We speak to GTO Mary Gotts who has just about recovered from the shock of winning the 2023 Group Travel Organiser of the Year® Award.

Tell us about the reaction from people following your win

I’ve never had anything like it in my life. I had over 200 emails the day after the awards ceremony, I thought my inbox was going to crash! People from all over the world got in touch with me, from the States, India, Australia and more, it was so lovely.

I became a group travel organiser by chance some years ago when I was asked to help somebody out with organising trips. It was a massive learning curve then and I’m still learning. I never expected to win this award or be rewarded for something that I love doing.

Mary Gotts headshot

Mary’s Group at a glance…

Group Name: GOTT 2 TRAVEL
No. of members: 250
Time organising: 15 years (first for the U3A and independently for three years)
Based: Hertfordshire

Where does your love of travel come from?

It all began when I went on holiday to Italy as a youngster and fell in love with it. I decided to go back there as an au pair and learnt the language.

When I returned to the UK I wanted a job that allowed me to travel and use the Italian I had learnt, so I went to work for Alitalia airline and have been travelling most of my life.

How would you describe the people in your group?

They’re ‘young’ and adventurous. They might be getting on in years, but they’ve still got so much enthusiasm and excitement. They call me ‘Mary G, the Mother Hen’ and I love what I do. My job is to make them feel relaxed and happy. I say to them, all you’ve got to do is bring your passport, pack your bag and turn up. I’ll do the rest. They’re my chicks and I’ve got to look after them.

GOTT 2 TRAVEL group at Giant's Causeway

The group enjoyed a visit to Giant’s Causeway in Belfast.

You’ve been doing your bit to help them tick off their bucket lists, tell us more

As I’ve got to know people over the years, I’ve heard their stories and dreams including their travel bucket lists. I’ve now become their bucket list achiever and am working my hardest to get them to the places they’ve always wanted to visit.

India was a big one and was one of the amazing trips I’ve done. We went to Shimla in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh which was top of so many people’s lists. It was very popular; I could have taken two big groups. People had always wanted to do it but they hadn’t had the courage to go before. The other place that stands out is Russia; I took them to Moscow and St Petersburg and again people were walking around asking ‘are we really here’, it was a real ‘pinch me’ moment.

Mary’s love of Italy…

It’s my second home. It sounds corny but as soon as I arrive in Italy, I feel like I’m back home again. Everybody I take to Italy falls in love with it too. I especially love Naples, Rome, Florence and Milan. It’s the food, the wine, the scenery, the people, everything!

Where’s next on the list?

We’re going to Iceland in May. Although we like going somewhere warm, it has to be done. I’ve got lots of other plans for 2024 and am doing my best to get the group away for long weekends and holidays.

Before Iceland we’ve got a Christmas trip to the Cotswolds and then in February we’re going to Babbacombe in Devon for a long weekend with excursions and entertainment.

We’re also doing Kynren in 2024 – I was thrilled to see them win Best Event for Groups at the Group Leisure & Travel Awards. The trip sold out straight away!

GOTT 2 TRAVEL group on a full ship charter in Croatia

Everyone enjoyed a scenic sailing on a full ship charter in Croatia.

How important are familiarisation visits to you as a GTO?

It’s so important for me, where I can, to go and see somewhere before taking a group. I recently went down to Babbacombe and it gave me a really good idea of the hotel and also what’s in the area for day trips.

I’ve now become their bucket list achiever and am working my hardest to get them to the places they’ve always wanted to visit.

Why is it so key to book with a tour operator?

Booking holidays through a reputable company is paramount. Working with somebody who has your back and who you can turn to is absolutely fundamental and I’ve seen and heard so many experiences over the years that has reinforced this.

What would you say to somebody who wanted to set up their own group?

Do your homework, have a sense of humour and the patience of a saint. Even if you’re paddling like crazy underneath, you’ve got to look calm and in control on top.

Mary was announced as the 2023 winner of the GTO of the Year Award® at the Group Leisure & Travel Awards. Nominations for the 2024 initiative are now open here. 

Would you like to tell us about your work as a group organiser? Get in touch by emailing editorial@groupleisureandtravel.com.