In the second instalment of a new series of interviews with our 2018 finalists for The Excellence Award, Shannon Clark talks to Ian Pearson, group travel manager at Harry Shaw Group Travel.

Ian Pearson

Name: Ian Pearson

Role: Group travel manager

Company: Harry Shaw Group Travel

Congratulations again on being named a finalist for The Excellence Award, part of the Group Leisure & Travel Awards 2018. What was your reaction to the news?

I was just very surprised and humbled really. I don’t know what else to say, I think I’m still very surprised but also happy that so many of our group organisers had gone to the time and effort to put my name forward.

Why do you think you were nominated?

I hope it is down to the way that I deal with people, whether it’s a new customer or an existing one. I try to give them the service and dedication that they expect and deserve.

Could you tell us a little bit more about your role, and how you first became involved in group travel?

I’ve been working for the business for 29 years now, but I was asked to manage the group travel department in 2009.

The best way to describe my role is to say that the only thing I don’t do is drive a coach or fly a plane! I’m totally hands on from the initial contact, listening to the needs of the group, recommending appropriate accommodation and making any bookings or researching for guides and visitor attractions, to eventually producing the paperwork for the tour pack. The last thing that I always do is speak to the group organiser when they come back from their holiday.

What is it like working within a family-run business?

I’ve worked here for so long now I feel that I know the family quite well and that they trust me. That means I can just get on with it and make decisions that a bigger, more corporate company may not be able to do sometimes.

The GTOs comment on the flexibility I can offer regarding numbers, prices, cancellations and refunds. I get comments from them such as ‘I can’t believe you can do that’ or ‘I didn’t expect you to be able to do that’ and that’s a real reflection of the family business.
29 years is a long time to have been in the business, how has the group travel industry has changed in your experience?

There’s a vast amount of choice now, you’ve still got friends and family, and sports and social clubs that travel as groups but what I would say I’ve seen is that there are a lot more organised groups now.

You’ve touched on how varied your job is on a daily basis, but what’s the highlight of your job?  

I speak to every group organiser when they come back from a trip, and it’s when a group comes back and says they’ve had a great time that is a real highlight.

It sounds corny but that is my aim of the job. Ultimately I’m here to give them a good holiday, and if they come back and say that they’ve had a great time then I can’t ask for anymore.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

There’s a lot of pressure and you’re dealing with a lot of expectations. I don’t work nine to five and I never have done, I work the hours that I need to in order to be able to do the job well.

But, the more business you do, the more demands that puts on you and as you grow, you set yourself higher standards which in turn adds to the pressure.

Even with the pressure, would you recommend working in the group travel industry?

Definitely! It’s diverse and GTOs are generally really loyal if you’re giving them the service they expect. I speak to friends in other industries and I don’t think there are many jobs out there that have this kind of rewarding and social environment.

You get to know people really well and the longer you’re working with a group travel organiser, the more you get to know them. It becomes personal, they know about me and my family, and I know about theirs. It’s not just work.

Which up and coming destinations would you recommend to groups over the next few years?

The groups we work with are very varied, from U3A groups who like a lot of content to their tours and holidays, to people from social groups who just want to go away for a weekend. That’s the beauty of it but as most of my work is bespoke, I’m reacting more to what people ask of me really, not to what I recommend.

I would say though that Ireland is still very popular with groups. It’s hard to recommend a destination that will be popular this year or in 2020 as I focus on responding to what groups are asking of me right now.

Based on your experience do you have any advice for GTOs themselves?

Something we bang on about as a company, and something I’m a huge believer in, is booking with tour operators, such as ourselves, who go to great lengths and costs to have their business financially protected. We are ABTA bonded and ATOL protected and that means a lot in this day and age. Some group organisers turn a blind eye to it, and that’s their choice, but in the uncertain world that we live in I think having financial protection is very important. At the end of the day, their members are entrusting them with their money.

For more details about the Group Leisure & Travel Awards, visit Clark talks to Ian Pearson, group travel manager at Harry Shaw Group Travel and finalist for The Excellence Award 2018.