Excellence rewarded: Part I

Date Posted: 13/01/2012

We talk to our 2011 Excellence Award winner, Richard Woollis of Encore Tickets in the first interview of a four-part series on last year’s Group Leisure Award nominees.

Name: Richard Woolliss
Title: UK Sales Manager
Company: Encore Tickets
Number of years working in group travel: 6.5 years
Favourite holiday destination: Iceland or New York

The Excellence Award recognises the commitment and dedication of an individual within the 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. As part of this series we have also chatted to finalists Dawn O'Farrell from Ramblers Worldwide Holidays, Lesley Terrell of Historic Royal Palaces and Mercedes Picard from English Heritage.

Group Leisure: Hi Richard, first of all congratulations on winning the 2011 Excellence Award at last year’s Group Leisure Awards. Could you tell us a little about your role and how you became involved in group travel?
Richard: Basically I’d been with Encore for about two or three years before I started looking after the group travel market. I’d mainly worked on the travel trade side of things with the inbound market, and also within the retail and concierge sort of market. Then the opportunity came up to look after group sales and it all spiralled on from there. I’m gradually getting to know more and more group bookers, and going to exhibit at the trade shows like Group Leisure; going to conferences like the GTOA AGM, and getting to know people face-to-face.

Group Leisure: What was it about the groups side of the business that really appealed to you?
Richard: When you’re speaking to a group travel organiser, you’re not speaking to somebody who’s thinking, ‘what can I do that will make me money?’ or thinking with a commercial mindset. They’re thinking, ‘will I enjoy this and will my group enjoy this?’ People are really nice as well - because they’re generally older, it’s nice to chat to them about things they’ve seen. It may be about a production of Oklahoma! they saw 25 years ago - before I’d probably even seen a theatre show - so it’s nice to hear all their anecdotes about things they’ve seen over the years.  It’s nice because it feels like it’s more personal rather than corporate, as it were.

Group Leisure: What would you say are the main highlights of your job?
Richard: I really enjoy doing the trade shows. Being on the stand talking to people, telling them about new things they might like to see with their group. Just the face-to-face interaction with people - that’s the bit I really love about the job. People will come over for a chat, and they may only do one booking a year for ten people - rather than some groups that will go every month. But it’s nice to have that relationship with everybody, no matter how much business they do.

Group Leisure: How do you think the group travel industry has changed in your experience?
Richard: There’s not as many groups around as there used to be - groups are combining or some of the GTOs are retiring and no-one’s really replacing them. But there’s still a lot of the works-based clubs, so sports & social clubs, and company-based clubs - we do a lot of the supermarket ones for example. They don’t organise holidays, but more nights out and day trips for their staff. This in a way is actually better for us, because obviously they tend to buy the tickets from us, rather than buying a holiday to Scotland or something.

Group Leisure: As well as theatre deals, Encore provides tickets for a host of London attractions, performances, and RHS Flower Shows - are there any experiences which you’ve particularly enjoyed which you’d recommend to groups?
Richard: There’s loads of things! The State Room Tour of Buckingham Palace is really great. The London Eye is one of my favourite London attractions because it’s something you can do three or four times in a year and get a different experience every time. When I was on the Eye two or three years ago with some friends that had come over to visit from the States, in the pod next to us was Ewan McGregor with all his family. Me and one of my friends were looking at the view and the sights, whilst the girls in the party were basically staring into the pod next to us!

Group Leisure: And your favourite West End show? 
Richard: At the moment it has to be War Horse. I’ve seen it twice, and if someone said to me there’s a spare ticket going tonight I’d go again. It’s an absolutely amazing show.

Group Leisure: Is it quite a perk for you to be able to go and see all the different shows to tell people about them?
Richard: It’s great. Obviously the main reason we go and see the show is so that we can tell people about them, but its great fun and there’s so many fantastic productions all the time. Earlier this year I saw Ghost - that was just breathtaking with all the special effects they managed to do on stage.

Group Leisure: How do you enjoy spending your free time?
Richard: I enjoy cycling; I really enjoy film so I go to the cinema a lot. I do enjoy going to the theatre, not necessarily just to the productions that we sell, not just West End stuff. Going to see live comedy and live music, that’s really great.

Group Leisure: Were you surprised to be nominated for The Excellence Award?
Richard: I was to be honest with you. It was a bit of a shock to be nominated, and it was an even bigger shock to win. I just turned bright beetroot red - part of me was overjoyed and part of me was like, ‘I can’t believe it!’ Just absolute shock. I hadn’t really prepared myself for the fact that I could potentially win.

Group Leisure: Is there anything you would like to say to all the organisers who voted for you in The Excellence Award?
Richard: Just thank you ever so much. It really means a lot that people out there think I’m doing a good job, and think that highly of me. It’s very humbling. If you work in any sort of service industry they usually say that for every 100 people most will complain, whereas only one will ever say something nice - so obviously there were quite a few people out there who decided to say something nice about me!


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