The face of excellence: Ellie Fulcher

Date Posted: 15/02/2013

Ellie Fulcher loves working with different groups as part of her job for Fred. Olsen.

We continue our series talking to The Excellence Award finalists from 2012 by catching up with Ellie Fulcher, group sales manager for Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. Carrie Martindale found out how she has become a firm favourite with GTOs.

Name: Ellie Fulcher
Title: Group sales manager
Company: Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines
Number of years working in group travel: Just over three years
Favourite holiday destination: Currently Mallorca with my husband and two young children, although having lived in Sydney for three years, Australia will always be a firm favourite!

The Excellence Award recognises the commitment and dedication of an individual within the travel trade supplier sector, highlighting those who truly go the extra mile to provide an outstanding service. Nominations and votes are cast by group travel organisers, before the winner is announced at the annual Group Leisure Awards.

When did you start working for Fred. Olsen, Ellie?
Initially I started in a reservations team at Fred. Olsen in 1996 and I stayed here for two years, before going off and back-packing around the world for 18 months. When I came back to England, I worked for various other cruise operators and then I came back to Fred. Olsen in a field sales role, looking after trade accounts in the south of England. That was in 2006; so I have now been back just over six years.

Could you tell us a little about your role and how you became involved in group travel?
I was asked by the company to set up a new direct groups department at the end of 2009. At the time I was actually working in the sales promotion team so it was a new department and I was really honoured to be asked. Our director had recognised that there was a gap in the market to target groups directly and it has just gone from strength to strength.

Ellie and colleague Lucy on the stand at the GLTT last year.

Pictured: Ellie with colleague Lucy at last year's GLTT, proudly displaying Fred. Olsen's award for Best Cruise Line For Groups.

My current role as full time group sales manager is to consistently promote our brand to the group travel sector, increase direct group business for the company and manage the day-to-day running of the department.

Did the groups side of the business really appeal to you?
Yes definitely. Having worked in various areas of sales in the past, one of the jobs I particularly enjoyed was looking after direct clients during my time working for Cunard Line and Seabourn Cruise Line in London. I knew I would enjoy the personal contact and building relationships with direct clients, and was very excited by the new challenge.

What would you say are the main highlights of your job?
It’s fantastic meeting group travel organisers and getting to know them well. Many GTOs have become firm friends and it’s very rewarding to receive regular repeat business and lots of thank you letters from our happy customers.

A big highlight for me last year was project managing an exclusive ‘full ship group’ onboard Black Watch for the Talon Music Cruise - they filled the ship with their fans who love listening to their Eagles music.

How do you think the group travel industry has changed in your experience?
Although I have only been in the group travel industry a relatively short time, I’ve definitely noticed changes. My first impression is how buoyant and lucrative this sector is, despite our current economic climate. Although saying that we still have to work hard to secure every single booking.

What I have found is that GTOs are definitely shopping around to find the best value for their group.

Can you highlight any destinations or itineraries which you have found to be particularly popular with groups?
Yes, for groups that are new to cruising, we recommend our ‘taster cruises’. These are mini cruises ranging from three to five nights, visiting destinations such as France, Belgium, Holland, the Channel Islands and Ireland. Taster cruises give groups the opportunity to sample cruising for the first time for a short duration at a low cost.

Ellie onboard a Fred. Olsen cruise ship.

Pictured: Ellie (far right) onboard Boudicca with a group of travel agents.

Other popular favourites for groups include Norwegian Fjords (from seven nights), Baltic Capitals (from 12 nights), Iberia (from ten nights French/Spanish coast) and our winter cruises down to the Canary Islands, West Africa, Cape Verde and Madeira (from seven to 14 nights).

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
One of the biggest challenges working in the travel industry is the recession. Many people are cutting back on the number of holidays they take each year. Fortunately, we find a lot of single guests wish to club together as a group as they don’t have anyone else to travel with, and because we offer single cabins for single guests at an affordable price, this means cruising with Fred. Olsen becomes a more affordable option.

Another challenge I have found over the years is that many group organisers have had their own views and requirements on how they wish to operate their group. We have learned from this and are pleased to say that we have moulded our groups policy to adapt to GTOs’ individual needs. Being flexible in this industry is extremely important and has definitely helped us to secure more business as we realise that almost every group is different.

Do you enjoy cruising?
I love it. I’m definitely a cruise addict. I have been really lucky that working for various cruise lines in London and in Sydney has allowed me to go on lots of cruises.

Destinations I have sailed to over the years include: Alaska, Canada, Caribbean, Mediterranean, South Pacific and in recent times I have enjoyed cruising with Fred. Olsen to the Canary Islands and a mini cruise to Belgium and Amsterdam with my young family. In fact I have just booked a Balmoral Western Med cruise for my family this August.

Ellie dressed up for the evening onboard a Fred. Olsen cruise ship.

Pictured: Ellie with guests onboard Braemar with guests on a formal night.

Were you surprised to be nominated for The Excellence Award?
I was extremely shocked to receive the nomination for the award. I remember I actually burst into tears from the shock and happiness of it all. It took me several days before I told my colleagues and weeks before I mentioned it to any GTOs.

How do you enjoy spending your free time?
Being a working mum, I most enjoy spending quality time with my children when I am at home. Living in the countryside we enjoy family time together doing regular stuff like swimming and getting muddy on walks, visiting parks and farms and so on. I also enjoy socialising with family and friends and travelling - I will never stop having itchy feet.

How did colleagues react to your success?
My colleagues have been extremely supportive of me being nominated for the award, in fact Rachael our PR manager scanned my finalist certificate and posted it straight on to Facebook, which really surprised me and I was delighted to see that many of our customers sent their comments full of praise in on the same day.

Is there anything you would like to say to all the organisers who voted for you in The Excellence Award?
The reaction I received was amazing and it is very pleasing to know how much GTOs think of me and have gone out of their way to support me. I would like to say a really big heartfelt thank you to everyone that voted for me and thank you for all your continued support. Happy cruising!

Click here to watch the 2012 Group Leisure Awards Official Video Review, featuring exclusive winner interviews.

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