Who will be crowned GTO of the Year 2012?

Date Posted: 29/08/2012

Pictured (left to right): Robert Coleman, Janet Spooner, Christine Howard and Gwen Turner.

We’ve counted the nominations, interviewed the candidates, and now we reveal the four worthy finalists of the Group Travel Organiser of the Year® Award 2012, with the winner to be announced at the Group Leisure Awards ceremony on the 19th September.

The 14th annual Group Travel Organiser of the Year® Award saw a flood of nominations from the travel trade, fellow group members, and other GTOs. After whittling this down to just four finalists, we can now reveal this year’s contenders.

Shortlisted for a deciding interview in London at the beginning of August, the four finalists were grilled by an expert panel, who would agree the eventual winner. As well as the prestigious title, the winner will receive £1,750 to spend on a familiarisation trip of their choice. Last year’s winner, Andy Booth of Sainsbury’s Staff Association, Rye Park Depot, spent his prize money sampling some of Italy’s finest treasures on a holiday to Tuscany, where he plans to return with his group.

The winning group travel organiser will be declared at the Group Leisure Awards, to be held on the evening of Wednesday 19th September at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole. To find out all the winners and to see photos from the ceremony, make sure you read the October edition of Group Leisure magazine and bookmark this website.

Read on to find out who has been shortlisted for the Group Travel Organiser of the Year® Award 2012, with each of our four finalists providing a short introduction to themselves and their groups.

Robert Coleman
The London Cultureseekers Group

“I set up the London Cultureseekers Group in August 2006 after moving to London a few years earlier. When I moved here, I wanted to explore London whilst making new like-minded friends but couldn’t find any groups that did this, so I decided to set up a group.

The group started slowly, but in six years has grown to over 7,250 members aged from 20 to 80-years-old, from all backgrounds. We do some advertising online via social media, but most members get to hear about the group and what we do via word of mouth.

The group is run on our own website where I post upcoming events and send e-mails out to the membership promoting them. The group visits museums, art galleries, historic buildings, the theatre, go on guided walks and have day trips out of London to historic towns. On the day, members just turn up at the advertised meeting point and everything else is organised for them. I organise the events so they run as smoothly as possible, and all the members have to do is have fun!

As the organiser of the group, I look after the website, research and post new events, and answer all the e-mail queries from members. I organise and attend all the events (about 60 to 70 a year) averaging about 70 people per event.

I’ve also negotiated with 21 small museums and galleries around London, to give group members a discount on entry when they visit them at any time during 2012. My members each have a membership card, which they present when visiting one of these museums or galleries. Recently I’ve added Foyles bookshops to this, who are giving members a ten per cent discount on any books purchased at their shops.

The group is very friendly, and London is one of the greatest cities in the world with so much history and culture to explore, so we never run out of things to do.”

Christine Howard
Hanson Sports & Social Club/South Gloucestershire Council

“I have been a group organiser for Hanson Sports & Social Club for over 30 years and for three years for South Gloucestershire Council, with well over 2,000 members, plus a very loyal retired group who I take on two holidays each year.

As you can imagine I am very busy but love what I do. With my groups I have travelled extensively throughout Europe and have organised two long haul trips to China and Egypt. I consider myself very privileged to have the opportunity to meet so many people and be able to share amazing experiences with them. My thanks are when they come back and say, ‘where are we going next Chris’?

To take people away to wonderful places, have them trust me to always book through a reliable tour operator and know their money is safe and protected is very important. I am a vice chairman of my parish council and love to be involved in my local community. I am also an active member of the Group Travel Organisers Association (Western Branch) and will be running one of their weekends in 2014.

I work one morning in a local charity shop and do lots of voluntary work. I guess I am a people’s person and being able to help enables me to face most challenges that may come my way. In my spare time I love nothing more than reading and spending time with my husband John in our remote caravan in Somerset with our adorable Jack Russell ‘Jack’.”

Janet Spooner
Travel Treats

“Starting with a small trip to the London Eye in the millennium year, it seemed a mighty step to start my own business. However, with a banking background I was fully aware of the likely pitfalls I might have to overcome, and Travel Treats was born. It would be my retirement hobby and what a fabulous occupation it has been. I’m also involved with the bank retirement association and enjoy arranging a few trips for them too.

Initially something different was sought from the usual coach outing, so we serve treats and have a policy of a warm welcome and friendliness at all times. I’m a fusspot and use my former project management experience to plan well and aim to cover every eventuality.  Good professional guides are employed when needed, and on most trips I have a very useful helper too.

Some say I’m expensive, but those who travel with me regularly say I offer really good value. A breakfast of Bucks Fizz and pastries is served on the outward journeys and there’s always wine, water, soft drinks and more food on the way home. Day trips usually include lunch so nobody has to spend anything, apart from gifts and souvenirs they wish to bring home.

Inspiration for trips comes from magazines, exhibitions, familiarisation trips, visits and the internet - the most wonderful invention, not only for sourcing ideas and for hosting my website, but for distributing information via e-mail marketing.

Popular trips are guided excursions to London attractions, gardens, short breaks in the UK and Europe, plus our Christmas concert at the Royal Albert Hall with the very best seats and a meal beforehand. Using door-to-door chauffeured cars I usually arrange a couple of super-luxury day trips on which we’ve enjoyed some superb food at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, the Waterside Inn, and the Orient-Express.”

Gwen Turner
Benhill Social Club

“20 years ago I decided that I wanted to do something worthwhile with my life. I was recovering from a long bout of ill health, and now that my family was grown-up it was now or never to achieve my dream.

It started with my ambition to bring back the community spirit, and I began to arrange social activities and coach trips to the seaside, which proved popular with all ages. As time went on, I concentrated more on the older members.       

The age of my members ranges from early 60s to 99 years. My aim is to give the elderly enjoyment and a better quality of life. Judging by the number of cards and letters received over the years, people are so grateful to get out of the house, if only for a day. Many friendships have been formed and laughter abounds.

I organise at least 30 day trips each year to various destinations, plus six or seven holidays and short breaks at home and abroad.

As long as the cost of the coach and the tip is covered, no profit is made from our coach trips. I want to be able to offer a price that most can afford, and we have a few subsidised trips to the seaside or Christmas meals, costing our members just £3. We are a self-funded organisation and any profit which comes from membership fees is used for the benefit of the members.

The coaches I use are of a high standard - safety and comfort comes first. This also applies to hotel accommodation, and I try to find out some facts about the hotel beforehand as well as ensuring that the food is good and edible.

Being a group organiser is a very rewarding job, and seeing people enjoying themselves and knowing that I am responsible gives great satisfaction. I think essential qualities for a GTO are patience, understanding, a sympathetic ear, and most importantly a sense of humour. It’s a very busy life but I love every minute!”

The Group Travel Organiser of the Year® Award is sponsored by Travelsphere.

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