“The most important thing I have learnt over the years is that it’s all about relationships”

Ellen Walker

Business Development Manager, Travel Editions

Ellen Walker, Business Development Manager, Travel Editions

Travel Editions are an independent tour operator, who offer high value escorted tours by air, rail and coach to discerning travellers, and have done since 1994.

How did you become a groups specialist?

As a young girl I wanted to follow family tradition and join the armed forces, but suffering from epilepsy in my teens ruled this out.

Liking catering and having a gregarious personality, I studied Hotel Catering and Institutional Management at college for two years and then took a gap year as I wanted to travel and work abroad.

I applied for and was offered jobs at both Key Camp and NAT Holidays. I opted for the second, and I’ve never looked back as working in travel and tourism quickly became my life.

From the mid-80s into the 90s I worked for several different tour operators before joining Saga Holidays. Over the next 15 years I worked for them in a number of different roles, but also got involved directly in the groups’ market for the first time, going to WIs and U3As to make presentations about holidays with Saga.

I then worked with Brightwater for seven years before joining Travel Editions in February 2017. One of the areas of my responsibility is developing the group travel side of the company.

How have the groups market and GTOs’ expectations and requests changed over time?

Although my experience with groups goes back over 30 years, it is really in the last 10 years that the market has significantly changed.

At one time, one organiser may have been responsible for organising travel for numerous groups, but now a GTO generally has one group of members.

Work-related social groups were common, but now groups tend to be based around friendship or a shared interest such as walking, art appreciation, literature or friends of museums.

Holidays were rarely taken – short breaks or a day-trip were more likely, but as people formed groups to take holidays, today’s GTO emerged.

Initially groups were happy to book holidays as they appeared in the brochure and perhaps the only customisation was with the date. Today, it is very rare for a group to follow the itinerary as it appears in a brochure!

Experience-led requests, such as for cookery classes or wine tasting as part of a trip, are now the norm. Groups are now more likely to want to go to Glasgow to learn about Scottish architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, for example, than take a long weekend at a traditional seaside resort.

Another change has been in dining requests with many groups now opting for bed and breakfast breaks with ‘dine out’ an integral part of the experience.

How do you cater for GTO’s needs?

Our brochures are used as an inspirational tool by GTOs, along with knowledge they have gathered from the Internet, social media and talking to other GTOs, and from this base they can approach us in a whole variety of ways.

Sometimes, they can be fairly vague in their plans, just wanting to go to a destination – say Lisbon – or they might present us with a detailed day-by-day itinerary, or it could be something inbetween these two extremes.

The team and I then specialise in creating a tailor-made itinerary for the group, taking in the length of stay, the budget, the type of hotels, activities and the places they would like to visit.

In my experience, no two tours are identical so we specialise in making the trip entirely to the GTO’s specifications, and no country is too small and nowhere is too far away for us to consider!

The most important thing I have learnt over the years is that it’s all about relationships. Flexibility in approach is also vital, as GTOs can really ask for anything.

I am also a supporter of Fam Trips for genuine GTOs – I have found these are the best way of introducing a new destination and the GTO can really learn at first hand what will work for their group.

Can digital technology help the booking process?

As part of our user-friendly website, Travel Editions already has a sophisticated booking system for individual travellers, which allows clients to book and manage their trip online.

We are developing a similar process for private groups, which will only be accessible by the GTO and the group members. This will allow everyone to access the itinerary, maps and other information through this special site, and allow more information to be shared easily.

I have found that GTOs are becoming increasingly tech friendly and they carry smart phones and tablets, so this should be an invaluable asset and will help to avoid unnecessary use of paper.

This article was originally published in issue 283 (September / October 2018) of GTO magazine.