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Wendy Wright, Morecambe & Wise, and 25 years of the Southport meet and greet

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.

Southport meet and greet
This spring, Wendy Wright will celebrate 25 years of welcoming groups to Southport

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.

 

Southport welcome
Wendy Wright as a ‘Bunny Girl’ at Southport’s Kingsway Club

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.

Southport welcome
Wendy with Norman Wisdom
Southport welcome
“Norman Wisdom was my favourite”

“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’.

Southport Welcome
Wendy, left, with Morecambe & Wise

“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.”

Southport welcome
Wendy worked with Ken Dodd 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.”

Southport welcome
Steve Christian celebrating 25 years of the Southport Welcome

For more information about group visits to Southport, and the ‘Southport Welcome’, go to

www.visitsouthport.com

Skipton’s Rendezvous Hotel to launch new £300k electric-powered ‘Eco Swan’ restaurant boat

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.

Rendezvous Hotel
Restaurant boat ‘Eco Swan’ will be launched later this summer

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.

 

For more information about dinner cruises and group stays, go to www.rendezvous-skipton.co.uk

 

Coach tourism excellence recognised at the British Coach Tourism Awards 2019

The UK’s leading coach tour operators, destinations, visitor attractions, hotels and tourism industry suppliers were honoured at the British Coach Tourism Awards 2019.

British Coach Tourism Awards

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

British Coach Tourism Awards

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.

British Coach Tourism Awards 2019 – finalists

The finalists in the British Coach Tourism Awards 2019 have been announced. The winners will be announced on 20 March at the National Motorcycle Museum, Birmingham.

For more information, go to www.britishcoachawards.co.uk/awards-2019

 

British Coach Tourism Awards

Coach Friendly Destination

Bournemouth & Poole

Burnham-on-Sea

Southport

Wells

 

Coach Friendly Attraction

Beamish, The Living Museum of the North, County Durham

The Bishop’s Palace, Wells, Somerset

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Brick Lane Music Hall, London

The British Ironwork Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

Holkham, Norfolk

New Lanark Mills World Heritage Site, Lanarkshire

RHS Gardens Wisley, Harlow Carr, Hyde Hall and Rosemoor

West Midland Safari Park, Bewdley, Worcestershire

World of James Herriot, Thirsk, North Yorkshire

 

Cross-Sea Carrier

DFDS

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

P&O Ferries

 

River and Inland Cruise Operator

Princess River Cruises, Nottingham

Stuart Line Cruises, Exmouth

Ullswater Steamers, Glenridding, Cumbria

Windermere Lake Cruises, Bowness, Cumbria

 

Heritage Railway

Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, Cumbria

Swanage Railway, Dorset

Vale of Rheidol Railway, Aberystwyth

 

Accommodation Provider (Independent Hotels)

Hallmark Hotel Leyland, Preston

The Hallmark Queen Hotel, Chester

Mill Rythe Holiday Village/Away Resorts, Hayling Island

The Portbyhan Hotel, Looe

Rendezvous Hotel, Skipton

 

Tour Wholesaler and Industry Supplier

Advantage Now

Action Tours

Ashley & Newey

Encore

Greatdays Travel Group

ICT Group Travel

Norman Allen Group Travel

 

Dining Experience

360 Cookhouse Restaurant, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford

The British Ironwork Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire

Planet Hollywood, London

Poplars Garden Centre, Toddington, Bedfordshire

Rendezvous Hotel, Dinner Cruise, Skipton, North Yorkshire

 

Coach Holiday Programme

Bakers Dolphin

Crusader Holidays

Eastons Coaches

Edwards Coaches

Galloway Coach Travel

Johnsons Coaches

Reays Coaches

 

Day Excursion Programme

Johnsons Coaches

Bakers Dolphin

Eastons Coaches

Gardiners NMC

Lucketts Travel

Richmond’s Coaches

 

Coach Tourism Innovation of the Year

All About Tours Coach

Buzzlines Travel

Rendezvous Hotel, Skipton

Teignbridge District Council

United Minibuses & Coaches

 

Coach Tourism Professional of the Year

Kate Bastin – Bakers Dolphin

Suzanne Evans – Boon’s Calibre Travel

Andrew Simpson – Classic Britain Hotels

Martin Slater – Greatdays Travel Group

Amy Lizzimore – Groups Direct

Kristy Elsmere – Woods Travel

 

Coach Tour Driver of the Year

Allan Londsdale – Alfa Travel

Barry Jolly – Woods Travel

Chris Nelson – Galloway Coach Travel

Ken Cato – Masons Minibus & Coach Hire

 

Coach Tour Operator – small fleet

Acklams Coaches

Hough’s of Lincolnshire

Masons Minibus & Coach Hire

 

Coach Tour Operator – medium fleet

Bluebird Coaches (Weymouth)

Crusader Holidays

Kirbys Coaches

United Minibuses & Coaches

Woods Travel

 

Coach Tour Operator – large fleet

Bakers Dolphin

Edwards Coaches

Johnsons Coaches

Lucketts Travel

Shearings Holidays

National Express reunion 2019

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.

National Express

 

 

Chris Wales

In memory of Chris Wales – 1947 to 2018

Chris Wales, the chief executive of the Coach Tourism Association, died on 10 December 2018 after losing his battle with cancer.

Chris’ unique charm and bonhomie brought him into contact with a great many people, not only in the coach tourism community, but also across the travel industry in general.

Here’s a selection of photos of Chris taken by Stuart Render over the last few years at events and on fam trips.

Chris, you’ll be missed.

 

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GB coach and tour operators discover Ireland’s hidden gems

Representatives from GB-based coach and tour operators enjoyed a six-day fact finding familiarisation trip to the island of Ireland in September.

Ireland
UK and Irish coach and group tour operators seen at Blessingbourne Country Estate in Co. Tyrone. Estate owners Colleen and Nick Lowry are front left and right.

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.

Ireland
Well known violinist Eimear Bradley entertained the group at the Tourism Northern Ireland reception held in Belfast Cathedral (Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland)

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.

Ireland
Tour guide Una explained why Belleek Pottery has become famous across the world

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.

Ireland
Pauline Bull from Taurus Holidays (left) and Claire Muir from Andrews of Tideswell engage in the mystical art of bread-making at Causey Farm

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.

Slane Castle with, out of shot to the right, Slane Distillery. The castle’s ‘welcome’ video has to be one of the best in any visitor attraction, anywhere!

The main part of the trip ended with a b2b workshop held at Dunboyne Castle Hotel and Spa.

GB coach and group operators (and a blue-shirted writer and tourism consultant) pose for the Failte Ireland photographer before the start of the full-day b2b workshop

Congratulations to the teams from Tourism Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland and Failte Ireland for a well organised, enjoyable and informative fam trip.

Here are more photos from the visit:

Ireland
At Blessingbourne Country Estate in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, close to the border with County Fermanagh, visitors will be met by ‘Lady Mary’. She’s a stern sort, and doesn’t stand any messing about. She also looks disapprovingly at any female guests wearing trousers. “Are you cyclists?” she enquires
Ireland
The imposing exterior of Blessingbourne
Ireland
Onwards to the National Trust’s Castle Coole. The transport for the Northern Ireland part of the trip was supplied by Ulsterbus Tours
Ireland
The ‘Lady of the Lake’, operated by the Manor House Hotel at Killadeas near Enniskillen, takes the group for a relaxing cruise, and lunch, on Lower Lough Erne, the centrepiece of the picturesque Fermanagh Lakelands
Ireland
More publicity photos for our hosts
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This is the Round Tower on Devenish Island, a feature of a boat trip on Lower Lough Erne
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Arrival in Enniskillen, the ‘capital’ of the Fermanagh Lakelands
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Manor House Country Hotel, situated by Lower Lough Erne
Ireland
Belleek Pottery, already a well known visitor attraction for many UK-based tour operators
Ireland
The Belleek crest. Hard to argue with the claim!
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Belleek Pottery, off to the left, sits on the border with Co. Donegal and the Republic of Ireland. This is the border, with the road sign showing the speed limit in kilometres the only indication that you’re leaving the UK.
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Belleek Pottery is also where Tourism Northern Ireland hands the group over to Failte Ireland (pronounced ‘fault cha’). It’s also time to say goodbye to our Ulsterbus Tours Irizar i6, and board a Volvo 9700 operated by Fureys Tours of Sligo.
Ireland
Time for a show-round at Slieve Russell Hotel near Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan
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At Ghan House in Carlingford, on Ireland’s east coast, there’s an opportunity to watch chef Ronan Lawless demonstrate his culinary skills in preparing mussels and oysters.
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Nicely done Ronan!
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Back at Belleek Pottery, Failte Ireland welcomed the group with these rather natty orange waterproof jackets carrying the branding for ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’. You’ll see more orange jackets in the following photos! Modelling the range are (l-r) Helen Brown from Leger Holidays, Ruth Gould from Action Tours, and Pauline Bull from Taurus Holidays
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The Volvo waits for its morning departure from the modern d-hotel in the east coast town of Drogheda, located 20 minutes or so north of Dublin Airport
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The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre tells the story of the famous battle that took place on the site in 1690 between King William III and his father-in-law King James II. The guide sets the scene before leading the group inside
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Failte Ireland supplied the group with these natty waterproof jackets. The branding is for ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’, the second of the National Tourism Development Authority’s recent major marketing initiatives. The first was the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’. A third, ‘Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands’ is now being promoted. Each initiative aims to raise awareness of the different parts of the country, and inspire tour planners to take a closer look
Ireland
A coach parking sign at the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre. What happens if you don’t turn up in a tri-axle isn’t clear!
Ireland
Onwards to Slane Castle where coaches drop-off by the front door. At this point the group was entering the castle for the first time, completely unaware of the remarkable video that they were about to see! Slane Distillery is located a short distance to the right of the castle
Ireland
A glimpse inside Slane Castle
Ireland
Causey Farm, near Navan in Co. Meath, run by the delightful Murtagh family, offers a range of hands-on experiences for groups of all ages. Wearing your orange jacket was optional

