Johnson's Journal

January and February for our group are ‘catch your breath’ months and those trips we do take are near to home just in case we have bad weather. This year I have taken the chance to visit some of the many travel trade Shows I mentioned in the last magazine.(I won’t mention catching up on the mountains of paperwork involved with forthcoming trips and holidays).

 

This January started with two visits in quick succession to Leicester’s Curve Theatre. The first was a touring production of the musical ‘Chicago’ but with an added ‘Razzle Dazzle’ as the Curve marketed a pre-show wine and canapés reception followed by mulled wine and a mince pie in the interval. It was so well received that I have arranged to have a light pre-show buffet at the next two matinee shows we are attending this year.

 

Hardly a week later, Ken and I went to the theatre again for the launch of the new musical ‘Water Babies’, which opens in April. Produced by Peter Shaw who directed the ‘Water Babies’ film, the making of the musical is the realisation of a 35-year dream. The script writers have made Tom, our hero, slightly older than in the book so he is now an adolescent on the cusp of adulthood. Having heard four of the songs and been intrigued by the hints about the technical wizardry involved I can’t wait to see it along with three coach-loads of my group members in May.

Now to those trade shows. It is nice to wander around the stands, meeting suppliers old and new and networking with other group organisers I meet along the way. But, if I am to go to more than one or two a year, then I want something different, an added attraction. Reading brochures or even talking to the suppliers only tells you so much.

 

One of the main reasons I belong to the Group Travel Organisers’ Association and always attend the AGM in January is the combination of meeting the suppliers and other GTOs with familiarisation visits on the Saturday afternoon. This year my chosen trip was to Longleat House linked with two other destinations. One had to cancel due to the weather. That was very much to our advantage. Tourist Boards rightly want to showcase their areas, but in so doing can try to cram in too much and leave us not really appreciating what is on offer, or being able to ask questions that might make the difference between taking a group or not. Also, because they don’t do it on a regular basis, they forget that it takes time to get on and off coaches and that coaches aren’t cars, so some roads are slower and not always suitable for a coach. Timings, therefore, go out the window. Had we included the third destination on our whistle stop afternoon tour, I doubt we would have had time for more than lunch at Longleat. In the event we saw enough to ensure that Longleat will certainly be getting a visit from my group. I want the whole package! Main House with Private Apartments tour – nothing left to the imagination here – and the Safari Park.

 

The Excursions Show and Tourism South West collaborated with two ‘fams’, one pre show with an overnight in Oxford, the other post show at Guildford. I experienced the former. Again crammed full with too much walking and no coffee/toilets stops, with the emphasis on Morse and film locations, there was very little about the history of this great seat of learning and its colleges. It would have been nice to have visited a college in the afternoon.  Included in the tour were visits to the Duke Humphries Library at the Bodleian (lots of stairs up to it though and no lifts or toilets in the Library complex) and The Ashmolean Museum. The evening visit was to Oxford Castle for a murder mystery, marred somewhat by the logistics of having to take half the group to their Witney hotel through heavy traffic and then back again.

 

It did serve, however, to fine-tune my ideas as to what I could and could not do with my group especially as they have asked for a day trip to Oxford at some point. It also showed me just how difficult is to book hotels in the city centre and what the busy A40 does to schedules.

 

‘Excursions’ was well worth going to as I discovered some lesser known suppliers who only go to this one show. In two cases they were people I have already booked through articles in the trade press and it was lovely to put faces to names. Going on the VIP package with Tourism South West meant I had a very welcome coffee and biscuits when we arrived and afternoon tea sponsored by Longleat. A much needed nap on the coach before my drive home was inevitable.

 

 

The next show, accompanied by Ken and two of my group, was at De Vere Heythrop Park Hotel in conjunction with Tourism South East. Allowing an hour to go around the stands in the morning I booked a complimentary coach trip to Broughton Castle – which I will definitely revisit with the group for a tour and lunch. The hotel also did tours so we could see their accommodation and facilities. In addition there were complimentary tickets to Blenheim Palace, Sulgrave Manor and Compton Verney from the venues’ stands but you made your own way there. An excellent idea if you had booked to stay over at the hotel either before or after the show.

 

The appeal of this type of trade show is not only do you get to see a hotel but also examples of visitor attractions local to it. You could come away having booked a complete package for your group and done the necessary risk assessments at the same time.

 

I haven’t managed any other smaller shows this year. I would have liked to have gone to at least one in the northern area, but am very pleased to see how many are based at or incorporating these extra trips out to venues. For so many shows to survive, and be cost effective to attend for the suppliers, each one has to have that something special to attract the footfall. Free lunches and tea & coffee in the morning and afternoon on their own, don’t encourage me to attend. However free parking or transport if you pre-register, does.

 

Overall, although there are too many shows in a very short period of time, if you are selective they can showcase some real gems for your future trips.

 

It’s been a pleasure over the past two months to meet some of the readers of Group Travel Today and in particular my Journal. I am glad you like both the magazine and my articles even if several of you only read the UK based holidays and trips. There will be lots of those this year. Thank you to some of those people for ideas, several of which I am investigating. I especially liked the idea of one night ‘sleep over’ breaks. Such a nice way of putting it.