AGTO, the Association of Group Travel Organisers, has announced that the 2020 ‘AGTO Showcase Weekend’ will take place over the weekend of 21 to 23 February at Ettington Chase, a 4-star hotel, event and conference centre close to Stratford-upon-Avon.
The Showcase Weekend, one of the major annual events in
the AGTO calendar, offers a unique opportunity for GTOs from across the country
to network with many of the country’s leading destinations, visitor attractions
and travel trade suppliers. The weekend programme includes a travel trade
exhibition, familiarisation trips and a black-tie gala dinner.
Commenting, Wendy Hartley-Scarff, AGTO chief executive, says: “The AGTO Showcase Weekend is a unique and prestigious industry event. It brings together our GTO and Associate members, offering unique networking opportunities in a relaxed and tranquil setting. We’ve chosen Stratford-upon-Avon not only to make it is easy as possible for members from across the UK to attend, but also because of the magnificent choice of visitor attractions in the area.
“Our 2019 Showcase Weekend, held at Eastwood Hall in Nottinghamshire, and including ‘fam’ trips to find out more about Robin Hood, D.H.Lawrence and Lord Byron was very well received by members. We’re building on that success to offer a first-class weekend in Stratford that will appeal to our members across the country.”
The Association of Group Travel Organisers (AGTO) is the UK’s
largest independent membership organisation supporting and representing the
interests of individuals who organise travel for groups. Associate membership
is available to destinations, visitor attractions and any travel trade supplier
that provide services for group travel.
Established in 1990, the Association now has more than 400
group travel organiser members and 200 Associate members. Membership services
include bespoke organiser liability insurance, legal updates, an advice line,
VIP registration to trade shows, free membership of the National Trust and
English Heritage, free access to National Trust for Scotland properties, and a
range of other discounts and offers.
The Prime Minister has announced the UK’s first ever tourism sector deal today, reaffirming the UK’s global role as a key player in the industry.
The announcement says the new deal will revolutionise the way data is used by the sector, through the creation of new Tourism Data Hub. The hub will collate regularly updated data showing the latest trends and spends, allowing businesses to better target overseas visitors.
The deal will also support the creation of an additional 10,000 apprenticeships for people building their careers in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
The government says that last year around 38 million people visited the UK, contributing £23 billion to the local economy. By 2025 experts predict that there will be an additional nine million visitors to the UK. The new deal commits to building an additional 130,000 hotel rooms to respond to the increased demand for infrastructure.
The deal also outlines the government’s ambitions for the UK to become the most accessible destination for disabled visitors, through improvement of disabled facilities and access to destinations across the country.
Prime Minister Theresa May says: “As one of the most visited countries in the world, the UK is a world leader in international tourism and it is crucial that we remain globally competitive to meet growing demands. That’s why today I am pleased to announce the UK’s first ever tourism sector deal, ensuring that we continue to innovate, boost connectivity and economic productivity, expand career pathways and break down barriers for visitors with disabilities. This deal recognises the important role tourism plays, and will continue to play, in showcasing what our great country has to offer.”
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright says: “Today we have set out our vision for the future of UK tourism – a commitment to an industry that is vital for the prosperity of our communities, our businesses and our economy. The UK is one of the world’s greatest destinations and this deal recognises the importance of maximising our natural assets. We are dedicated to supporting life-long careers for those that work in tourism, offering insightful data to help grow businesses and ultimately creating a better visitor experience throughout the UK.”
Business Secretary Greg Clark says: “Tourism is one of our most valuable industries and it plays a vital role in our economy, with nearly two million people employed in the communities across the country and £23 billion pounds spent by visitors in the UK last year. As part of today’s ground-breaking Deal, new Tourism Zones will deliver a direct boost to holiday destinations across the country, helping create new jobs as well as supporting improvements in transport connections.
“This is one of the many ways in which the Deal will be key in building a world-class experience economy, helping us deliver on the ambition we set out in our modern Industrial Strategy; Government and industry working hand-in-hand to build on our exceptional strengths in this sector, boosting productivity and further increasing the UK’s attractiveness as a holiday destination.”
Other commitments in the Tourism Sector Deal include:
• more than 130,000 new hotel rooms are set to be built across the UK, with 75% being built outside of London. £250,000 to improve broadband connectivity in conferences centres across the UK for business visitors.
