GTO of the Year 2012 Janet Spooner, speaks to GLT about her busy year of long haul holidays and her thoughts on the past, present and future of group travel.
Janet, please tell me a bit about your group.
Travel Treats is for people who want to come on organised day trips, short breaks and holidays, and most of them are mainly retired. My trips range from dining experiences to cruises, and each comes with an extra ‘treat’ to make the trip that little bit more special for those who attend.
You’ve been running your group since 2000 – what changes have you seen over the past 18 years?
Numbers are reducing overall for overseas trip, but I think that’s to do with the fact that people are getting older and can’t come. I have to be very mindful of what trips to run, because some of my members are disabled and each experience needs to be suitable for those who attend.
How do you go about tackling issues like this?
I started a dining club last year. Every couple of months we meet for lunch, dinner or afternoon tea and have a chance to meet up with the people who can’t travel with us any more so they don’t feel so lonely. It also gives me a chance to gauge interest on new trip ideas with more able members before I plan them.
Are there any trips in particular that have remained popular over the years?
Yes, I have a number of popular trips that continue to run every year. Carols by candlelight, and Christmas concerts at the Royal Albert Hall always have a waiting list. I also run an annual trip on the Orient Express, as well as hold ‘posh nosh’ dinners, where we’ll go somewhere like Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford.
Do you still organise as much now as when you were GTO of the Year in 2012?
Yes, I think so. Some years might have more or less trips than others but on average I’d say I do the same amount of trip organising. This year is a busy one – I’ve got two long haul holidays (one was in March to South Africa, and the other is to Canada and Alaska at the end of the year) as well as a cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line to the fjords, and an Adriatic cruise, too.
Have you any group travel providers that you’d recommend to other GTOs?
I’ve always used City and Village Tours, the staff are so professional and they always put on good guides who are very entertaining. I also continue to use Travelsphere and Success Tours, both of which offer so much for groups. You can’t go wrong with any of these.
What industry changes have you seen in your time as an organiser?
The main change is that there are now so many travel offers out there, and often my tours seem like they are more money, although they do always come with the ‘treat’ add ons, and are worth what you pay. The other thing I’ve noticed is the huge range of travel media. Many newspapers now have a holiday section, plus there are lots of websites to choose from, like Secret Escapes.
What advice would you give to potential finalists for this year’s award?
Be fully aware of the laws relating to group travel, including insurance, and how to ensure the safety of your group and their money. So many GTOs don’t seem aware of this and it’s always a worry when people aren’t insured in anyway. There are certain rules you must abide by as a GTO, but sometimes it’s easy to only think about the fun bit of taking people away. You have to look behind the scenes as well, don’t you?
And Janet, what do you think makes the perfect group travel organiser?
Be well organised, be happy, smile all the time, trouble shoot and sort out problems, and be a friend to everybody.
Janet Spooner at a glance…
Group name: Travel Treats
Based in: Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire