Winter 2013

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Sharing Research into the
Groups Market

Attendees at December’s winter meeting of the Group Travel Business Forum shared insight into the changing range and behaviour of groups, as well as enjoying networking, and a guided tour of the impressive Guildhall Art Gallery in the city of London.

Representatives from all areas of the industry, including destinations, attractions, travel trade specialists and VisitEngland, explored what we already know, and helped establish what further work needs to be done to better understand
the full extent and importance of group travel in the UK and beyond.

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Peter Stonham of Landor Travel Publications (LTP) introduced the afternoon’s meeting by explaining how LTP and Tourism South East (TSE) are currently in discussion with various research bodies about undertaking new travel trade research that will fill gaps and identify new trends and niche segments in the group travel market. The seminar would be an important step in informing this research.

Karen Roebuck (pictured left), formerly Head of Marketing and Membership at TSE, and now an independent consultant, gave an overview of the research on group travel currently available, including studies on coach holidays, ‘traditional’ UK GTOs, and inbound travel.  The limitations were apparent. For example, it was noted that GTOs do not travel exclusively by coach, so other means of transportation such as train travel and cruising needed to be better considered. Also problematic was that the data failed to capture the wide range of group travellers now active, and, in particular, those arriving from abroad in groups.

Some considerations for organisations conducting their own research into groups were suggested, such as ascertaining the external profile of an attraction or service by finding out what others were saying about you, and by researching which operators included it in their tour programmes. Also important was auditing your offer, finding out whom your competitors are, and talking to group customers.

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Elaine Colley (pictured below right), Travel Trade Manager at TSE, looked at whether TSE’s 2009 Coach Tourism Study – a body of research conducted with around 400 coach operators, 100 attractions and 29 destinations – was still relevant today.  With results supplemented by interviews at the Excursions show and other regional group travel fairs, Elaine highlighted an increase in special interest groups reflecting a need for attractions to offer more tailor-made tours, and changes in average drive time for daytrips (two hours) and the balance of long and short stops.

Gaps in the results, reflected areas that needed further research. In particular, the question of ‘where is this market heading?’, said Elaine. Would an aging population increase demand post-retirement, and how would younger people see group travel both now, and as they got older? What would be the best ways to engage with them? Would future generations replicate the groups of today and what impact will social media have on groups in the future? How would the changing economy influence behaviour, and would transportation choices evolve?

IMG_0843Karen Roebuck provided insights for attractions and destinations, using real case studies as examples. The Hawk Conservancy Trust in Andover, used the results of the 2009 Coach Tourism Study to examine gaps in its offer and markets, and after applying for funding and implementing changes, significantly increased their group volume and value. Hastings Borough Council undertook research in response to a number of complaints that traders had made after the coach parking was moved from a central position on the seafront. Results demonstrated that ‘T&P’ (tea and pee) groups had decreased the most, therefore affecting mainly volume, not value, as these groups spend little in a destination, rather than bringing it value.

Gabrielle Alam (pictured above left) a specialist consultant and Head of Sales and Marketing at CroisiEurope gave the meeting the perspective of a tour and travel provider. She agreed that the groups market was much bigger than often thought, including a wide range of group buyers from extended families to celebration holidays and special interest groups. “More research would be very welcome” she said.

The afternoon ended with a very interactive and interesting panel discussion, involving Karen, Elaine and Gabrielle. It was concluded that GTBF should work with TSE, VisitEngland and research companies to identify a research product to help further explore the groups market.


IMG_0839Guildhall impresses group visitors

IMG_0838Held at the Guildhall Library, courtesy of David Pearson, Director of Culture, Heritage and Libraries, the afternoon started with a tour of the Guildhall Art Gallery (above) and delegates were then astonished to find a Roman amphitheatre in the basement! (below) Dating back to around 70 AD, the original walls of the amphitheatre were discovered in the 1980s when the gallery was being re-built. Attendees also saw some of the important artworks in the city’s collection, including paintings by Charles Jervas and J M W Turner.