• a pilot of up to five new Tourism Zones to drive visitor numbers across the country. Zones will receive Government support for growing their local visitor economy, through initiatives like targeted support for product and promotion development, mentoring support to businesses and digital skills training.
• 10,000 employees in the sector to benefit from new mentorship schemes.
• a new government strategy to grow the number of Business Events and Conferences, helping to drive off-season visitors.
• developed in partnership with the British Tourist Authority and Industry, the sector deal forms part of the UK Government’s Modern Industrial Strategy supporting the continued growth of the tourism sector, ensuring the UK remains globally competitive as a top tourist destination
British Tourist Authority Chair Steve Ridgway CBE says: “This sector deal is a game-changer for tourism, one of the UK’s most valuable export industries, spelling a step-change in how we underpin the success of tourism for a generation, moving it to the top table as a leading industry for the UK Government’s future economic planning.
“And it is a game-changer for the economy, growing the value of the industry and employment in tourism, fixing issues from skills and productivity to extending the season year-round, building stronger tourism destinations up and down the country and developing world-class experiences for domestic and international visitors. Tourism is one of the most fiercely competitive global industries and this deal ensures we can continue to compete internationally as a top destination for visitors, driving major economic growth across the whole of the UK.”
UKinbound chair James Aitken says: “We are really pleased that a Sector Deal has been secured with the Government and congratulate all those involved who have helped to drive this work forward. Tourism is a major contributor to the UK economy but is made up primarily of small businesses and cuts across many different policy areas.
“For the first time, we will have a national strategy that will help bring the sector together and collaborate on activities and initiatives. This will ultimately help visitors get to destinations quickly and easily, have a better experience in those destinations, improve productivity and efficiency and raise awareness about the fantastic employment opportunities the industry provides.”
Specialist Leisure Group (SLG), formerly Shearings Leisure Group, has indicated that it is looking to increase its hotel portfolio in the UK by sourcing management contracts with independent hotels.
Hotel Owner magazine reports (25 June) the group saying it aims to offer hoteliers the opportunity to improve hotel performance through SLG’s “experience and expertise” of operating 44 hotels around the country.
Shearings Leisure Group rebranded as Specialist Leisure Group in June 2018. At that time it owned and operated 47 hotels in the UK under its Country Living Hotels, Coast & Country Hotels and Bay Hotels brands.
Today, SLG is the parent company for seven travel brands: Shearings Holidays; National Holidays; Caledonian Travel; Bay Hotels; Coast and Country Hotels; Country Living Hotels, and UK Breakaways.
SLG also operates a number of Wallace Arnold Travel shops across Yorkshire, which sell holidays with SLG brands as well as other third-party companies.
This year sees the 25th anniversary of the introduction of Southport’s famous ‘Meet and Greet’ for groups, these days better known as the Southport Welcome.
In 1994 the tourist office brought together a team of ‘Coach Welcome Hosts’ to meet and greet coaches and groups arriving in the town centre on day trips.
Located at the main coach drop-off point in Eastbank Street Square, close to the main shopping thoroughfare of Lord Street, and operating from April to October, the team hand out leaflets, maps and discount vouchers, helping to ensure that groups make the most of their visit.
Over the years the members of the team have become the ‘face’ of Southport, and have become well known by coach drivers, group travel organisers and regular visitors.
But one face stands out. Wendy Wright is the only member of the original team and this year will celebrate her 25th anniversary as a Coach Welcome Host.
But although Wendy is well known to visitors, she’s been a familiar face to the people of Southport since the 1960s when she first appeared as a Bunny Girl at the Kingsway Club, a major entertainment venue in the town.
As a dancer, Wendy shared the limelight with the A-listers of the day, including The Beatles, Cilla Black, Engelbert Humperdink, Tom Jones and Norman Wisdom.
“Norman Wisdom was my favourite,” says Wendy. “He was a lovely man, such a quiet, gentle man.”
The Kingsway Bunny Girls had a hectic schedule.
“We used to learn the routines on the Sunday for the rest of the week. A new routine every week. It was hard work, but fun, and we used to meet all the stars.”