 

Ireland
Bread-making was first on the schedule, with real eggs being tossed around (look carefully) for the group to catch (and they did!)
Ireland
Concentration from Claire Muir of Andrews of Tideswell as an egg approaches
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“Don’t drop it!” Lorna Dawson, from Taurus Holidays (left), takes her turn in the amusing egg-catching activity
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Kate Watton (left) and Ruth Gould from Action Tours get stuck in to the bread-making process. The results were excellent, very tasty, and consumed over lunch
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‘Gloria’, a Causey Farm resident
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More Causey Farm residents
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A sheepdog demonstration, the sheep clearly impressed by the orange jackets
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A welcome to Causey Farm
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The orange jackets prepare to storm Trim Castle in Co. Meath, north west of Dublin. The castle, the largest Norman castle in Ireland, was a film location for the 1995 film ‘Braveheart’
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Trim Castle
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Trim Castle offers some excellent views from the top of its walls
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One final photo showing Katherine Worsley from Greatdays Travel Group (left), Stuart Render, Rosie Peattie from Dream Escape, and Ann Marie Murphy from Failte Ireland with one of the 80 visitor orientation signs erected to guide visitors through Ireland’s Ancient East. The house colour for the initiative is orange, ah, wait a minute…!

Discover France’s Hidden Waterways with Backwaters Tours

Imagine a relaxing cruise along the rivers, canals and backwaters of France. Now imagine the same peaceful and slow experience but without the “chug, chug, chug” of the traditional diesel engine.

In June 2018, Backwaters Tours introduced a new electric-hybrid boat, the ‘Natalia’, on to the rivers and canals near Auxerre, Sens and Fontainebleau.

The boat forms the focal point of a ‘cruise-tour’ option, with couples, solo travellers or groups booking on one of Backwaters Tours own tours, or on a tour operated by other leading tour operators (including Titan Travel and Saga). Accommodation is in a well-appointed hotel that acts as a base for the duration of the tour. Each morning the coach takes the group to join the boat in a different location. A morning’s cruise includes lunch brought in from a local boulangerie or other local supplier. In the afternoon the group travels by coach to visit a local chateau or historic town. The relaxing ‘slow’ pace of the holiday means the hotel and boat are never more than 45 minutes away from each other.

For more information, and to find out about forthcoming tours, including a trip along the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, go to www.backwaters.tours

At the start of August, Stuart Render experienced a few days on board ‘Natalia’ in the company of a delightful group from Titan Travel. Here are some of the photos from the cruise.

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What happens to continental European coach tour operation after Brexit?

The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) has issued advice to its members relating to the operation of continental European coach tours and private hires after Brexit on 29 March 2019.

Trade magazine routeONE covered the story in its edition dated 22 August 2018 and it is reprinted here for information.

Brexit
What might happen to continental European coach tours and private hires after 29 March 2019?

Coaching abroad? Then consider ‘no deal’ Brexit

The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has issued advice to members suggesting that they should consider making contingency plans for the possibility of a ‘No deal’ Brexit in March 2019 as it “could impact” the coach industry, for operators carrying people outside the UK.

The CPT says it is not in a position to predict whether there will be a deal or not, but observes that if there is “no deal, and no agreed transitional period,” British coach operators will have no automatic right to carry on the business of transporting passengers on the roads of Europe after 29 March 2019.

There is an agreement (the Interbus agreement) that governs road passenger transport between the EU and most of its neighbours. This allows coach operators from Ukraine, Albania, Turkey etc to bring passengers into Europe and take them home again. Cabotage is not allowed, but negotiations are in progress to expand the agreement to include regular services.

