour groups of up to 50 with only one tour guide, thus making it difficult to ensure that a reasonable and respectful code of conduct was maintained.

“Consultation has been held with organised paid Ghost and Harry Potter tour operators, including those who operate as free tours who ask for a donation as well as visitors to the church and other stakeholders. All support a formalised code of conduct and that a donation contribution towards maintenance is also a reasonable request.

“We are not trying to prevent visitors from exploring our cemeteries but rather work together as we protect and enhance these historic city centre sights.”