An expert view with…

GyllGYLL KING

OWNER, CITY & VILLAGE TOURS

What’s influenced the development of your group offer?

Being fortunate to work with many of the same groups for years has meant I’ve been able to understand from GTOs how best to adapt our tour programmes to suit the changing needs of their groups. One thing I have particularly learnt has been to describe accurately the amount of walking involved in a tour so GTOs can be confident that their members will enjoy it! In 2012, I introduced the concept of defining a walking tour in terms of the number of circuits of an Olympic running track, with a grade one walk indicating one lap and a grade six walk, six laps. A second important development was to launch the Matinee Explorer product for groups with members in their 80s and 90s. These outings allow the group to arrive at a restaurant or pub at around 11.45am in time for a two-course lunch with coffee at midday. After this, there is a gentle walk with a Blue Badge Guide, followed by a coach tour and the day ends at an interesting location for afternoon tea. This type of tour has proved popular with coach companies too, as it allows them time for multiple pick-ups. I think interaction with and feedback from your client base is something all tourism suppliers should embrace when thinking how to develop an offer. I’m still developing what I do so that City & Village itineraries remain relevant!

In your 28 years in business, what changes in group travel have you seen?

It’s my belief that there is a special place in heaven for GTOs – amazing individuals with selfless qualities and indefatigable energy, and this view has remained constant over the last 28 years. I do think, however, that GTOs have become more savvy and well informed, and so suppliers must in turn always improve the service that they offer. The other thing I’ve noticed is how difficult it can be to find new suitable lunch venues for 30-plus people. There are two factors working here – one is that some areas, central London for sure, are now very busy at lunch time, and secondly, there are just fewer pubs than there used to be! Why on earth wouldn’t any new visitor attraction that’s got the room make sure that they can seat an entire coach party for lunch or refreshments – that I shall never understand!

What sort of marketing is good for you?

We have a good website that allows GTOs to discover all that we do, but I think there is still a place for print. Many GTOs like a hard copy of our brochure to take to meetings and our glossy colour posters have become very popular. In the last 15 years, I’ve placed more advertising in magazines and attended more group travel trade shows than in the early years. Travel trade shows are a very good way of becoming known by GTOs and to network with other suppliers, which can be very beneficial. There is something of a conflict at a trade show, however, because an exhibitor wants a good footfall to justify taking the stand, but if it is too busy then there is not enough time to talk to every potential customer! My tip for GTOs visiting a show would be to avoid the morning rush – plan to arrive late morning, visit each stand and gather the leaflets and brochures that most interest you. Then I would suggest having lunch whilst reviewing the information you’ve gathered, to decide who to return to. Exhibitors are always much less busy in the afternoon and you will be able to spend much longer talking to them and finding out if what they offer will work for your group.

What’s the trick in building and maintaining long term customer relationships?

Relationships are very important to City & Village Tours – and many GTOs re-book with us year after year, for which I am very grateful. I also think building relationships is one of the fun aspects of what I do. We’ve been building a following for our free monthly online magazine The Kettle and as now half of my team are younger than the company, they are social media savvy; we are now, for example, integrating aspects of Facebook into the way we relate to groups. We encourage group members to share the pictures they’ve taken whilst on a day trip and I am finding that Facebook (new to me) is bringing together our group organisers and members, Blue Badge Guides, office staff, and the venues and attractions that we visit  – and we all get to see the end result.

Gyll has been at the helm of City & Village Tours since founding the company in 1988 and still looks after some of the group organisers who booked in the early years. The company provides a range of day trips with Blue Badge Guides throughout the South East and London, East Anglia, the Midlands and the South West. Although Gyll led groups herself for the first 15 years, from the very beginning she has employed Blue Badge tour guides – some have been with the company for 28 years – and she now focuses on developing the tour programme, creating itineraries and marketing.