Who will take the title of GTO of the Year?

Date Posted: 26/08/2011

UPDATE, 22nd September 2011: Andy Booth collected the title and pictured above is our winner and finalists. Pictured left to right: Colin Wilson from sponsoring company, Travelsphere; Mark Bradford, John Lewis Partnership; Jackie Hough, Isle of Wight Ramblers; winner Andy Booth, Sainsbury's Staff Association; Jackie Ring, The Unattached Group; and special guest presenter and TV star, Gary Lucy. For more information about the awards ceremony go to our Group Leisure Awards pages.

The time has come for the four worthy finalists of the Group Travel Organiser of the Year® Award 2011 to be revealed, with the winner soon to be announced at the Group Leisure Awards ceremony on the 21st September.

2011 marks the 13th consecutive year of the presentation of the Group Travel Organiser of the Year® Award. After selecting our GTO finalists from dozens of nominations and grilling each of the contenders, Group Leisure can now reveal the final four.

Nominated by the travel trade, fellow group members and other GTOs, the finalists were then shortlisted for a deciding interview in London, where the specialist panel deliberated over who would take this year’s crown. 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, Pauline Johnson of Hinckley Social Theatre & Travel Club, spent her prize money on a tailor-made visit to northern Portugal, where she plans to return with her group next year.

The winning group travel organiser will be declared at the Group Leisure Awards, to be held on the evening of Wednesday 21st 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 2011, with each of our four finalists providing a short introduction to themselves and their groups.

Andy Booth
Sainsbury’s Staff Association, Rye Park Depot

“I didn’t ask for my current role as social secretary for Sainsbury’s Staff Association at Rye Park Depot, but was almost held to ransom to accept it. The role was becoming vacant due to a number of committee members taking redundancy from the company, and the ‘group’ would literally fold if no one took it on. Step forward one Andy Booth.

That was seven years ago when the highlight of the Depot Staff Associations year was an annual three-night trip to Folkestone. Since then membership has increased by 25 per cent and I have organised holidays for groups of up to 80 to international destinations, including New York, Las Vegas, Toronto, Montreal and Paris, even having time to slip in a Norwegian cruise.

I typically organise two events a month from West End shows, zoo visits and theme parks, but do one-off speciality events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed, or the British Speedway Grand Prix, when we stay at the luxurious Vale of Glamorgan Hotel & Spa, just outside Cardiff.  

My ideas for my group trips come from lots of different sources. The internet, Group Leisure Magazine and membership of the GTOA arguably account for a high percentage, but information from members who have been to various places is invaluable in the making of a successful trip. I also listen to my members, as they give me ideas about anything new the S.S.A. should consider. It’s their money anyway!

Once I get an idea, or make a decision to visit somewhere, I research it heavily for my group. I like to give them as much information about our trip or destination as I can so they can get as much out of their time when we arrive. Looking forward, we’re going to take a football match in at nearby Stevenage FC, spend firework night at Legoland - oh, and go to Folkestone of course. 

As for the future, at the moment I’m a volunteer, doing it for fun, and for me of course (I like travelling and exploring new places). When the fun stops, I’ll know to call it a day. Can’t stop now - I’m off to India for eight days in October...Yippee!”

Mark Bradford
Leisure benefits coordinator, John Lewis Oxford Street

“I began my role as leisure benefits coordinator at the John Lewis flagship store in Oxford Street eight years ago, having transferred from the John Lewis store in Kingston.
I got involved in group leisure having spent many years raising over £50,000 for Breakthrough Breast Cancer, following the death of my wife. A friend suggested I considered this role and eventually it became available, so I applied.
My position within the branch involves providing a range of activities to suit the wide range of partners and I include four short-stay oversees trips, day trips, branch parties, quiz nights, theatre trips, a Diwali festival and themed nights; as well as larger events with other branches which have included exclusive hire of Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Madame Tussauds and Alton Towers, as well as Partners in the Park, Music Festivals and a Las Vegas night, all of which attracted thousands of partners from around the business.
I have a team of partners who act as leisure volunteers, who support me by helping to run events.  I meet with them on a monthly basis to discuss what events are coming up and who will run some of these events. Each volunteer is given an events folder with all the information they require, including detailed itineraries and information on the surrounding area, and all are fully briefed on their role and the responsibility they have for the group.
With approximately three events a month, it is vital to have these volunteers supporting me within my role and coming up with ideas for future trips, as they act as ambassadors for the branch in talking with other partners about what trips they would like to see on the leisure calendar.
This position is full time, which enables me to deliver a leisure benefits package for the 2,300 employees who work in the branch. We also have over 23 clubs that partners can join for free, from Ski and Snowboarding, Photography, Music or Sailing to name but a few. There are also six residential properties we own across the country, which gives partners a chance to stay with their families at a subsidised price.
I am delighted to have been nominated as one of the four finalists for the Group Travel Organiser of the Year Award, and very proud to be working for the John Lewis Partnership and the team I represent.”

