The fab four finalists unveiled

Date Posted: 13/08/2010

It’s that time of year to exclusively unveil the four worthy finalists for the Group Travel Organiser of the Year® Award 2010, to be presented at the Group Leisure Awards on the 22nd September.

To get your tickets to the dinner and ceremony, telephone 01908-613323 or e-mail

Now into its 12th year, the Group Travel Organiser of the Year® Award is just as sought-after as ever before. Having counted nominations and quizzed the contenders, Group Leisure, together with award-sponsor Travelsphere Holidays, can now reveal the final four GTOs.

Nominated by the travel trade industry, 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 £1,500 to spend on a familiarisation trip of their choice. Last year’s winner, Jim Godsell, used his prize money to sample la dolce vita in Tuscany.

The winner will be declared at the Group Leisure Awards, to be held on the evening of Wednesday 22nd 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.

Now we hand over to the fab four finalists of the Group Travel Organiser of the Year® Award 2010, who will introduce themselves and their groups over the next four pages.

Barbara Barnes
S.M.B.P ‘44’ Association (South-East)

“When my husband Tony retired from Shell, he was asked to be secretary of the Pensioners Association group for the south east area of the UK, which involved arranging lunch at various hostelries around the region, often followed by an afternoon visit to a nearby venue.

About 12 years ago, members asked him to arrange a holiday, so we organised a coach and five-day stay at the Derwent Hotel. This was very popular and we were asked to arrange more but Tony was too involved with other committees, so I offered to help and found myself co-opting as GTO! Since then I have organised over 70 trips, usually five or six annually, varying from five to eight days, of which at least one is abroad. I try to vary destinations, vary rarely repeating visits, except for Thursford Christmas Spectacular, which we have attended four years by general request.

We now tailor-make all our own trips, always including some National Trust properties and any unusual features of the area. These include the Binche Carnival in Belgium, the Holland Flower Festival, the Ice Sculptures Exhibition at Madurodam, the Scarecrow Festival in Yorkshire, fantastic boat-lifts at Strepy-Thieu canal in Belgium, a dinner cruise on the Danube, lunch in the salt mines near Krakow, and unique well-dressings in Derbyshire.

Organising involves much background reading such as Group Leisure magazine, local guide books, annual visits to the group travel exhibition in Birmingham, and working with highly knowledgeable associate group travel companies, such as Simply Groups and Bowens, who are prepared to put up with my challenging demands!

I then distribute hand-written letters, which are more likely to be read, along with flyers for each planned trip, asking for deposit cheques to be made out to the travel company involved, as we do not handle any finances ourselves.

Two final issues I feel very strongly about are excessive single supplements and exorbitant insurance supplements for elderly travellers with stable on-going medical conditions. Suppliers must acknowledge that in the present climate of recession, they will be increasingly dependent on senior citizens in the fortunate position of having secure pensions, but who insist on value for money.

Finally, why I continue to do the job – it is so much more enjoyable to visit these exciting places with all of ones friends, than to send them a postcard saying ‘wish you were here’.”

Patricia Jeffrey
Chiltern & Castle Federation

“Early in my adult life, I lived in west Africa for three years and in Venezuela for six months. This undoubtedly started my love for travelling. On my return to the UK, I eventually took a job in Pinner, working in the groups department of Ellerman Incentive. I spent several happy years there, organising conferences and incentives for well-known companies, both in the UK and abroad, frequently travelling with the groups too.

When Ellermans was sold, I joined the newly-formed Creative Destinations in High Wycombe, where I was able to continue my love for travel. My last job before I retired in 1991, was for Schwarz Pharma in Chesham, working for the sales director. This included organising the annual company conferences and looking after travel arrangements for the sales force.

I became a founder member of Pinner Evening Townswomen’s Guild in the 1970s, and have been a Townswoman ever since. When I moved to Chesham, I joined the local Guild there. I was soon on their committee, and organised day trips and short group holidays for them, in the UK as well as abroad.

Later, in 1998, I was asked to join the committee of the Chiltern & Castle Federation of Townswomen’s Guilds as outings chairman, to organise trips for the whole federation (our federation covers Buckinghamshire and part of Berkshire).