In 1965, Wendy also appeared in panto with Morecambe and Wise at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre as the understudy to the female lead in a production of ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
“It was a lot of fun,” she says. “I did all the rehearsals with them. There was a lot of ad-libbing with them. I also appeared with Ken Dodd when he was at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool.”
2019 not only sees Wendy’s 25th anniversary, but also sees another significant milestone in group travel to the town.
“Each year, Southport welcomes around 4,000 coaches that come to the town on day trips, short breaks and longer holidays,” says Steve Christian, Destination Development Manager with Visit Southport. “Our records don’t go back to 1994, but what we do know is that looking at the last 10 years, 2019 looks set to see our two millionth visitor arriving by coach. Wendy’s enthusiasm and commitment have played a significant role in making Southport an attractive destination for groups. Later in the year we will be celebrating her anniversary and our two millionth visitor.”
For more information about group visits to Southport, and the ‘Southport Welcome’, go to
The Rendezvous Hotel in Skipton in North Yorkshire is to launch a new £300,000 electric-powered restaurant boat that will give groups the opportunity to experience the tranquillity and scenery of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
The ‘Eco Swan’, which is due to enter service later in the summer, is 60 feet (18 metres) in length and can seat up to 60. It has been specially designed to be both a restaurant and a function space. The interior is flexible to accommodate different requirements, from executive dining for 36, to lunchtime and evening meals, and parties and other functions.
The steel-hulled boat has wheelchair access, is fully air-conditioned and has a bar and toilets. Large double-glazed windows and a headroom of nearly seven feet (two metres) offers a spacious interior. Floodlights are fitted to the roof to illuminate the canal banks on evening cruises. The boat is also fully heated for all-year-round use.
Food is freshly cooked in the hotel’s own kitchens and brought aboard to be prepared in a purpose-built galley area at the rear of the boat.
A 20kw motor is powered by a bank of sealed, rechargeable batteries weighing 4200 kg, giving a quieter, ecologically friendly, vibration-free cruise.
The launch of the new boat will be the culmination of a long-held wish by the owner of the Rendezvous Hotel, Malcolm Weaving.
Commenting on the boat, he says: “In 2018 we introduced a new dinner cruise option for our groups and other guests using a boat from a local trip boat owner. This proved extremely popular, giving groups and our other guests the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing cruise and good food along the tranquil Leeds and Liverpool Canal. However, I was keen to have a boat of my own that we could use both as a restaurant and for functions. However, because we’ve been developing the hotel’s eco-friendly credentials, including the introduction of a biomass heating system and electric car-charging points, I wanted the new boat to be fully electric, hence the name ‘Eco Swan’.
“It is the first 60-feet-long, 14-feet-wide electric dining barge on any canal in Great Britain. Not only will it offer a peaceful way to see more of the wonderful scenery in this part of Yorkshire but it will also provide an additional function space for the many groups who choose to stay with us during the year.”
‘Eco Swan’ has been built to strict Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) regulations and has been approved to operate on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal by the Canal & River Trust. The two-person crew will be accredited by the MCA. The cabin crew and bar staff will be members of the Rendezvous Hotel staff.
To aid movement the boat is fitted with bow thrusters. Steering is by a power-assisted electronic hydraulic joystick. The wheelhouse is located at the rear of the boat and extends above the roof of the passenger cabin to give excellent forward visibility. The wheelhouse can be lowered to enable the boat to pass under low bridges.
The UK’s leading coach tour operators, destinations, visitor attractions, hotels and tourism industry suppliers were honoured at the British Coach Tourism Awards 2019.
The prestigious event, which recognises excellence across the coach tourism community, was held at the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham on 20 March.
The cathedral city of Wells and The Bishop’s Palace, the Rendezvous Hotel in Skipton, Planet Hollywood, Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, Warner Leisure Hotels, P&O Ferries, Ullswater Steamers and Greatdays Travel Group all saw off stiff competition to take home accolades. In the coach tour operator categories the top awards went to Johnsons Coaches, Acklams Coaches, Masons Minibus & Coach Hire, Bluebird Coaches (Weymouth), United Minibuses & Coaches, Reays Coaches, and Richmond’s Coaches.
