Pauline Johnson, GTO of the Year® 2010, organises more trips now than she did ten years ago, with experiential travel always at the forefront. 

Pauline Johnson at a glance…

Group Name: Hinckley Social Theatre & Travel Club

Number of members: 500

Pauline, let’s start by talking about some of the trips you’ve run in 2018 so far…

I run between 18 and 20 day trips per year. This year I’ve organised trips such as a jaunt to The Mill At Sonning where we try to go at least once every year; taken a two-course dinner cruise on the River Trent with Princess Cruises; been to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Training Centre at Leamington; and had a day trip to the Cotswolds with free time in Cirencester and Burford.

We’ve also been to Middleport Pottery for a heritage tour and a pot throwing experience – an idea I picked up the Group Leisure & Travel Show at the NEC last year.

And what have you got coming up for the rest of the year?

We’re going to Cambridge for the day, to the British Ironworks Centre at Oswestry, to the Red House Glass Cone at Dudley for a tour and a demonstration, and finishing the year in Newark at a Christmas Market Winter Feast and Christmas Tree Festival.

What about Europe holidays?

I’ve just run two back-to-back trips to Switzerland – one trip wasn’t enough, it proved too popular. Saying that, I run more UK stuff now – I did four European tours in 2017 with only two this year and two planned for next year. People are getting older and insurance is costing more. It makes a difference to what people can afford.

Which trip are you most looking forward to?

I’m running a Fred. Olsen Islands of the Indian Ocean cruise with 38 people in November. It’s a celebration cruise – I shall be 70 this year, plus about half of the people going have either had or are having 70th birthdays this year. There are also a lot of 50th wedding anniversaries, so there’s plenty to celebrate. We’ll have a welcome party on board that Fred. Olsen always offers to groups; however we’ve upgraded it to include champagne and gin cocktails. Very exciting!

You were crowned Group Travel Organiser of the Year in 2010. Are you organising as much now as you were then?

I’m organising more now, I keep being told I ought to slow down but then something comes up or I hear of something good and I think, I fancy doing that! I never tell people that I won, I don’t like to make a fuss, although I have the logo on all my letterheads. To win was such a proud moment and one I will never forget.

What’s popular with your group today?

They’re all very interested in immersing themselves in new culture, and always have been, meaning that ‘experiential travel’ is an important thing for me to think about. They don’t want a standard tour, they want to be in Valencia learning how paella is made and then trying it (we’re doing that next year)

I understand experiential travel is something that’s on the rise with groups, however booking immersive travel experiences is something I’ve always done without even knowing it had a label.

What companies do you use to travel with?

These days I have a handful of tour operators that I use almost exclusively, including Success Tours, Norman Allen Group Travel, and City & Village Tours. I also have started booking with Harry Shaw, which is local to us, and will be using Cairngorm Travel for the first time in 2019.

What are your strongest traits as an organiser?

I like to include a lot of variety in my trips. I keep my ears open for different opportunities and read the magazines. Often I’ll spot ideas when I’m out and about, plus I find the GLTS at the NEC very helpful, it’s where lots of ideas can be picked up to plan longer itineraries.

What’s important to you as an organiser?

I come from a banking background and worked in insurance where ‘know your customer’ was a real mantra – something I’ve stuck to with all my years of group organising. I am a voluntary GTO but I run it like a business – I’ll always send everyone their itinerary, rather than stand up and shout about where coach pick up points are. Knowing what your group wants and being able to provide it is incredibly important to me.