Over the years, we have had great group holidays to the west of Ireland, Toronto and Niagara, Prague, Florence, Sicily, the Rhine in Flames, Helsinki, Austria, the Belgian Ardennes, Honfleur, Krakow, Lake Como, Iceland, Sardinia, Warner’s Cricket St Thomas and Bodelwyddan Castle Hotel, to name but a few. We have also cruised the Mediterranean on two occasions, and will shortly embark on one to the Norwegian Fjords.

Townswomen from all over the UK attend an AGM once a year, and since 2006 I have organised a group holiday, based around the chosen destination for the AGM. We have stayed near Harrogate, Loch Lomond, Torquay and Solihull. This year, the AGM was held at the ICC in Birmingham, and will be there next year too.

We can all look back on many wonderful memories we have shared over the years, and eagerly look forward to 2011!”

Pauline Johnson
Hinckley Social Theatre & Travel Club

“From an early age, I was told I was a born organiser, so it was not surprising that I would naturally say yes when asked at church, by my local WI and my colleagues, to arrange day trips by coach. What is surprising still is how it took over my life, especially as unlike many group travel organisers, I had not travelled a great deal - in fact, I flew for the first time on my 25th wedding anniversary, 15 years ago, and my husband says I have made up for it since.

By 1990, my colleagues had twisted my arm sufficiently for me to plan for them a highly successful London theatre weekend followed by the day trips at the beginning of May each year, to places like Edinburgh, Bruges, Amsterdam and Portsmouth. In 2001, I was forced to take early retirement through ill health. The group saw it as an opportunity to have me arrange midweek holidays and the air holidays they had all been hinting about. The first was to Prague with two groups on a back to back basis, totalling 84 people in all.

From then on, things snowballed both in respect of the number of members in the group, and the number of trips and holidays I organised. Now there are at least two trips a month, being a mixture of holidays, weekends, day trips and theatre breaks.

The bi-monthly coffee mornings started last year have proved a great success, and have helped many of the single ladies pair up to share rooms in hotels. Presentations by tour operators are a popular feature and trips sell out quickly.

Fund raising for charity is important to all the members, with £1 of their £3 annual membership fee, plus proceeds of raffles and other donations, are distributed annually to charity in November.

Whilst I do organise trips these days to places I fancy going to, I have always been very much led by the group members, and through them I have been to places I would never in my wildest dreams have been to otherwise. Luckily I have a husband who, whilst not having the wanderlust that I have, is very supportive as long as I do some trips which involve the three T's - trains (steam), trams and trolley buses… and he sometimes drives the coach.”

Shirley Ward
Shirley Tours

“I started organising day trips by accident really. My eldest son started primary school and I had a baby daughter, but wanted to help on the Parents’ Association. They gave me the job of organising one trip a year for the PTA - this was Chessington Zoo, back when it was just a zoo, and we made a profit!

I continued organising day trips for the Parents’ Association, and going to exhibitions, through which I found out about the Group Travel Organiser’s Association. I met lots of other GTOs who kept telling me to join the GTOA, which I eventually did, and found the help and support I needed.

The school started a newsletter and the editor began calling me Shirley Tours, and the name stuck! As I gained confidence and help from trade magazines, I started attending fam trips, and other organisers that I met gave me lots of tips which encouraged me to organise more outings. I’ve now been organising holidays and short breaks for the past 23 years, and day trips since 1981.

There is no committee, just me, and I have gathered a regular clientele who come on my holidays. I advertise in two school newsletters, a local church magazine and on pew sheets, in the local Residents’ Association newsletter which covers a wide area, via e-mail and telephone to regulars on my list, notice boards, local shops and businesses, the local hospital, and basically anyone I meet - including a guy who came to do my double glazing, and ended up coming to Italy with me! Any profits made from my trips get split between four charities.

My tours have included river trips on the Rhine and Moselle, Christmas markets in England and Europe, Slovenia for Lake Bled and the coast, Dutch Bulb Fields, Honfleur, Luxembourg, Ireland, Prague, Austria, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Day trips have been to the West End and local theatres, theme parks, stately homes including Buckingham Palace and Hampton Court, seaside trips, Disneyland Paris, steam railways, ballets, ghost walks, river Thames cruises, markets and shopping venues.

Group Organisers always have a list of funny and sad stories to tell, and my life has been so interesting and varied, visiting places that I never been before, and these experiences all help towards organising a first class trip, with an experienced group organiser.”

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