Inaugural Northern Seminar 2014

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Forty group specialists meet at NRM in York

The Forum’s inaugural Northern meeting was held at the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York on 2nd December 2014. It was exceptionally well attended by group tourism professionals from attractions and suppliers throughout Yorkshire, Lancashire and the North East, and proved an excellent networking occasion for the 40 people present as well as an invaluable learning opportunity on the theme of successfully targeting group business.

Four speakers – Elaine Moss from Visit York, Dawn Theaker from the NRM, Jo Pickering from Yorkshire’s Great Houses, Castles and Gardens, and Andrew Hjort from Melton College in York – shared their differing experiences of successfully marketing visits to groups, whilst Nick How from QA Research looked at how the market was changing and proposed research into new group buying patterns.

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Elaine Moss acknowledged that the city of York had many advantages that made it attractive to groups – not least that is was a compact, historic walled city with a large choice of places to visit. These included smaller lesser-known attractions alongside the iconic ones such as York Minster, Jorvik and the NRM. There were also excellent transport links by road and rail from all over the UK. Visit York was now particularly focusing on international visitors – especially those from China and the US – in the coming year. In doing this, it was vital, Elaine said, to work together with carriers and tour operators to understand the specific markets, and also to ensure that York attractions and accommodation suppliers offered what was needed by particular groups. She highlighted that Chinese groups appreciated both slippers and noodle cookers in their hotel rooms. Having a range of souvenirs with prices and labels in Chinese, as well as accepting Chinese credit cards, could increase merchandise sales, she added. Meanwhile, a trend in tourism from America was for groups made up of extended family members – comprising both sets of grandparents, parents and children.

IMG_6921Jo Pickering explained how the Great Houses, Castles and Gardens group she runs came about, and emphasised how, by combining marketing resources, each attraction was able to make a small budget go a lot further. Amongst joint activity is a website with a page that reveals simply the group facilities available at each attraction – for example, guided tours or opportunities to access areas that are usually closed to the public. Last year’s initiative for a themed exhibition, ‘Duty Calls’, examined the impact of wartime at nine different houses within the group. It had proved very popular, and more themed exhibitions were being planned for the future.

The NRM itself was continually reviewing its offer to groups, Dawn Theaker said. Evaluation and feedback from GTOs was one way this was achieved, and had recently led to a redesigned leaflet that emphasised the range of dining offers and the collection of royal trains. Aware that many groups are on a tight schedule, the museum is considering opening before 10am for pre-booked groups and offering a breakfast package as well as a variety of special tours. In addition, the Countess of York, the latest train carriage to be restored, will be available for fine dining including afternoon teas from this month. Dawn also stressed the importance of partnering with relevant attractions for joint tickets for groups, and that this enabled target databases to grow.

IMG_7002Andrew Hjort’s presentation described the different kinds of language student groups that study at Melton College, which he runs, and how attractions could best liaise with the school to ensure a share of this significant market. Educational materials that could be used by different age groups at attractions were important. He also emphasised how important it was to know what groups were already aware of about an attraction. For example, those used as a location in a TV production, such as Heartbeat, would build a reputation as the series was screened around the world. This could result in fresh audiences perhaps running several years behind the UK market.

Nick How from QA Research explained how new research into groups was to be carried out in the early months of this year in conjunction with Landor Travel Publications and the GTBF (see page 140). One objective was to discover if there were new types of groups forming alongside the more traditional social and retirement clubs. Some might be one-off and formed for a particular purpose, such as for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, but nevertheless would potentially be bringing large numbers. The research would also look at who buyers are, how frequently they travel, what influences their decision making and the importance of social media.

Points raised during discussion included the importance of responding to GTOs in the right way, asking the correct questions about a forthcoming visit to establish things like time available so that a suitable experience could be provided. ‘Added value’ elements that enable groups to benefit from something not available to individuals were another important factor to consider.

Val Baynton, Contributing Editor