Comment: Quantity or quality. What sort of GTO do you want?

Steve Reed, managing director of Steve Reed Tourism Ltd and a director of the Association of Group Travel Organisers, calls for caution about inactive group travel organisers.

Tourism businesses around the UK are aware more than ever of the growing importance, buying power and customer loyalty of group travel organisers.

Attractions, destinations, retail, hotels and group venues of every description are all beginning to recognise exactly how valuable to their business they can be.

They fill beds; increase footfall; help sell tickets and boost customer numbers. And they certainly compliment the work and tour arrangements of coach and tour operators.

What a partnership. They also help to alleviate the negative effects of seasonality in our seaside resorts, hotels and attractions.

Steve Reed Tourism has been working with GTOs since 1999.

We’ve invited them to fam trips, launch events for group venues and generally enjoyed working with the many great organisers out there.

We’ve arranged more educational trips than just about anyone in the country with showcases organised in numerous places across Britain and indeed abroad.

Extra careful

But over recent years we’ve learnt to be extra careful about who we invite to our events.

The main reason is that we’re now increasingly aware that there are a significant minority of individuals who pose as GTOs – arranging holidays, breaks, tours and excursions and so on – but are doing nothing of the sort.

In effect, they’re playing at being a GTO.

Some may be retired as a GTO, but don’t want to relinquish the benefits of being an organiser and therefore being invited on free fams, hotel stays, nights at the theatre, even cruises. The incentives are all out there but they’re really only for active GTOs.

And some so-called GTOs may have never arranged a tour or taken a group in the first place – but they too want to enjoy the trappings of GTO life. We’ve spotted this.

A few years ago, SRT began a much more comprehensive registration scheme for GTOs who wish to attend our events.

We knew that we owed it to our clients across the country – tourist boards, councils, hotels, attractions – to deliver to them real buyers ie active GTOs.

We ask GTOs for their tour history; hotels or venues they may have used and coach or tour companies they’ve worked with.

Most GTOs are all too happy to provide this information as they’re proud of their contribution towards the tourism industry and like what they are achieving.

Some of the GTOs we know around the country are truly inspiring! You know who you are…

Would-be GTOs

But sometimes, would-be GTOs just can’t provide that information – so we don’t invite them to our events. Why would we?

It would simply damage our business and that of our clients. They can sometimes slip through the net.

We also have cancellation charges for all of our events – again, that helps to deter the people we don’t want.

There are one or two that we still see at travel shows who are not in the least bit deterred that we rumbled them a long time ago.

They carry on regardless, putting their ‘business cards’ in prize draws; entering prize draws and competitions and in the process end up on numerous GTO databases around the UK.

Up north we’d call that ‘brass neck’.

They do everyone a disservice.

We know for example that there are some individuals gaining free stays at hotels, free attraction admissions and theatre tickets at many locations across England and Wales.

We know this because we’ve spoken to the hotels. That’s ok if they’re active of course.

But these people give GTOs a bad name.

So, does the tourism industry simply want quantity over quality? In some cases I’d say yes they do.