An Expert View With…

ann_wilsonANN WILSON

HEAD OF SALES, HISTORIC ROYAL PALACES

How do groups fit into your offer?

The five Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) had 3.5m visitors in last year with 32% attracted through the Travel Trade sector, of which 16% were group visits. Our newly installed ticketing system will enable us to target different types of groups in the future, specifically by promoting events and exhibitions to the senior groups market whilst our Learning and Engagement team are working to create the tools for facilitated and DIY youth group visits. In the medium to long term, we will be able to provide more tailored tour and visit opportunities to all segments of the groups market.

What kinds of relationships do you develop with UK GTOs?

My colleague Lesley Terrell leads this sector of our marketing and she knows many group organisers. She helps them plan their itineraries and provides leaflets and posters to help them sell their excursions. We also provide a free space for GTOA full members when they are bringing a group to visit the palaces. We communicate all our up and coming exhibitions and events through our newsletter Fanfare, and attendance at trade fairs such as Excursions and the Days Out Fairs. Over the past couple of years the palaces have formulated a programme of five star service to develop our frontline staff to provide, instinctively, the very best in customer service. We are currently undertaking a strategic review of our group visits service, product opportunities and promotion to incorporate the special needs of groups visiting the palaces into the programme. Lesley and I will be holding a series of focus groups in the coming months and GTOs will have the chance to contribute to this process.

What’s special for groups who visit Historic Royal Palaces?

The great thing about group visits to HRP properties is that GTOs can plan a personalised excursion for their group’s requirements. They can choose to let each individual explore their own passions and interests or the visit can be tailored around a theme providing a shared group experience.

What Changes have you seen whilst at HRP and what do you anticipate?

During my time at HRP many changes in our own organisation have taken place. The biggest shift was moving from a funded Government agency to an independent charitable organisation, but the emphasis on generating money to support the cause of showmanship, discovery, independence and guardianship remains important. The groups market, I believe, will see the biggest changes in the next decade with an ageing population who are more active than ever, adopting and embracing new communications, marketing and media tools to research, book and promote their excursions.

How do you m­­anage visitors at busy times?

The palaces can get extremely busy at peak Easter, summer and school holiday times and we try to pre-empt these situations by advising about the best time to visit. We offer seasonal and out-of-hours opportunities for groups such as our popular Eerie Tours at Kensington Palace and Ghost Tours at Hampton Court Palace. From the findings of our Group Service Review project we will create incentives to encourage off peak visits for domestic GTOs who have flexibility in their programming.These new ideas will be promoted through Fanfare, via our website and at trade fairs in the future.

Ann Wilson trained in hotel management and worked in London hotels for over 12 years, before moving to Historic Royal Palaces in 1994. Ann promotes the palaces worldwide attending sales missions in the USA, Germany,  South Africa and the Far East.