Face to Face: Wendy Hartley-Scarff

Wendy Hartley-Scarff, the new chief executive of the Association of Group Travel Organisers, talks to TravelGBI editor Samantha Mayling about her plans for the sector

Q: Why did you want to be chief executive of Agto?

A: Due to personal circumstances, I spent some time out of the industry and wanted to return in a role which would give me challenges.

The growth and development in this market and, in particular within Agto, presented me with those challenges.

Q: What is your background in travel?

A: I’ve been in the industry for about 25 years. I started in car hire with EuroDollar which became National Car Rental, managing the global corporate accounts and team for 10 years.

I spent four years with Stena Line where I first became involved with group travel – and I served on the board of the Institute of Travel & Tourism for 10 years.

I joined Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE) where I stayed for 10-plus years, working on exhibitions for the travel industry: World Travel Market London, and developing new and existing events across the globe.

During my time with RTE as sales development director, I worked across all aspects of the industry including inbound and outbound markets, tourist boards, governments, international/domestic operators, travel technology and travel agents.

Q: What is your personal experience of group travel?

A: I have been on group holidays, mostly ski and golf, which I really enjoyed but my experience was that I could dip in and out of activities rather than being scheduled for things every day and time.

As I have only been with Agto for a few months, I haven’t had time to go on group tours, but I will attend some Agto trips this year.

Q: What are the main group travel trends?

A: There is an increasing demand for a wider choice of holiday – more experiential, less structured but still organised. A more active, curious audience.

Q: What are the main challenges?

A: Our population, although it is ageing, has a younger mindset and the 60-year-olds of today are the 45- to 50-year-olds of yesterday.

They are looking for excitement and more of an experiential holiday – they want to brag about where and what they have seen.

We need to ensure there is product for our customers and provide them with that experience.

This type of product will attract a younger demographic, something else I see as a challenge.

Along with the incoming legislation on General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), package regulations, and low emissions – to name a few – there are many challenges for the group travel industry.

Q: How can you help overcome these challenges?

A: I will ensure Agto members are fully informed about upcoming legislation and how to prepare.

One of my priorities is to continue to raise the profile of Agto within the industry, working with other associations to highlight issues, and lobbying government on matters affecting the group travel market through the Tourism Alliance.

I will gather feedback and information from members to find out what they want from their CEO and how I can develop a strategy to meet their needs.

Q: How can trade bodies raise awareness?

A: Raising awareness of legislation and consumer protection is key. I will work on a communication plan, which will regularly update members on changes and their responsibility to meet legal requirements, together with the need to ensure that all consumers will have the necessary protection should an organisation fail; not something we wish to think about but sometime it happens.

Q: What are your top tips to GTOs?

A: Review your audience and develop products to meet their desires, and attract a younger, more active market – they have disposable income too!

Organisers and suppliers must stay on top of legislation – this will make your life easier.

Work with recognised experts within the market place.

Enjoy what you do!

Photo credit: Steve Dunlop