Group travel organiser Sue Shapland has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for her services to culture and the community. 

GTO of the Year® finalist 2019 Sue Shapland

GTO Sue Shapland was recognised in The King’s Birthday Honours List 2024. 

When Sue received the letter in the post, she thought it was something very different.

She told us: “I was in the car with my daughter at the time and I thought it was either a parking fine or a speeding ticket because of how official it looked. When I opened it and read the first paragraph, I was absolutely gobsmacked.” 

Based in West Somerset, Sue set up Exmoor Extroverts 25 years ago and the group now has more than 700 members who travel all around the UK and the world. 

In 2019 she was crowned Group Travel Organiser of the Year® as part of the Group Leisure & Travel Awards. Sue was recognised for her large programme of day trips and holidays and her commitment to finding new and exciting destinations for her group. 


She has taken her group all over the world to incredible destinations such as Kenya. 

She said: “It feels very special to be nominated for a BEM and I am very grateful to the people who put me forward for it. I had to keep it secret for a while which was difficult - especially as we had two group holidays in that time.

“It’s nice to know that what we do is recognised and I am still getting so many cards and emails about it - every day a few more arrive in the post and I’m making a point of answering every one.”

Sue’s group first began in 1999 to provide educational and good quality entertainment as well as a variety of overseas holidays for local people, many living on their own. What started as a few day trips grew over the years to a busy and thriving programme of holidays including cruises with trips to Malta, Alaska, Switzerland and more. 

Some of Sue’s favourite group trips have been to the Sheltand Isles, Vietnam and Cambodia and a river cruise along the Douro. 

Group Travel Organiser of the Year Award® winner 2019

Receiving the Group Travel Organiser of the Year Award® at the 2019 Group Leisure & Travel Awards ceremony. 

When asked what the most important thing she had learnt after so many years of being a GTO, Sue said: “Being prepared for the unexpected. The most important thing is to be flexible and not panic…you’ve just got to take each situation as it comes.”

Already this year, the group has enjoyed holidays to Torquay, the Algarve and Dorset and have breaks to the Lake District, Slovenia and London to look forward to throughout the rest of 2024. 

And how is Sue going to celebrate? “We’ll probably have a family get-together a bit later in the summer. I also have a big birthday coming up too!”