Obituary: John McGhee, 82

John McGhee was major tourism and business player. Picture: contributed

John McGhee was major tourism and business player. Picture: contributed

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EDINBURGH’S first conference manager, John McGhee, has died, aged 82.

John was born in Glasgow on May 3, 1931 and was appointed as Edinburgh’s tourism manager in the late 1960s, leading a small team promoting the city as Scotland’s top tourism destination – and later conference venue – to the UK and overseas markets, especially North America.

He was based, with the tourism and accommodation staff, in the Old Cockburn Hotel, Market Street, while the PR section of the council’s Public Relations and Tourism Information Service was located at 343 High Street, near St Giles’ Cathedral. This meant dozens of journeys a day between the two buildings for meetings called by Lorna Rhind, a former journalist recruited by the corporation and appointed the city’s publicity officer.

John was proud that it was a Glasgow boy helping to put “his” new city on the tourism, incentive travel and conference map. He quickly amassed expert knowledge of Edinburgh and, in his relations with the trade – from small guest houses to leading hotels and the Scottish Tourist Board – he became the “face” of tourism in Edinburgh.

He represented the city on outside bodies and advised the council, and in particular the general purposes committee, on tourism policy and development, introducing the concept of corporate, conference and incentive travel – a side of the business which involved considerable overseas travel.

He built up the official accommodation register from a series of typewritten sheets – these were the days when few had access to computers – into a full-blown, glossy brochure from which visitors could select almost any type of accommodation from a comprehensive list of entries.

John’s knowledge of the major hotel groups and individual guest house proprietors as well as experience of the airline business – his late brother, Cyril, was with Air France – gave him an expertise in striking the best deals for the
city while still meeting the trade’s needs.

He was appointed the Capital’s first conference manager and saw both aspects of the department’s work brought together under the reorganisation of local government in 1975.

In the promoted post of principal officer and with business growing, John oversaw the move to new premises first on Waverley Bridge, where a bookshop was included, selling a huge range of tourism publications, and later to the top level of the new Waverley Market complex, where he supervised the allocation of accommodation for the now much bigger staff, with all operations under one roof.

He died peacefully, surrounded by his children at Archview Care Home, Dalkeith, on March 20.

A funeral mass was held at St Mark’s RC Church, Oxgangs.