An Expert View with…

'Mr. X' The Intelligence TrailBRIAN GRAY


How have you developed a group offer?

Three years ago, I launched London’s first in-depth spy tour, THE INTELLIGENCE TRAIL. It offers walkers the opportunity to learn what has really gone on in the worlds of MI5 and MI6 throughout the decades. I wanted to give group customers something extra as well and whilst the general public is only offered one specific tour, groups can also choose from specific themes such as the ‘Early Years’, ‘Cold War’, or X-rated ‘Sexpionage’ tours. Group tours can also be customised; shorter evening tours for instance, allowing GTOs to organise an evening meal. Another option is the spy quiz in a nearby pub or hotel afterwards. Any GTOs looking for some extra elements –  maybe even some spy ‘tradecraft’ (the methods used by intelligence officers and agents to conduct their operations) – are always welcome to discuss them with me.

What kinds of groups do you find are your best customers?

I like those coming back for more! Repeat custom is both financially valuable and a sure sign one’s offering is hitting the mark. My field of expertise interests a lot of people, and once they’ve been on one tour, they invariably return. Retirement groups are a key segment, as members may recollect many of the events which occurred and the people, such as Philby, Blunt, Blake or Vassall. Social groups are always fun –  they’re livelier, with more rapport and interaction between stages. Then there are the ‘professional’ groups the tour attracts. Naturally I can’t say any more about these or I’d have to…

Do you see more opportunities for specialist guided tours for groups and, if so, what is your advice for anyone entering the market?

Many opportunities exist for high quality walking experiences, but those leading them should focus on something they’re passionate about. It’s easier to position oneself as a subject expert, which holds more value. If you had heart problems, would you prefer to see a GP or cardiologist? It’s then very difficult for others to directly compete. Know your subject area inside out. There’s another crucial point – small enterprises shouldn’t aim for mass markets – even if the product has genuine popular appeal. Your message won’t be picked up in the most aggressive and saturated tourist battleground in the world, without a major marketing war chest at your disposal. Focus on key segments and concentrate your marketing efforts accordingly.

Brian has a background in international relations, lecturing and marketing. In addition to a BA (Hons) and Masters Degree, he is a full Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and founded the Military and Intelligence Tourism Association. He is currently working on the first volume of forthcoming book ‘Secret (Room) Service: London’s Spy Hotels’.