A group travel grilling

Date Posted: 08/03/2012

Group travel organisers, Sylvia Saxon and Margaret Brown tracked down Mike Newman, marketing and recruitment manager for the Group Travel Organisers’ Association (GTOA).

Does Mike enjoy his job? What does he actually do? Why has membership flat lined? What does the GTOA actually offer you? Mike has answered honestly and now it’s your turn to see if you agree with him. As always, you are welcome to send your comments to us.

Sylvia: Do you enjoy what you do and do you wish it was for more than 12 hours a week?

Mike: I very much enjoy the role I have with the GTOA. As I am the first person to undertake it, it has been a continuous learning curve and trail blaze but thoroughly worthwhile. The number of hours is not really relevant – the work that needs to be done is done, and as it seamlessly interacts with my own company’s work it gives me even more impetus to push onwards and upwards.

Sylvia: You once arranged a brilliant matinee for us all to see Wicked, any plans to do this again, it was wicked?

Mike: We have all the leading ticket agents in the UK within [GTOA] membership (Encore, Group Line, ATG and SEE) - I’m sure that there will be further fam trips in the future, but they will be arranged by the agents and not by the GTOA itself.

Margaret: Do you have a plan or target for new members of GTOA, especially GTOs?

Mike: We are constantly looking at targeting new GTO members. The traditional market is in decline, and so we are starting to focus our attention on the new social media based organisations as a way forward. This will take time, as the marketing is more complicated but it is definitely the way forward as far as I can tell.

Margaret: Why do you think there are so few GTOs?

Mike: Fundamentally, I believe that the group organiser market in its traditional sense is literally and metaphorically in decline and that younger people that arrange group activities do not see themselves as organisers, but more as facilitators. Branch meetings and AGMs will not appeal to them as most of their activities are arranged via e-mail and online bookings. The relationships with group organisers will be more with each other than with suppliers in my opinion, and organisers of the future will be driven by price/value, brand, aspirational elements and simplicity.

Sylvia: Do you think it is important for the National Committee to be active GTOs?

Mike: I think that it is vital that every member of the GTOA, regardless of whether or not they serve on the National Committee, is an active GTO. The commercial supporters of the association demand it, quite rightly; and I would like to see that being an absolutely minimum requirement for anyone that wishes to belong to the GTOA.

Margaret: Why are more GTOs leaving/not renewing/ceasing to travel each year than are recruited?

Mike: As I have previously mentioned, organisers are getting older and so are not doing as much. The industry is at a hiatus currently and we are not yet successfully reaching the new organisers. Also, large corporate groups are being targeted by individual supplier companies, so companies like Sainsbury’s, etc can create their own staff outings without looking to an association like the GTOA.

Margaret: Why do you think it is easier to recruit Associate Members of the GTOA (travel trade suppliers)?

Mike: Domestic groups marketing is an important part of many travel industry businesses, and GTOA is seen as a natural hub for the groups market to be attracted to. It is down to us to make that a reality.

Margaret: What advantages do you think the GTOA offers GTOs now?

Mike: I think that the GTOA offers a huge range of benefits to organisers through the range of commercial businesses that are members and want to work with them. I believe that organisers need to recognise how many fantastic opportunities are available to them and take advantage more. In addition, the key benefits such as organisers liability insurance make it possible for those that don’t want to work through a tour operator abide by the law and continue to do what they want to do. Any organiser can effectively benefit from the GTOA, including those that profit from the trips that they arrange. It truly is the organisation for organisers.

Margaret: Can you get a good travel deal for all areas when the National AGM is planned?

Mike: Third party services, including travel are discussed by the AGM sub-committee and are not part of the marketing remit. However, I am sure that if the association showed that they were attracting a large number of active GTOs that planned on using rail or coach services in the future, and had a track record of doing so in the past, then the association would have a better negotiating position.

Sylvia: Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

Mike: I would like to see the GTOA push itself forward in a structured and well considered way. The association will have to change in order to survive, and change invariably leads to resistance. I see it as my role to guide things forward but not coerce. I don’t believe in setting targets with regard to the number of organisers as such, but more in terms of the number of activities undertaken. A large association with low numbers of trips or activities will not meet the needs of the commercial businesses that support and predominantly fund the GTOA.

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