It will be possible for the UK to become a party to the agreement in its own right immediately on leaving the EU, but it is not a certainty that operations can be carried under Interbus if they become illegitimate as a result of a no-deal Brexit. It would be possible for one or more bilateral agreements to be negotiated between the UK and other countries – such as the one that currently exists with Belarus – but no guarantee that this will be done in time for a seamless transition.

The CPT says: “If you are taking hire bookings, or selling holidays, that involve coach travel in Europe after 29 March 2019 you might like to consider contractual terms with your customers that allow you to subcontract all or part of the coach travel to an operator based outside the UK that is able to continue operating on the Continent. You might want to take legal advice on where the various contracts in the chain are best made and the consequences of the various options.”

In the airline industry, which faces a similar risk from a no-deal scenario, some operators are selling tickets for travel after 29 March with a clause that limits their liability to a refund in the event of it being impossible for them to carry the passenger for the journey they have booked.

www.routeone.net

Hilton Blackpool acquired by Britannia Hotels

Only a few months after being sold to the Starwood Capital Group, the Hilton Blackpool has been acquired by Britannia Hotels, and had a name change, twice.

Hilton Blackpool
The 4-star Hilton Blackpool is now part of the Britannia Hotels portfolio. Photo (c) Blackpool Gazette

In March 2018, Starwood, a global private investment firm, acquired a portfolio of seven Hilton-branded hotels from Park Hotels and Resorts (a Hilton company) in a deal understood to be worth £135m.

At that point, the 278-bed, 4-star hotel was being managed by Kew Green Hotels under a franchise agreement with Hilton Worldwide.

On 21 June, just three months later, the Blackpool Gazette reported that the hotel website was carrying the following message: “Please note that as of 26 June 2018, Hilton Blackpool will cease to operate as a Hilton hotel.” The hotel management was reported to be “remaining tight-lipped over who would be taking over”.

On 26 June, the Gazette carried photos showing the hotel without its Hilton branding. The report indicated that Hilton would cease operations at the site at midnight but that the hotel would remain open. The Gazette noted that there was still no word on who the new occupier of the building would be.

Hilton Blackpool
The Hilton branding has gone, and no indication of who the new operator will be. Photo (c) Blackpool Gazette

Two days later, on 28 June, the Gazette carried a story with the headline ‘Concern over new operator of former Blackpool Hilton’. It revealed that the hotel had been taken over by Cheshire-based Britannia Hotels (on 27 June). The newspaper reported concerns raised by civic leaders. Blackpool council leader Councillor Simon Blackburn was reported as saying that Britannia would not be their choice of hotel partner. Conservative group leader Counciller Tony Williams was reported as saying that Britannia catered to a “very different market” to that which Hilton attracted.”

It is unclear why Starwood chose to dispose of the hotel so soon after acquiring it. Starwood has been approached for a comment.

Britannia immediately renamed the hotel the Grand Hotel Blackpool. However, an online search for the hotel on hotel websites Booking.com and Expedia reveals the hotel listed under the name ‘Blackpool Hotel, Conference Centre & Spa’.

To try and clarify the situation, Britannia Hotels was contacted for an explanation. Within two hours a response was received from the central reservations team confirming that the name for the former Hilton Blackpool is ‘Blackpool Hotel, Conference Centre & Spa’. The email indicated that the website, which shows the hotel as the Grand Hotel Blackpool, will be updated soon. It is not known why Britannia has chosen to rename the hotel.

The hotel opened in 1982 as ‘The Pembroke’. It became the Stakis Blackpool in 1996 before becoming part of the Hilton group in 1999. The hotel was put up for sale in 2013 but no buyer was found. Park Hotels and Resorts was formed in January 2017 as a spin-off of Hilton.

Hilton Blackpool
The change in ownership revealed the name of The Pembroke Hotel, the hotel’s original name. Photo (c) Blackpool Gazette

As at today, 27 July 2018, Britannia Hotels’ website shows a portfolio of 60 properties. Its latest acquisitions, listed at www.britanniahotels.com/new-hotels are:
Grand Hotel Blackpool (to be updated to read Blackpool Hotel, Conference Centre & Spa)
Grand Hotel Sunderland
Hollins Hall Hotel & Country Club, Baildon, West Yorkshire
Sprowston Manor Hotel & Country Club, Norwich
Meon Valley Hotel & Country Club, Southampton
Grand Hotel Gosforth Park Newcastle

For more information about Britannia Hotels, go to www.britanniahotels.com