Helen Ward

Excellence Award finalist Helen Ward, who is a group sales specialist for Groups Direct, talks bespoke group packages and changes to the travel industry.

Helen Ward profile

Role: Group sales specialist
Where: Groups Direct
Main duties: Sales of Groups Direct products; developing new product ideas; creating bespoke packages for group travel organisers. Groups Direct is a group experience company based in London providing guided tours, theatre, attraction and exhibition tickets, and lunch and dinner packages.

Q. Helen, why do you think you were nominated for Excellence Award 2017?

A. I have no idea – I just do my job! But I’m obviously doing something right, to be shortlisted. I do work hard, but it’s a team effort – there are so many people behind me who work super hard to make the Groups Direct offering what it is.

I make lots of time to get to know my clients – I know so much about them, from what they do to their personal lives, and I’d class a lot of them as friends. There are so many interesting people in the group travel industry and it would be a shame to not get to know them.

Q. What was your reaction on finding out you’d made the shortlist?

A. I was shocked! I only knew Travelsphere’s Glen Thomas, who won the Excellence Award, and he is very good at his job, so I was really just speechless. It was so sweet to find out that people had taken some time to nominate me. It’s nice that people think I do my job well. Plus, my colleagues, friends and family are all super pleased, and they’ve been so supportive of the whole thing. 

Q. What are your thoughts on the Group Leisure & Travel awards? Did you have a good time?

A. What a great night – we absolutely loved it! It was lovely to meet everybody, the awards were fabulous as always, and the entertainment was amazing. It’s such a positive event that gets everyone in the industry together; it’s a really good event.

Q. How do you think group travel organisers would describe you, having worked with you?

A. Chatty, helpful, funny, and professional.

Q. Can you give me some examples of how you work with GTOs on a daily basis?

A. I make different itineraries for organisers every day. We mainly create tours and offer set itineraries, but often we’ll twist these itineraries to fit the group. We’re not rigid in what we do at all. An organiser will say: “I like the idea of this bit, and I also like that bit, but I know my group will love this bit” – and I’ll twist it to make it suit them. My job is to listen and to give them what they want.

Q. What makes someone the right person to work with GTOs?

A. You need to listen and be open to talking to new people. You also need to understand that everybody is different and wants what is best for their group, so you really have to listen to your client and be of the understanding that they know best.

Q. Would you recommend others to work in the group travel sector? If so, why.

A. GTOs are a lovely demographic to work for and they go on all these trips simply for the love of going places, which is brilliant. They love the new, the unusual and the fun, and we try to incorporate all of that into our offering. All of our tours have a high degree of fun in them. We like to do things our way, and we want people to have a nice day out.

Q. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the groups market? 

A. I think the changing attitude to travel is a challenge. With everything that’s gone on in London, people are wary, so the challenge is convincing people that they will be ok. That and the fact that lots of groups like to go to the theatre and actually theatre tickets are priced very highly. 

Plus, coach companies find it hard to locate parking, and the future emissions charges might see London shut off completely to coach groups. The rest of the country is absolutely gorgeous but if it means people won’t come into London as much that will be a shame.

Q. And what does the future hold for you?

A. It’s hard to say; I will have been with Groups Direct for two years in January and I’ve done so many different things over the years. I’ve lived all over the place, including ten years in Spain. I worked for Group Line for five years, and prior to that I was an estate agent. I’ve also worked in finance. I’m someone who lives by the motto: “Here is ok for now”, so I guess we’ll just see what happens in the future.