Excellence rewarded: Part IV

Date Posted: 29/02/2012

In the final instalment of Group Leisure’s four-part series featuring our 2011 Excellence Award finalists, we chat to Mercedes Picard of English Heritage.

Name: Mercedes Picard
Title: Travel Trade Sales Executive
Company: English Heritage
Number of years working in group travel: 9
Favourite holiday destination: Tahiti or Portugal

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. You can also read our other interviews with Excellence Award 2011 winner Richard Woollis of Encore Tickets, and fellow finalists Dawn O'Farrell of Ramblers Worldwide Holidays and Lesley Terrell of Historic Royal Palaces.

Group Leisure: Congratulations on making it to the final four of 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 trips?

Mercedes: I started at English Heritage in the membership department, and because I spoke French, there were quite a few occasions where somebody was needed to speak another language, so I ended up working with the travel trade department when they were opening new projects. Then when a job came up within the travel trade department, I was seconded over and have worked there ever since.

Group Leisure: What was it about the groups side of the business that really appealed to you?

Mercedes: It’s the very personal part of it. With the groups I work alongside, it’s not just about meeting them once, we spend a lot of time working together - we meet up at trade shows and do quite a few little fam trips, so it’s like a relationship that you build up from the beginning. It’s the personal bond that you build up over time with groups.

Group Leisure: What would you say are the main highlights of your job?
Mercedes:I think it’s the people. When we’re in the office we’re on the phone talking to groups, and quite often at weekends we’ll meet them if they want to do a fam trip. I came into a department which was very established, with colleagues who were already very well known in the group travel area, and it’s great as I became one very quickly. As we have over 120 sites, I’ve learnt about English Heritage from some of our organisers as well. I follow the experience through, and I find this really fulfilling. Organisers are also the ones who are keen to try the sites and exhibitions off the beaten track. My studies were in archaeology, so I can understand why groups want to visit these sites.

Group Leisure: How do you think the group travel industry has changed in your experience?
Mercedes: I do think that group travel organisers are finding it harder and harder to fill their trips. I also think they’re depending on us to provide more information further in advance. Luckily for us, group numbers at English Heritage can be fairly small, 11 or more, and groups of all sizes get treated equally.

Group Leisure: What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
Mercedes: I think for us, with so many different types of site, we’re very much working for a company which is there for the consumer visitor, and sometimes with a group it’s not as obvious as to how it’s going to work, but what everybody has to remember is that a group visitor is exactly the same as any other visitor. We just have to remind people that if anything, it’s easier to arrange a visit for a party of 30, as each one is really passionate about visiting. Also, we have new projects for certain sites, and it might take some encouragement for groups to revisit somewhere they’ve been previously, even though changes have been made.

Group Leisure: Are there specific experiences at any English Heritage properties which you’ve particularly enjoyed, and would recommend to groups?
Obviously I enjoy the historical side of things, and I wasn’t a big fan of gardens - I’m not a very good gardener - however one of our most recent projects is at Wrest Park. They have the most amazing garden history which has even won me over! The central theme doesn’t have to categorise a site, and I think that we offer sites that have a little bit of everything - something to appeal to everybody.

Group Leisure: Do you find that you have to be quite flexible in your approach to different types of groups?
Mercedes: Absolutely – it’s never ever the same. If you’ve organised one trip, and think you know how to do that, I can guarantee you’ll never go back to exactly the same itinerary. That’s what I love and what makes group travel so different, as every group brings and shares something new. We learn from them, taking their suggestions along the way.

Group Leisure: How do you enjoy spending your free time?
Mercedes: Well I don’t get a huge amount of free time! But I’m very lucky, living in a seaside town in Sussex. I actually live very near quite a few of my sites, which I visit with my kids. I’m close to Battle Abbey and Dover Castle, so if there are ever any events on, I do take the family - I can pass that information on to my group organisers as well. I have in the past worked from the office of Battle Abbey’s gatehouse, and it’s things like that which make me think my job is fabulous.

Group Leisure: Were you surprised to be nominated for The Excellence Award?
Mercedes: Oh my goodness I was yes. I work in a department where my colleagues have been nominated for a lot of awards, so when I got it, I almost didn’t think it was for me. I was really surprised, and they were all proud of me. Being nominated alongside the other finalists was great too. I was very honoured.

Group Leisure: How did your clients react?
The groups have always been so supportive, and this was like the cherry on the cake. They always make me feel as though I’m special to them, and I hope that’s what they feel when I’m working with them too. So it was lovely to think that there was an award where they had a say.

Group Leisure: Is there anything you would like to say to all the organisers who voted for you in The Excellence Award?
Mercedes: A big thank you. I want them to know that the department and I will always be there for our groups, we’ll do everything we possibly can. So thank you so much for nominating me!

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