Comment: Recognising the role of GTOs

Mike Bugsgang, chief executive of the Association of Group Travel Organisers, hails the first National Group Travel Organiser Day

Naturally, the Association of Group Travel Organisers (Agto) was delighted to learn that the British Tourism & Travel Show (BTTS) team had designated the second day of the event at the NEC, Birmingham, as National Group Travel Organiser Day (March 23).

The intention of this move is to make the day a nationally recognised event that will highlight the tremendous work undertaken by GTOs to create exciting and engaging itineraries for their groups.

In addition to a raft of exhibitors supplying goods and services for GTOs, Group Travel Organiser Day at BTTS will feature dedicated speaker sessions.

Agto will be running one of these sessions entitled “Question Time: The Changing Face of Group Travel”.

This will include GTOs and suppliers who will be sharing their thoughts about current issues and challenges facing organisers.

It will be an interactive session with time allocated for GTOs to put their questions to the panel.

Chaired by Mike Bugsgang, the panel will comprise Yasmin Choudhury, GTO; Siobhan Harrison, travel trade manager at English Heritage; Pauline Johnson, GTO, and chair of Agto’s Central Branch; and Sam Sciortino, commercial team leader, Towergate Insurance.

Topics to be aired will include the type of fam trips that are most beneficial; attracting new organisers to the sector; coach parking in city centres; charging for museum entry; legislation affecting GTOs; hotel prices; 2018 events; new itinerary ideas; and using social media for marketing.

It will be interesting to gauge the reaction of GTOs at the event about how 2017 is looking, in terms of the number of groups they are predicting to organise and how this compares to 2016.

The current mood among Agto member GTOs is cautiously optimistic.

Those operating predominantly in the domestic market envisage clear signs for growth with bookers, especially the older demographic being concerned about the lower value of the pound and non-existent interest on savings.

Therefore, trips within the UK are favoured with new attractions, activity/learning experiences and mainline cultural events all offering potential for organisers’ itineraries.

GTOs handling inbound groups are also generally bullish, highlighting the fact that the weaker pound will make Britain a more attractive destination for overseas groups, particularly from China and India.

However, there is still some concern that the lower value of the pound will position the UK as a ‘bargain basement’ destination attracting mainly budget groups and squeezing margins.

Also, there is concern that some groups from EU countries might be deterred as a result of Brexit.

The feeling of GTOs working in the outbound market is that certain destinations will benefit at the expense of others.

Tried and trusted locations are forecast to do well.

Providing group participants with peace of mind by demonstrating the ability to change itineraries rapidly in response to negative incidents will become increasingly important to growth in the outbound groups sector.

Overall, it would appear that things are looking good for the groups market in 2017 but there is a note of caution.

Many economic pundits predict rising inflation and higher prices in the coming months.

There is also a whole raft of legislation that will need to be enacted in readiness for the UK’s departure from the EU.

In this context, probably the most significant piece of legislation affecting GTOs is revisions to the Package Travel Directive that will come into effect in January 2018.

• The BTTS Agto ‘Question Time’ is exclusively for group travel organisers and advance booking is necessary to attend. For details contact