Don Yates, Sales Manager, French Brothers
French Brothers is a family business founded by three brothers with the surname French in 1978 to run river trips on the Upper Thames between Hampton Court and Maidenhead and on to Marlow, as required. They still run the business and, as is common for family concerns, everyone multitasks.
How important are groups?
“Groups are an absolutely vital part of what we do, and we concentrate on developing this market by making sure our offer is relevant for all types of group.
“Groups are welcome on our public service trips, which operate from Windsor to Marlow or to Maidenhead, from Maidenhead to Runnymede and from Runnymede to Maidenhead, to Windsor and to Hampton Court.
“We also offer a range of tailor made and private trips where groups can charter a whole vessel, and this is where we can create special packages that are flexible to suit the type of group and the event, whether it be a social day out or a celebratory occasion.
“In the run up to the Royal Wedding we ran a lot of Windsor Experience trips for visiting press and films crews – from the BBC, CNN and other organisations. The town was buzzing!”
What’s been important in developing the business?
“Networking and building good relationships with GTOs, coach operators and with other industry professionals has been essential.
“Over the 30 years I’ve been involved I have become friends with many of our customers and it’s good to see them at the many travel trade shows I attend such as the South West Group Travel Show and the GO Travel Show.
“I know what’s important to many of my repeat customers and I have developed products and packages in light of their requests and needs.
“It’s so important to take the stress out of the planning for the travel organiser, so that he or she can enjoy the day too, and we add all sorts of advice to help the GTO, such as where best for the coach to park so access to our boats is as easy as possible for everyone.
“We offer many combined packages with other attractions in Windsor, such as the Savill Garden, and GTOs really appreciate our one-stop-shop approach to booking their full day out.
“Another trend has been the growing popularity of our Afternoon Tea and Lunch cruises and these really suit some groups, especially younger professional groups such as Probus, who enjoy sampling delicious food while seeing the ever-changing scenery of the River Thames.”
How far do groups travel?
“Day trip bookings usually come from within a two hour radius, but we are working with other attractions in Windsor to look at ways of encouraging groups from further afield to visit and to stay in the town for one or more nights.
“We’ve been fortunate that the recent Royal Wedding has put the spotlight on the town and so interest is high in longer breaks.
“We run many educational cruises for youth groups visiting from overseas – mainly from France – and although many Chinese groups do visit the town too, they are generally here for too short a time to take in a boat trip!”
This article was originally published in issue 281 (June / July 2018) of GTO magazine.