Chris Wales, former Coach Tourism Association chief executive, Coach Drivers’ Club president and British Coach Tourism Awards judge, was posthumously presented with the British Coach Tourism Special Recognition Award for his significant contribution to the coach tourism industry.
The annual awards, the only national awards scheme that specifically focuses on coach tourism, were organised by Diversified Communications UK. This year’s celebrity presenter was TV personality Carol Vorderman MBE.
David Maguire, chair of judges and event director of British Coach Tourism Awards says: “Huge congratulations goes to all our winners in this year’s British Coach Tourism Awards. With real emotion among our highly deserving winners and a fantastic atmosphere of celebration, I believe it was one of our best awards yet.
“Once again, the quality of the entries reflected the quality and importance of the amazing coach tourism sector and the inspiring professionals working in it. The awards are a great way to reward them for their hard work and dedication to the UK tourism sector, so it’s an honour to be a part of that. Well done to everyone who took home an award, and a huge thanks to our judges, our partners, and everyone in the industry who supports the event.”
Here’s the full list of winners:
Coach Friendly Destination – partnered by the Coach Tourism Association Wells
Bournemouth & Poole – HIGHLY COMMENDED
Coach Friendly Attraction – partnered by Beverley. East Yorkshire The Bishop’s Palace, Wells
New Lanark Mills World Heritage Site – HIGHLY COMMENDED
Cross-Sea Carrier – partnered by Edwards Coach Holidays P & O Ferries
River and Inland Cruise Operator – partnered by DFDS Ullswater Steamers
Heritage Railway– partnered by City Cruises Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway
Accommodation provider (Independent Hotels)– partnered by ICT Group Travel Rendezvous Hotel, Skipton
Accommodation Provider (Hotel Groups)– partnered by Bakers Dolphin Warner Leisure Hotels
Hallmark Hotels – HIGHLY COMMENDED
Tour Wholesaler and Industry Supplier– partnered by Planet Hollywood and The View from the Shard Greatdays Travel Group
Dining Experience – partnered by AGTO (Association of Group Travel Organisers) Planet Hollywood
360 Cookhouse – HIGHLY COMMENDED
Coach Holiday Programme – partnered by Distinctive Systems Reays Coaches
Bakers Dolphin – HIGHLY COMMENDED
Day Excursion Programme – partnered by P&O Ferries Richmond’s Coaches
Lucketts Travel – HIGHLY COMMENDED
Coach Tourism Innovation of the Year – partnered by Eurotunnel United Minibuses & Coaches – Online Live Pricing Tool
Coach Tourism Professional of the Year – partnered by Continuum Andrew Simpson – Classic Britain Hotels
Coach Tour Driver of the Year – partnered by Roadchef Ken Cato – Masons Minibus & Coach Hire
Coach Tour Operator – Small Fleet (1-5 coaches) – partnered by Condor Ferries Acklams Coaches
Coach Tour Operator – Medium Fleet (6-15 coaches) – partnered by Warner Leisure Hotels Bluebird Coaches (Weymouth) Ltd
Coach Tour Operator – Large Fleet (more than 15 coaches) – partnered by Wrightsure Johnsons Coaches
The British Coach Tourism Recognition Award Chris Wales
For more information about the British Coach Tourism Awards, go to www.britishcoachawards.co.uk.
The verdict from the floor
With television presenter and former Channel 4 host Carol Vorderman hosting the evening there was never any likelihood that this year’s British Coach Tourism Awards would be anything other than entertaining. And so it turned out.
From a colourful opening display from the dancers from Blackpool entertainment venue Viva Blackpool, through to Carol reminding audiences why she’s often called Carol ‘Vorderbum’, the evening flowed very well.
With around 400 tourism professionals and guests in the room at the National Motorcycle Museum it’s clear the event continues to be a popular date in the coach tourism calendar.
The event takes place on the first night of the two-day British Tourism & Travel Show at the NEC. This year it was noticeable that many of those attending the awards then took time to visit the show the following day.
This was the 15th year of the awards, a timeline that has seen the event held at the Ricoh Stadium in Coventry, moving to the Holiday Inn in Stratford-upon-Avon, then on to Liverpool Cathedral, Blackpool Tower Ballroom, West Midland Safari Park and Resorts World at the NEC, before finding its current home at the NMM. Under the auspices of Diversified Communications UK, the event benefits from high production values, both in terms of the technical requirements and the associated print.
