Anna Walton, Group Sales Manager, Longleat
Our venue for the South West Group Travel Show for 2019 is the famous Elizabethan stately home of Longleat, home to over 140 species of exotic animals. As well as exotic wildlife, visitors to Longleat can enjoy house tours, the gardens, river cruises, a maze and many other family attractions and daily events. Visitors to the show will be able to enjoy a complimentary safari after the show and a visit to the house.
How and why are groups important to Longleat?
Groups are very important to Longleat, and of our one million visitors every year they account for around 10%.
Group visits are booked in advance, with many in our off-peak periods – i.e. weekdays and non-holiday times – and this really helps with our planning. Groups that arrive by coach reduce pressure on our limited car parking spaces, and this helps to protect our Capability Brown landscape.
How do you provide group benefits and enhance a group’s experience?
We offer groups who pre-book and pre-pay 30% discount off the standard ticket price, and this offer is not available in any other way – deals via third party websites such as Piqniq, for example, do not offer this level of discount. The travel organiser qualifies for free entrance with parties of 30 or more, and coach drivers receive free entrance and food vouchers.
There are two types of ticket for groups.
The full-day ticket covers the house and safari, while a ‘house only’ or ‘safari only’ ticket at £12 allows groups en-route to another attraction to call in for a shorter time. This second option is not available to individual visitors.
In addition, groups can book a guide (fee payable) for a tour of the house (again not normally available to an individual visitor) and can choose from an in-depth ‘House Tour’, a ‘Scandalous History Tour’ or the ‘Mystery Tour’, which takes groups behind the scenes. The route depends on which members of the family are in residence, hence its mystery name! All guides are very knowledgeable about the house and the family, and have plenty of anecdotes to share.
We offer groups several catering options from afternoon teas to two-course and festive lunches, and can reserve seats in the Orangery or the Longhouse for groups to sit and eat together. Alternatively, our newly introduced food vouchers enable group members to explore the estate at their own pace and choose to eat at the time that best suits them during their visit.
How do you help GTOs plan their visits?
There is a groups team of four people with a dedicated email address, phone number and website pages for bookings. We’ve noticed that while many GTOs still like to ring to make their bookings and the team loves to chat to them, many organisers are happy to email with queries and book and pay online.
It’s essential that GTOs know we want to work with them in the way that they most prefer, that we can be flexible in our offers and that we want them and their group to feel very welcome at Longleat.
GTOs plan ahead, and so communicating our events calendar in advance to help them promote their trips to their members is something I’ve been keen to introduce. GTOs are already asking for details for Christmas 2019 and I can confirm that the Festival of Light will be taking place. By April, I usually know the theme and we then let Travel Trade and groups know as many details as we can rather than let them wait for the public announcement in September.
Do you work with other attractions and DMOs?
Relationships with Destination Management Organisations such as Visit Wiltshire and Visit Somerset and with local attractions, including our sister attraction Cheddar Gorge and Caves in Somerset, are very important to us.
By working with local tourism partners we can extend our reach and that is very beneficial for Longleat. Visit Wiltshire can help GTOs plan a several-night trip to the county, and book accommodation, food and attractions so it makes sense to ensure we are involved – and we give input into their itinerary planning.
A recent Visit Wiltshire initiative is a ‘Travel Trade Group’ that meets regularly, and this is a great forum for sharing tips and experiences with other attractions and to learn of opportunities that we might take part in, such as Fam Trips.
We also attend Travel Trade shows to ensure we meet GTOs representing all types of groups. We particularly look forward to welcoming GTO readers to the 2019 South West Group Travel Show, which is being held at Longleat on Saturday 16th February. We’ve not been able to host this type of event before as we haven’t had the space, but now the new Longhouse, a multi-use conference venue, gives us this opportunity.
We’d like to show GTOs how Longleat has evolved over recent years, and how significant investment into the house, gardens and safari park alongside facilities such as cafés and restaurants has made it an even better destination for a group visit!
This article was originally published in issue 285 (January 2019) of GTO magazine.