Lesley Terrell, Group Sales Executive, Historic Royal Palaces
Historic Royal Palaces is an independent charity that manages some of the United Kingdom’s unoccupied royal palaces, which includes the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Banqueting House in London, and Hillsborough Castle and Gardens in Northern Ireland.
How important are group visitors to HRP properties?
Groups are very important to Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), and all types are welcomed including British and overseas visitors, students, social and art groups, local history societies and other specialist interests.
I see groups as a growth market. Over the last decade numbers have grown and, in 2018, they accounted for 33% of all visitors.
By 2020, 50% of the population of the UK will be older than 50 years old, which is a strong sector for group trips, so I think the potential for the groups market to grow and expand is there.
What was the appeal of working with groups and travel trade?
I really enjoyed working for HRP, where I began as part of the maintenance team, and gained a huge amount of inside knowledge about all the royal palaces – literally from the roofs to the cellars! From taking clients round and listening to the Warders, I realised that I’d like to connect more with visitors so I could share my passion for the buildings and their heritage with a wider audience.
It’s been really great to work with GTOs and coach operators, and I have met some lovely people and I’ve enjoyed hearing about other places they’ve been to.
It was my ideal job, and a great way to finish my career working in a place I’d come to love and meeting diverse people from all over the world.
How has the industry changed over the last 10 years?
GTOs have become more adventurous in their trips and are always looking to ensure value for money for their members, and to add content to make days out as interesting as possible.
As well as enjoying the heritage of the Palaces they really appreciate the events and exhibitions that are included as part of their visit, such as Florimania, the annual celebration of flowers taking place in the spring at Hampton Court Palace or the, just opened, recreation of Queen Victoria’s private apartments and special exhibitions at Kensington Palace.
GTOs and their members are ever more worldly-wise in their approach to travel these days, and attractions should take this into account when planning for group visitors.
What initiatives have you helped to introduce?
In 2012, we invited several GTOs to the Tower of London to get feedback about our Group Visit Guide and to find out how we could make it better. This was very useful and their critical but fair comments allowed us to make a range of improvements to the guide so that it became a more useful information resource for GTOs.
We regularly invite GTOs to the Palaces so that we can let them know what’s coming up that might interest their groups, and also to get feedback about our offers.
At our most recent networking event we were able to tell GTOs about next year’s event to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the tournament between England and France known as ‘The Field of the Cloth of Gold’. This will take place at Hampton Court Palace in June 2020 and will be spectacular!
What advice would you give to attractions looking to attract more groups?
Communicate your passion for the attraction – we do have the most amazing heritage in the UK.
Working with GTOs is very important – it’s all about developing a partnership and helping them to plan their trips so that their members enjoy their visit to the full. For example, visiting the Royal Palaces out of peak season may be preferable to some groups.
Seek and listen to feedback – so that you can change what isn’t working.
This article was originally published in issue 289 (June / July 2019) of GTO magazine.