The presentation of the awards, a sequence honed over these last few years, keeps things moving along.
A well-produced ‘Finalists’ brochure’, placed on tables at the start of the evening, not only gives guests the opportunity to see who’s up for what, but also gives prominent exposure for event partner and supporter branding. With budgets being squeezed, this sort of exposure is what partners and supporters are looking for. A list showing previous winners of each award would be a welcome addition.
So, good food, good entertainment, good attendance, good company and a well-produced show resulted in a successful British Coach Tourism Awards 2019.
And for this writer and coach tourism consultant, to have four clients as finalists, up for a total of six awards, with two outright wins and one highly commended, a very successful evening all round.
The 22nd National Express reunion took place on Friday 11 January at the Wolverhampton Novotel.
More than 80 former managers of National Express, National Travel and assorted and associated bus and coach companies, including this writer, gathered for a evening of good company and good chat.
The event, which has become a key date in the diary for many of us, is organised by Mike Grant. The after-dinner speech was given by Clive Myers, partly to welcome first-timers to the event, and embarrass them suitably, and partly to bring guests up to date with related events from the past year. It was also an opportunity for Clive to say a few words about colleagues who are no longer with us. This year, our thoughts turned to Tom McLachlan of Grey Green who passed away during the year.
The event brings together an eclectic mix of industry professionals, most of whom have retired, but all of whom have played one role or another in the development of National Express and its associated companies.
The photos that follow provide a snapshot of the event.
Photos and words: Stuart Render
Footnote: After an evening of drinking, eating, chatting, and more drinking, departure from the hotel on the Saturday morning for many, this writer included, can often be later rather than earlier. For those who enjoyed a lie-in, their check-out may have been enhanced with the appearance in the reception area of the ‘lovely’ Debbie McGee, perhaps best known as a participant in the BBC’s ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, and wife of the popular entertainer and magician Paul Daniels, sadly no longer with us. She was appearing in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre. Sadly, there wasn’t an opportunity to capture a photo of Ms McGee. However, we can be reasonably confident that her eventual departure from Wolverhampton, at the end of her appearance in panto in the city, probably wasn’t by coach.
Representatives from GB-based coach and tour operators enjoyed a six-day fact finding familiarisation trip to the island of Ireland in September.
The trip, organised by Tourism Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland and Failte Ireland, began in Belfast. Hosts Northern Ireland Tourism welcomed the group to Belfast Cathedral for a two-and-a-half hour b2b workshop, bringing coach and tour operators together with representatives from the country’s destinations, visitor attractions, hotels and tourism suppliers. A delicious dinner, complete with magnificent musical entertainment from well-known violinist Eimear Bradley, set the scene for the days that followed.
Highlights of two full days in Northern Ireland included a visit to Blessingbourne Country Estate, a relaxing cruise on Lough Erne on the ‘Lady of the Lake’ as part of the exploration of the picturesque Fermanagh Lakelands, a visit underground to see the spectacular Marble Arch Caves, and a tour of the famous Belleek Pottery.
Crossing into the Republic of Ireland, hosts Failte Ireland produced an itinerary focusing on ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’. This included a cookery demonstration at Ghan House in Carlingford, and a visit to the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre near Drogheda. There was an opportunity to bake bread, dance a jig, play a bodhran and milk a cow at Causey Farm, and hear about the filming of ‘Braveheart’ at Trim Castle.
But it was a visit to Slane Castle, home to the eponymous distillery, and the location for the famous rock concerts, that provided the biggest surprise. Sitting down to the usual ‘welcome’ video inside the castle, we were greeted on screen by the owner Lord Henry Mountcharles. Sitting in a comfy chair, and seemingly without notes, he told the story of the castle, its destruction by fire, and its restoration. It was a remarkable piece of storytelling, and surprisingly emotional, leaving many of the group, and this writer included, with a tear in the eye.
The main part of the trip ended with a b2b workshop held at Dunboyne Castle Hotel and Spa.
Congratulations to the teams from Tourism Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland and Failte Ireland for a well organised, enjoyable and informative fam trip.