Around 50 group travel professionals attended the GTBF’s summer seminar to understand the benefits of partnership and joint marketing in attracting groups to venues and destinations. Held at the Westminster Park Plaza Hotel, prior to the Group Travel Awards, it was also a good opportunity for networking.
Each of the three speakers before tea – Elizabeth Mounser, Sales Manager of the heritage attraction specialists Continuum Group; Annie Hawkins, Hertfordshire county tourism manager and Steve Sampson, Director of Paradise Wildlife Park – looked at different aspects of joint marketing based on their individual experiences and initiatives. After tea, Tim Hentschel, from the specialist online hotel group booking site Hotelplanner talked about how and why he’d set up the site, and the benefits of a better on-line offer for groups. (see below).
Focusing on ‘Partnerships for Profit’, Elizabeth Mounser emphasised the importance of thinking outside the box. She explained that through partnerships with suppliers, coach operators, other local attractions and tourist boards it was possible to reach audiences that you might not reach on your own, and by working with ‘bigger’ brands to gain stature and extend market awareness. She highlighted that by creating strategic alliances it was possible to share costs – for example of trade shows, organising familiarisation visits or mailings. Communication and creating partnerships with customers to encourage repeat visits, should also not be overlooked. Forging partnerships with colleagues and customers, to build product loyalty, brand loyalty and destination loyalty ultimately builds both business and profit, she concluded.
Steve Sampson reflected that when he took over Paradise Wildlife Park, in 1986, there were no partnerships, but, today his connections spread throughout the UK with 15 trade memberships and an incredible number of partnerships – ranging from membership of UK Zoo association, BIAZA, to alliances with social media experts who harness the latest technology for the benefit of the Park. Steve explained how promotional initiatives and partnerships have raised the profile of the Zoo, and working with other brands such as Tesco’s, it’s been possible to raise awareness throughout the UK with the result that visitors are coming from much further afield.
‘Making a little go a long way’, was Anne Hawkins’ theme, and she explained how by working with local Hertfordshire partners from the chamber of commerce and attractions, to hoteliers and the press, she has been able to make improvements to the appeal of the county’s towns, and thereby increase the value of tourism to the local economy. As a great example, Annie explained how by persuading each individual stakeholder to work to a common aim, often using their existing budgets, she started the First Impressions Project to welcome visitors to Elstree and Borehamwood, harnessing the area’s film heritage as a driver. She persuaded the council’s transport department to let her use a ‘spare’ button on their touch screen kiosks at bus-stops for visitor information purposes, and she also got local media support by asking residents to vote on which film stars should be featured on the route between station and studios. Amongst her tops tips were “always look for potential partners, be nice to everyone, help others to see the benefit and trust them to deliver it.” She urged delegates to “think broad, and remember the four ‘ps’ – passion, perseverance, people and partnership.” Annie also explained the success of the Enjoy Hertfordshire ‘cheque book’, that’s given to every group visitor, with a range of attractions providing incentives to encourage them to return. She said that in 2012 it was hard to sell the idea to local partners, but she persevered. This year it sold out in days!
A question and answer session, led by GTOs Editorial Director Peter Stonham concluded the seminar. It discussed issues such as how to attract organisers who don’t think they are GTOs, pricing and promotions, and how to work with train companies to provide value offers for groups.
Booking hotels on-line
Hotelplanner.com was set up by Tim Hentschel after being involved with facilitating incoming groups in America and working within the hotel industry. The site allows group organisers to make reservations for hotel rooms for their groups on-line. Exploiting the latest computer technology the GTO can be sure they are getting the best possible rates for the type of hotel and reservation they require. Once booked, rates are monitored and if a new, lower, rate is offered by the hotel then the group will pay this new amount so they will not be penalised by booking in advance.