The face of excellence: Jo Thomson

Date Posted: 24/01/2013

In the first of a new four-part series which catches up with our Excellence Award nominees, Rebekah Tailor talks to 2012 Group Leisure Award winner Jo Thomson, Friends’ & Groups’ Coordinator at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Name: Jo Thomson
Title: Friends’ & Groups’ Coordinator
Company: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of years working in group travel: 8 years
Favourite holiday destination: San Francisco

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.

Congratulations on being voted our 2012 Group Leisure Excellence Award winner. What exactly does you role of Friends’ & Groups’ Coordinator entail?
The groups market has always been very important to the orchestra, so it’s an area that we work very hard to achieve in. My role is to look after each group request; handling all the reservations and working closely with each group travel organiser to ensure their booking runs as smoothly as possible, right up to the day of the concert itself and indeed anything after.

Over the years we’ve really developed the group side of things. We create group specific brochures and branding, and also focus on keeping our prices, discounts and benefits as competitive and appealing to the groups market as possible.

How did you become involved with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the first place? Is music a personal interest or was it purely just chance?
Definitely a personal interest. For as long as I could remember I’d always wanted to work with music in some way. I studied music until I was 18 but when I went to university I decided to do a whole fresh new subject that I hadn’t studied before - so I did sociology and psychology and I loved it. When I came out of university I realised that I really did want to work in music, so I did an internship and some work at a couple of other arts companies, and then this role at the RPO came up in 2005.

Do you play any instruments yourself?
I play the saxophone and the piano, although it’s been a while!

What was it about the groups side of the business that really appealed to you?
I’ve always enjoyed dealing with customers; in this role I get to deal with them directly and it’s really enjoyable. I find it really satisfying to hear a group has enjoyed a concert, and I love hearing about their experience.

Group travel was a whole other world to me that I wasn’t aware of before I started working for the RPO; being a group travel organiser really does sound like a full time job. There are always so many things going on; you just have to go along to a group travel show to see how many different things are out there for group organisers to choose from.

What would you say are the main highlights of your job?
Definitely the customer correspondence, whether it’s face-to-face at a concert or over the phone in the office looking after any queries. The group organisers are always brimming with enthusiasm and it’s such a pleasure to talk to them. The work involved to ensure everything runs smoothly for them very quickly becomes really quite enjoyable.

How do you think the group travel industry has changed in your experience?
It’s probably quite inevitable, but I’ve noticed that many more GTOs are using the internet, which means online advertising, website banners, e-marketing etc are very useful ways of keeping in touch with the group travel market.

I find this very useful when I send confirmations out to groups. I can create an online promotional link to YouTube, or let the groups database know with an e-bulletin about the next not-to-miss concert - the internet’s a great way of connecting with the groups market.

As you said before, there’s so much out there for group travel organisers to choose from. Do you see other performing arts and theatrical performances as competition, or does it just come down to group preference?
It’s a bit of a niche product, there’s something still a little bit different about it. The RPO is very broad in its approach to music; shows at the Royal Albert Hall such as Symphonic Rock or Best of Broadway which may appeal to group bookers who would want to head to the West End to watch a show. Coming along to the Royal Albert Hall to watch the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is quite an experience in itself. It’s a fantastic venue.

One of the benefits we offer is being very flexible with group payments. We don’t ask for payment until the earliest of eight weeks before. That’s something which works really well for group bookers, and is something which hopefully encourages them to book with us again.

Are there any concert highlights you’ve personally enjoyed which you’d recommend to groups?
The Best of Broadway at the Royal Albert Hall is always really good fun. It’s great to see the audience made up with lots of groups, and seeing them dancing in the aisles to the Abba medley at the end! It’s also very enjoyable to watch the orchestra perform huge dramatic work alongside master choirs - that’s always very impressive.

How did you react when you were announced as the winner of the Excellence Award at the 2012 Group Leisure Awards ceremony?
Well it was lovely to be there at the ceremony itself, and to have actually won the award... well, it was only after my legs had stopped shaking that I could actually take it all in. The Group Leisure Awards are a really excellent way of recognising all the hard work that goes into the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of the groups market; whether it’s promoting a concert or a West End show; promoting your city to tourists; or being a group travel organiser. And as the Excellence Award is voted for by the readers, it makes it all the more rewarding.

How have clients and colleagues reacted to your win?
Really positively. Reading through the comments that people had sent in was quite overwhelming, there was such a warmth from the people who had voted; some of whom I’ve known for as long as I’ve been working at the orchestra. So it was just lovely that people had first taken the time to vote and then followed it up with congratulations.

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

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