A GTO driven by wanderlust

Date Posted: 23/06/2016

Mary Gotts explains to Rachel Bailey why she loves exploring the world, and how travel has been a passion of hers since she was a teenager.

Mary organises for over 400 memebrs of the Ver-Colne Valley U3A, and has done for six years.

Tell us a bit about your group.

The U3A is a self-help organisation for those no longer in employment, so offers creative and leisure opportunities in a friendly environment for people who have retired.

Many people are on their own as well, so it’s beneficial for them to be able to come to meetings and on some of the trips purely for the social aspect of group travel.

What trips do you organise?

I organise three holidays a year, both in the UK and abroad. I also organise one day trip every month that could be to anywhere in Britain. Previous day trips have included visits to the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, and Althorp House in Northamptonshire.

I tend to take one coach per day trip that holds 53 people. Once I took two coaches to Bath because it was a popular trip – but that’s quite a lot of people! Holidays abroad really sell out and I usually have around 40 people on those. Our last trip to Sicily last year had 46 people on it.  

How do you find organising air travel for your group?

I used to work for Alitalia Airline and I’m pretty confident with the procedures, so don’t find it daunting. Getting to the airport, checking in, going through security; these are things I already know. Some of my group members, especially those on their own, wouldn’t have the confidence to go on holiday by themselves because they find airports scary or intimidating.

I’d like to think that they come with me because they feel secure. They know I’m used to travelling and airports won’t faze me. I’m there for them if they get a bit wobbly.

Is travel something you’ve always had an interest in?

Yes, for many years. I’ve been travelling a lot – I’ve got this wanderlust, you see – and working for an airline certainly allowed me to see a lot of the world. I think it’s hard to choose a favourite destination, although I do love Italy. I might be a bit biased though, because I originally went over there as an au pair when I was 16 or 17.

It was a big adventure! I jumped on a train and went to live with an Italian family who didn’t speak a word of English. That’s one way to learn a new language – throw yourself in the deep end! I speak Italian fluently now, as well as a bit of French, German and Greek.

Have you got many plans for the year ahead?

I’ve managed to get two exclusive holidays for the group. The first is a river cruise up the Rhine with The River Cruise Line for 68 people. It’s a ten-day trip, and we’ve got the boat all to ourselves, which is something a bit different. Then later on in the year we’re flying to Croatia and sailing around the Croatian coast line, again on a vessel that’s exclusively for my group.

Mary Gotts' group in Pisa.

Pictured: Mary Gotts' group at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

I’m always looking for something just that bit different. Anybody can phone up Saga and book a few days away. But to do something different for an age group who never dreamed they could experience such things – that gives me a great sense of reward.

Do you think it was for this reason you were nominated for the GTO of the Year award in 2015?

I do go that extra mile. People will say to me: “Mary, this is a holiday for you as well, sit back and relax”, but I can’t; I have to look after my chicks, mother hen that I am! [Laughs]. I didn’t even know that awards for something like this existed.

To be rewarded for something I get so much pleasure out of doing was just fantastic. I was in total disbelief when I found out I’d been nominated; in fact, I thought it was a wind up. When the penny really dropped, I almost felt like I’d won the award just for the recognition. I was absolutely delighted.

What’s the best thing about being a group travel organiser?

It’s very rewarding to see the look on people’s faces when I take them on holiday. The thrill and the excitement they feel when they’re in a new place, it’s wonderful. Last year I took the group to Russia, and some of them just couldn’t believe that they were standing in St Petersburg having thought they’d never travel to or see such a place.

Organising is a 24/7 job, and you’ve got to have the patience of a saint, but it’s always worth it.

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