We speak to Pat Crooks, who still organises for the Freemans Sport & Leisure Club, about winning the first Group Travel Organiser of the Year Award®.

GTO Pat Crooks (Freemans Sport & Leisure Club) on a cruise ship

GTO Pat Crooks (Freemans Sport & Leisure Club) received the first ever GTO of the Year Award® in 1999.

What’s your memory of winning the GTO of the Year Award®?

I was shocked! I had just come back with a group from America and I got the phone call to say I had been nominated. I thought, ‘me? No chance!’ I could not believe it. I was nervous going to the interview but my family and friends said, just be yourself, so I was. I didn’t think anything would happen and I couldn’t believe it when I found out I had won.

Tell us about you and your group, Pat

It’s the Freemans Sport & Leisure Club in Peterborough, it was initially just for the staff but now we taked retired colleagues too. We have about 7,000 members and go all over. 

Our youngest member is six months old and our eldest is 87! Whenever we go out anywhere, we’re a family and we look out for each other. My group look after me as I look after them. 

GTO Pat Crooks (Freemans Sport & Leisure Club) on a camel

Pat has ticked off an incredible 57 countries on her travels over the years.

Recently we’ve had trips out to Milton Keynes (for shopping) and a family break to Drayton Manor as well as outings to Birmingham, Bosworth Hall and Disneyland Paris. We have a Northern Mediterranean cruise visiting Hamburg, Le Havre, Rotterdam and Bruges and I’m also looking at a spa weekend for April at the moment. The group love all the museums in London too. 

We went to New York two years ago which was amazing. I love to go on all the trips if I can. 

What have been the main changes over the years? 

Everything is done over email now. I previously used a newsletter that I’d send out to people. 

It’s a lot easier now as a group travel organiser. You can pick up the phone to people and you are never short of ideas. I highlight a lot of ideas in Group Leisure & Travel magazine and I also get in touch with the embassies of the places we’re going to as well. 

What difference has winning the award made over the years?

When I first started as a GTO, it was difficult because people wouldn’t take much notice of me. But after winning the award, people started taking me seriously and would actually acknowledge me. 

Pat Crooks receiving the first ever GTO of the Year Award in 1999

Pat Crooks was the first ever group organiser to receive the GTO of the Year Award® in 1999.

What would you say to those thinking of putting themselves forward for the award?

I would say, go for it! We always hold back because we think we’re not up to that standard but it’s a reflection of how the clients view you and how they respect and appreciate you.

It opens so many doors as a GTO. It’s about the fam trips to get ideas for your customers too. I’ve had so much joy and satisfaction from what I do over the years. I love seeing people happy. My group say I am the life and soul of the party. I enjoy it a lot more now because I have a voice, I was really shy and timid when I first started. 

GTO Pat Crooks (Freemans Sport & Leisure Club) with her group on a cruise

GTO Pat Crooks (left at the front) has enjoyed trips all over the world with her group including several cruises.

Where’s been your favourite places to visit? 

I have been to so many - 57 countries to be exact! Top of the list is Cuba, I have been seven times. The manager of the hotel we stayed at kept asking me to go back and once when I went there, I was interviewed on the local radio station about bringing groups of travellers over! 

I also love New York and we’re looking at a Caribbean cruise too which would be great. I also love Malta (we went last year) and we’re really enjoying the cruises now too. 

Where is left on your bucket list? 

The Far East.

Entries and nominations for the 2024 Group Travel Organiser of the Year Award® are open until 2nd April. Go to groupleisureandtravel.com/gtooftheyear to get involved. 

It’s part of the Group Leisure & Travel Awards which will culminate in a ceremony at the Royal Garden Hotel in London on Thursday 27th June. That’s when the winner of the award will be announced.