Jackie Hough
Isle of Wight Ramblers

“A member of the Isle of Wight Ramblers for the past 30 years, I initially volunteered to become the walks programme secretary, which included day excursions by coach to the mainland, when I was asked to organise a walking weekend in Dorset. This was successful and with more members interested we progressed to a week’s walking with Holiday Fellowship.

The millennium encouraged me to look further afield and Majorca was our destination. This was just the beginning of some wonderful group holidays abroad, whilst still enjoying our UK walking holidays, Turkey & Tinsel, and Christmas markets. Our day excursions and UK holidays are advertised in a newsletter that goes out to all 600 members, but places on international holidays are usually already taken by a similar group as the previous year, and any spaces are quickly filled by word of mouth. I send letters detailing the holiday, breakdown of cost with discounts, accommodation and timings at the deposit stage and then another letter with up-to-date information when the balance is due.

We like lakes and mountains and have walked in the Tramuntana in Majorca, Alpujarras and Pyrenees in Spain, the Italian Dolomites, Wilderkaiser in Austria, and the Julian Alps in Slovenia. Coming from an island, we do like our beaches and have combined walking and swimming on the island of Samos, the Istrian coast of Croatia, and I even took advantage of my daughter’s wedding in Cyprus to take the group walking in the Troodos mountains, followed by a cruise to Egypt to see the Pyramids.

Some of these holidays have involved us being rather adventurous: white water rafting, canoeing, snorkelling, parascending, and last year a balloon safari in Kenya. Coming down to earth we also like visiting gardens; last year Stourhead, this year Bennett’s Water Gardens, and next year the big one - Floriade 2012.”

Jackie Ring
The Unattached Group

“T-U-G (The Unattached Group) is a social group for single people based in the Guildford, Surrey area. It was started 11 years ago and I have been a member for about six. The group offers a wide variety of social activities and friendship. We hold a pub night once a week, where we meet informally for a drink and chat, and then have a programme of social activities. We currently have almost 100 members, and I find that being in a group which is not too large means that we all get to know each other well. 

I have been involved with organising social activities in the past - from being social secretary of a wine-making club to fund-raising activities for my children's school’s PTAs, so when I joined T-U-G I was soon interested in being on the committee, and became chairman after a year. I have not only organised a variety of events myself, but in this role I have encouraged others to do so as well. I have also been instrumental in updating our insurance policy to ensure that those people organising an event are covered, and make sure that all members adhere to the new legislation regarding organising events. Although the main reason organisers arrange events and social activities is so that their members enjoy themselves (and we do too!) there is also a business aspect which does need to be taken seriously.

One of the first trips I organised was a long weekend in Venice, where we participated in a great event called Su E Zo Per E Ponti (Up And Over all the Bridges). I do try to think of different types of activities, and am always looking through magazines and picking up leaflets when I am out and about. I arrange theatre trips regularly, especially to London. Also popular are classical and pop concerts, places of interest - such as a tour of Ascot Racecourse, or day trips - such as to Paris on the Eurostar. I organise at least two holidays for the group each year. In the spring we rented a large house near the north Somerset coastal path for a walking week where I planned different levels of walks each day, and we are about to go on a mini-cruise to Holland. I often plan a Warner’s weekend just after the New Year when we need cheering up in the dark evenings!

I do enjoy organising activities. I try to find new things for our members to do, but I have also got to know what their tastes are and what they like to do on a regular basis. It has also enabled me to do things I would not have done on my own.”

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

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