“In 3½ years I’ve seen an increase in requests for guided tours.”

Daryl Bennett

Travel Trade & Sales Manager, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Daryl Bennett, Travel Trade & Sales Manager, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Kew Gardens is a botanical garden in southwest London that houses the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world.

What types of groups come to Kew and what do you offer in terms of individualised visits for them?

Kew Gardens is so rich in botanical, royal and scientific history that we see all kinds of groups from all over the world visiting throughout the year.

“For many the focus is simply about enjoying a day out in stunning surroundings. For others, there are more specific reasons to visit, whether that’s our globally important conservation work and scientific research, our unique galleries dedicated to botanical art, the fascinating history of the Georgian royals in Kew Palace and the Royal Kitchens or the opportunity to see our vast collection of living plants – the largest in the world.

“Our goal is always to try and understand what our groups would like to achieve from their visit and to offer them advice on how to go about doing that. We are always conscious, though, that it might not be possible to see everything in one visit, and so it’s the perfect place to come back to another time.”

How important are overseas groups?

“Around 30% of all visitors are from overseas.

“Some find their own way here independently through internet research or recommendations from friends or family. Many, though, are on organised tours either as part of a larger itinerary or a specific day visit to Kew.

“I work through a number of channels to encourage groups from overseas to visit including working with UK-based tour operators who specialise in particular overseas territories, or with tour operators based in the countries themselves.

“We attend travel shows around the world targeting new operators and emerging markets, and work closely with VisitBritain and London & Partners so that we tie in, wherever possible, with their global campaigns.

“Our overseas visitors can know that no matter whereabouts in the world they are from, there will always be a plant or plants that they recognise from home, but set in quintessentially British surroundings.”

What types of value added elements do you find GTOs are looking for?

“I’ve worked in the inbound travel industry for well over 15 years and groups have always looked for added value or something bespoke. In my opinion, it’s the reason the groups market exists and why GTOs are so important.

“I’ve been at Kew Gardens for three and a half years and I’ve seen an increase in requests for guided tours and for the opportunity to witness what goes on behind-the-scenes. It’s about the continual quest for knowledge and being able to experience something that is not available to everyone.

“I think that groups are also looking for a hassle-free experience. Everything from the booking procedure through the admissions process to the journey home as it means their groups can get on with the all-important business of enjoying themselves.

“There is always room for improvement in the visitor experience, and so we never stop listening to and learning from the groups market.”

How important has The Hive been in attracting groups? Are any other developments planned?

“It’s vital that our offer evolves to help attract new visitors and to encourage people who have visited before to return.

The Hive is a multi-sensory sculptural experience designed to highlight the extraordinary life of bees. It’s made with a 17-metre metal mesh, within which you can stand and listen as the sound patterns change.

“When The Hive opened in June 2016, it had an immediate impact on our visitor numbers – and Summer 2016 was a record time for visits to Kew. For us, The Hive was the equivalent of an art gallery’s blockbuster exhibition. It’s still not entirely clear when it might be leaving us, but it has very quickly become an essential part of any visit to the Gardens.

“In 2018, Temperate House – the most significant Victorian glasshouse still in existence – will re-open after a five-year long restoration that has seen it painstakingly returned to its former glory. It will house 1,500 rare and threatened plant species from the temperate zones of the world – from Africa and Asia to America and Australasia.

“Also next year, the renovation of the Great Pagoda, our 10-storey high, octagonal Chinese folly, will see all 80 of the dragons returned to their rightful home on every corner of the building!”

This article was originally published in issue 275 (September / October 2017) of GTO magazine.