“GTOs are increasingly using the internet to research and make their final bookings.”

Jon Chamberlain

Marketing Manager, Visit Bristol

Jon Chamberlain, Marketing Manager, Visit Bristol

Bristol is a thriving city, and has changed beyond all recognition over the past 10 years. On 30th January 2020 the South West Group Travel Show will be held at We The Curious in Bristol’s historic harbour, with Visit Bristol as our destination host.

What’s your role, and how does it relate to groups?

As marketing manager a key part of my job is to create campaigns to attract groups to the city and use my specialist knowledge to help attractions ensure their products are group friendly.

More groups are visiting Bristol, and we welcome all kinds from local schools and international students – especially French groups who are interested in the engineering heritage of the suspension bridge – to adult groups.

Bristol has over a 1,000 years of history so the heritage offer is very strong, and we’ve found our ‘street art’ and ‘Banksy’ tours – popular with younger visitors for some years – are now appealing to more traditional group visitors.

Christmas markets are another important part of our group visitor offer – several different markets run during the festive period but they link easily to form a continuous ‘Mile of Markets’.

What distinguishes us from most other destinations is that we have many seasonal activities close at hand such as a Victorian themed visit to Brunel’s SS Great Britain, or to the National Trust property at Tyntesfield, a Victorian Gothic house just outside of Bristol. This means we can attract a large number of visitors but because they are spread out around the city no single area seems overwhelmingly busy.

What has helped to make Bristol group friendly?

We’ve worked with stakeholders to plan and create a new coach park – at the Fruit and Vegetable Market. We’ve included facilities such as showers and we have plenty of fruit for drivers too! There’s 24-hour security and drivers can access their coaches at any time. This has proved a great success.

We have plenty of drop-off and pick up areas around the city and we worked with organisers of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta to introduce coach parking at the event – which sold out in record time this year.

As a DMO we use our expertise to advise attractions to help them develop their products for groups.

We’ve encouraged local theatres to promote their programmes nine to 12 months in advance of the show to increase group bookings. We discuss ways attractions can add extra value – the Bristol Old Vic now offers behind the scenes tours and has opened up its Museum of Sound.

As new attractions open, we encourage them to plan for groups – by providing coach parking and sufficient toilets. We act as facilitators to help attractions work together to ensure groups have a rounded experience of the city, and we are always on hand to help GTOs create their itineraries – whether it’s for a few hours or several days.

What do you find GTOs are looking for?

In my opinion, groups are no different to individual visitors in that ‘an experience’ is now an essential element of a visit, such as curator or expert-led tours at a museum or attraction.

Some offers are only available to groups, for example at Berkeley Castle, family member Charles Berkeley, will welcome and lead groups around the property or even host an afternoon tea, and this kind of personal attention brings a product to another level.

Free attraction M-shed has a number of bookable offers for groups, such as a ride on the steam railway or trip on the Steam boats around the harbour or even a Crane Experience. The RWA – Bristol’s first art gallery – now offers curator-led tours exclusively for groups.

So what does the future hold?

We’ve noticed over the last few years that GTOs are increasingly using the internet to research and contact us as they make their final bookings and confirmations. Whilst much promotional activity is now online, printed visitor guides and maps are still important.

There is scope to increase international visitors, but we are keen to encourage domestic groups, who may have visited Bristol 10 or more years ago, to return. The city has changed immensely, with many new attractions, and these developments are continuing.

Our next big attraction, opening this autumn, is The Wave – a huge inland surfing lake – which is looking to attract all generations to experience surfing. ‘Silver Surfers’ are going to be made very welcome with programmes for beginners!

We are thrilled to be hosting the 2020 South West Group Travel Show at We The Curious, with the chance to show GTOs just how Bristol has changed.

This article was originally published in issue 291 (September / October 2019) of GTO magazine.