Winter meeting explores
December’s winter meeting of the Group Travel Business Forum provided both great insight into this year’s theme of developing a group marketing strategy, and an excellent networking occasion.
With over 50 delegates and seven speakers, there were attendees from all aspects of the industry – including hotels, heritage attractions, local tourism bodies, booking agencies, event organisers, theatres and coach hire. As they also came from many different regions of the country, it was a perfect opportunity to find new partners and to share best practice. The event was held in the delightful environment of the MV Harmony, the newest boat to join Bateaux London’s fleet, where delegates were treated to warm and generous hospitality and a taster cruise along the Thames at the end of the meeting.
Peter Stonham of Landor Travel Publications (LTP) introduced the discussion by saying that it was worth considering the meaning of both the words ‘group’ and ‘marketing strategy’. Focusing on the former, he reminded the audience that groups were many and varied, came in all shapes and sizes but were generally independent-minded about their needs and the interests of their members. One thing they had in common was a wish to be treated personally and to have a service tailored to their own requirements.
Marketing specialist and themed guide organiser Brian Gray developed the meaning of a marketing strategy – exploring the various approaches and tools available to modern businesses who wanted to be market driven and commercially successful. He stressed the need to position a product offer that distinguished itself from competitors and fitted an organisation’s mission.
Several themes came through all the presentations including there is no such thing as a ‘standard group’ and the importance of providing an experience rather than merely a visit. Marketing has to be carefully targeted to take into account the needs of different groups, whether they are students, families, educational or specialist parties, or formed of more mature or retired people. As Brian Gray pointed out in his talk, ‘One size doesn’t fit all.’
Ways to offer groups something special as part of their visit, providing things an individual visitor would not receive, were developed by Paul Gossage, Director of Marketing and PR at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. He suggested that discounted, value for money entry is one way, but attractions should also consider how to add value to their visit offers or packages. Paul urged delegates to consider the five ‘P’s’ – product, package, price, partners and promotion – when defining marketing strategy and highlighted flexibility as part of the process. You can read more on Paul’s outlook in our ‘Expert View’ this month.
Understanding the idiosyncrasies of group travel was central to the presentation by Elaine Moss and Geraldine Stevens from Visit York, who spoke about promoting an area to groups. Drawing on their own experiences, they confirmed that a dedicated desk for group travel enquiries was far more successful in gaining bookings than a more general tourism helpline. Moreover, by understanding the needs of group visitors such as coach parking or good value hotel rates, the Visit York team work proactively with suppliers to ensure the best facilities and offers are available.
Richard Howle, Head of Ticketing and Marketing at AKA, outlined the various strategies for promoting events to groups, especially the value of knowing the time lines of when groups start to plan a visit as this should influence the timing of marketing activity. A flexible dialogue with the group organiser was essential. Modern communications such as booking – online are increasingly important and needed a considered approach, especially with group organisers who want to sell on tickets, such as for theatres. Individuals could now book and pay directly on line, and this saves organisers’ time in administration and responsibility in collecting money.
This linked into the next presentation about how to use social media for group travel promotion, and Simon Jones, Director of Operations at Digital Visitor, gave useful and reassuring advice about how best to incorporate channels such as Facebook, online blogs and Twitter into campaigns. Start small, don’t be afraid to change and align the channel with your audience and marketing objectives were all suggestions that Simon made.
A question and answer session included matters of both pricing and handling online customer reviews. The consensus was that it was beneficial to have the comments on your own website rather than on a third party’s because it allowed the chance for negative reviews to be followed up and turned into a positive for the business.
The session highlighted that successful marketing strategy required professionals who understood who their groups were and their specific needs, as well as finding and providing the best ways of reaching them. A networking drinks reception onboard allowed further room for discussion.