In the first of a new series which catches up with our Excellence Award 2018 finalists, Laura Sexton talks to Tracy Cullen, group sales and friends manager at The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland.

Tracy Cullen

In the first of a new series which catches up with our Excellence Award 2018 finalists, Laura Sexton talks to Tracy Cullen, group sales and friends manager at The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland. 

Name: Tracy Cullen

Role: Group sales and friends manager

Company: The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland

Most rewarding part of your job: Knowing people have had an amazing time and want to come back.

Tracey, tell us about your reaction to being named a finalist for The Excellence Award at the Group Leisure & Travel Awards 2018?

I was shocked to be honest but really, really pleased. I hadn’t anticipated it at all; it was so nice to get the recognition for the hard work that I do.

Why do you think you were nominated by so many people?

I think it’s because I try to give the best service I can and deliver what is required and hopefully we as a team and I personally can do that in a friendly, timely and professional way.

Why do you think it is so important that we reward those within the industry and highlight what they do, with these Awards?

Because it often gets forgotten about, I think. On the grand scheme of things, from an attraction’s point of view, we all get a lot of customers and visitors and groups are just a sample of the audience but it’s a popular way for people to travel. Because of groups we get lots of different visitors, such as those who wouldn’t otherwise come on their own. So, I think it’s important not to underestimate the value that groups bring to the travel industry.

Tell us about your relationship with group organisers?

With group travel organisers, as opposed to travel trade, you’re able to build more of a personal relationship when you’re helping them. And that’s the part I really like, and when you’re dealing with them on that level you’re able to tailor things more towards what they want and make their visit that little bit more unique. If they have any worries, they can get that reassurance when they speak to us.

How regularly do you have groups visiting?

We have them visit daily, especially in the peak seasons. I’d say between April to December are the busiest times, with groups in daily until October. Over Christmas we tend to see a lot too.

The Alnwick Garden

What can groups do at the garden that is different to a regular visit?

We have the Poison Garden, so groups can do a special tour and have a reserved slot for that. We also offer different tours of the gardens, so if you’re particularly interested in something, we can organise one of the gardeners to take you round. There’s also the head gardener who is very knowledgeable and sometimes the Duchess of Northumberland can even give private tours. So, there’s lots going on, and we can do behind the scenes tours too, for example, we do a tour underneath the fountain, where you can see how it all works.

What drew you to the role?

I love helping people so to have a role where I can do that is fantastic. The garden is a charity too so there is a lot of goodwill and we are all always trying to help as many people as we can, and not just visitors but those less fortunate in Northumberland too.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your role within the groups industry?

The location and knowledge of our attraction. It’s not so widely known as an area and some groups don’t want to do an overnight stay so where we are makes it a little harder to visit.  

Do you enjoy travelling and visiting attractions yourself?

Definitely! In fact, I’ve just come back from a holiday in Canada and America where we did Niagara Falls and Toronto, and I do take advantage of seeing sites in places where we have travel trade shows in. 

What is the most unusual fact about The Alnwick Garden?

We have the Treehouse which is so authentic and is built around 15 trees and it’s all original. It’s a restaurant too, so I encourage visitors to have a look at it because it’s a site that captures the imagination. It’s so unusual.

The Poison Garden is very special too. The Duchess actually created the garden as she thought it’d be interesting for people to learn about the dark side of plants which is an interesting thing to discover on a visit, even common plants that you recognise… you see a different side to them.

From your perspective what is the best advice you’d give to GTOs?

Once you have an idea of what you want to see and do, ask as many questions as you can to get the most out of your trip and package.

The Excellence Award recognises the commitment and dedication of an individual within the travel trade supplier sector, highlighting those who truly go the extra mile to provide an outstanding service. Nominations and votes are cast by group travel organisers, before the winner is announced at the annual Group Leisure & Travel Awards.

For more details about the Group Leisure & Travel Awards, visit