Coffee with… Mike Bugsgang

Date Posted: 24/02/2015

Sarah Holt talks to the new CEO of the Group Travel Organisers Association (GTOA) about challenges, plans and one very unusual name.

Q. Congratulations on your new appointment. Why did the role of CEO of GTOA attract you?

A. The thing that stands out most is the challenge. I’ve always liked a challenge throughout my career.

Q. What are your immediate priorities as CEO?

A. Consolidating the existing membership base and attracting new members are primary objectives moving forward and I will be directing my energies in these areas from the outset.

Q. What is the biggest challenge facing you as CEO of GTOA?

A. The contribution of groups to the UK’s tourism economy is often overlooked. I’m looking forward to the challenge of improving the communications of that area. And it’s not just about the financial value, it’s about the social value too, and the importance of bringing groups together in a community. I want to blow the trumpet about that a little bit more.

Q. What is your experience of the groups market?

A. During my career in tourism, I have had a close affinity with the groups market. I was initially involved as marketing manager of the London Tourist Board, where I promoted group traffic to the capital’s hotels and attractions from home and overseas.

During my time as sales and marketing director at Ladbroke, I was responsible for generating group bookings from large UK companies to stay at the group’s holiday parks. Then, at Hilton International Hotels as PR director, a key objective was gaining media coverage to stimulate group business.

More recently, in my consultancy role, I have worked with cruise lines, coach operators, hotels and visitor attractions that have each involved a good deal of groups marketing.

Q. How has the groups market changed since you started?

A. It has changed a lot. One of my first jobs in the travel industry involved booking groups into the Oberammergau Passion Play. It happens every ten years and it gets people going from all over the world.

In those days communications with organisers of trips was through telephone, letter or fax. There wasn’t anything like mobile phones or social media. So probably technology is the biggest change in the market. 

Q. What are the current trends in the groups market?

A. GTOs are reporting an increase in demand from special interest groups wanting to visit lesser-known attractions as part of their itineraries. Whilst this of course can be quite labour intensive for organisers, the rewards, especially from premium groups, are generally high.

Reports regarding the outbound groups market point to an upsurge of interest in medium and long haul tours with organisers seeking more adventurous itineraries. The Internet has opened up all sorts of ideas for them and organisers are now less prone to buying ‘off the shelf’ as they used to, but are looking for tailor-made experiences for their groups.

Another development that is favouring GTOs at the present time is the growing trend for attractions, hotels and operators to offer added value elements to groups that are not available to other customers, for example, a welcome cocktail party, lecture or the opening of an area that is usually closed to the public.

Q. I’ve heard that you want to form synergies with other industry bodies in your new role as GTOA CEO. Can you give me a few ideas of what you mean by this?

A. GTOA already has very good relationships with lots of industry bodies. I really want to broaden it out. For example, with organisations like the Tourism Alliance or the Tourism Society.

Q. Do you think the GTOA has tangible benefits for GTOs in addition to fam trips and networking events?

A. From what I’ve seen so far, the GTOA membership is a great deal for GTOs. The National Trust and English Heritage trade pass and VIP – you get all of these benefits for £24. In addition to that is the preferred rate of insurance that’s going to be announced in a couple of months. That’s a major benefit. And access to up to the minute info on tourism issues.

Q. What’s the most extravagant group trip you’ve ever seen organised?

A. A little while ago the TV Times chartered a plane for a group of some of their main clients, over to Paris for the weekend. They stayed in a luxury hotel and had a full programme of excursions to places like the Moulin Rouge. It was no expense spared. That was a really glitzy first-hand experience of an extravagant group trip.

Q. What was the best holiday you ever had?

A. You can’t beat Britain as a holiday destination. Whether you’re relaxing in Cornwall or walking in the Scottish highlands there’s always something new to experience. It’s very difficult to say whether my best holiday has been in Cornwall or Scotland. I enjoy holidays in the UK when I get the chance.

A. What three experiences or trips are at the top of your own bucket list?

A. One: a football tour of Brazil. I’d love to go around watching some of the big teams. I’m a huge football fan. Two: a chauffeur driven tour of the French Champagne houses. It would be really good to experience. Three: the clue is in my name. I’d like to track my ancestry around the world.

Q. I’ve never met anyone with your name before. Where does it come from?

A. It emanates from between Austria, Poland and Russia. We are the only ones in the UK. There was a time when we thought we were the only ones in the world. That was until many years ago I was contacted by a lawyer from Copenhagen with the same name. He thought we must be related. He came over to see me. We found out there was some connection. I’d like to delve into that – the who, what and why.

Q. What three things do you consider to be essential in your hand luggage (excluding your passport etc)

A. I’m going to be Mr Boring and say my laptop, my mobile phone and my iPad. I‘m a big reader so I have lots of books on my iPad. I’m currently reading Boris Johnson’s The Churchill Factor. On the novel front I’ve nearly finished Ben Elton’s Time and Time Again.

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