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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT) has given a clear message to the Mayor of London that the early implementation of the Euro 6 emission standard in the existing central London Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) in 2019, combined with the introduction of an expanded LEZ in 2020, will seriously impact on coach and group tourism in the capital.
On 8 April 2019, central London changes from being an LEZ and becomes an ULEZ, an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone. This will require the Euro 6 emission standard for coaches and buses. A daily charge of £100 will be levied against any coaches and buses that aren’t compliant.
From 26 October 2020 the existing London-wide (LEZ), an area roughly the area inside the M25, will require coaches and buses to be Euro 6 to avoid daily charges of £300.
The coach and bus industry is concerned that the time scales do not allow time for coach and bus operators with older vehicles to either replace or retrofit engines in order to ensure compliance with the new regulations. Facing this insurmountable challenge, many operators are understood to be considering increasing their prices to allow for the daily charges for non-compliant vehicles. These increases will have to be passed on to the customer. While operators believe that many customers will pay the extra charge, there is concern that overall, passenger numbers may drop, affecting both operators and the London visitor economy.
Commenting on the announcement, Simon Posner, CPT chief executive, says: “CPT has been engaged with transport for London (TfL) and industry partners for many years on a number of air quality and congestion reducing initiatives for London. A delegation of industry representatives, led by CPT, expressed their concerns in a meeting with the Deputy Mayor for Transport, Val Shawcross, who clearly understood the industry’s position and acknowledged that any expansion to the ULEZ would present many operators with an insurmountable problem.
“CPT remains convinced that the expansion of ULEZ, in addition to the early introduction of the scheme in the central area, will have a serious impact on day-to-day coach operations as well as a detrimental impact on London’s tourism economy. While we continue to support the Mayor’s plans to improve London’s air quality, penalising visiting coaches which are part of the solution and not the problem is not the way to go about it.
“Buses and coaches are key to reducing pollution, alleviating congestion and providing quicker journey times in the capital, and it is extremely disappointing that this announcement fails to recognise the role that these important modes have to play. CPT and the coach industry plans to meet with the incoming Deputy Mayor for Transport, Heidi Alexander, in order to help find a workable solution for London, its tourism economy and visiting coaches.”
From 25 October 2021 the ULEZ is due to be extended to cover all of London inside the North and South Circular Roads.
A report commissioned by CPT found that London’s economy benefited around £186m from coach tourism.
A new travel trade initiative introduced by Visit Southport to attract more groups to the town is being hailed a success, with interest up around 15% year-on-year.
‘Southport Pick ‘n’ Mix’ was launched at the British Tourism & Travel Show in March. Developed jointly with coach tourism consultancy Stuart Render Tourism, the initiative offers a range of inspiring ideas for a bespoke 4-night itinerary for groups. It gives group travel organisers and coach tour operators the opportunity to combine the town’s many attractions with visits to attractions in the surrounding area.
Steve Christian, destination development manager with Visit Southport says that the initiative has been one of the most successful trade campaigns in recent years.
“In 2017 Southport went through a re-branding exercise, introducing a new strapline ‘Different Every Time’. When we were looking for ideas for a trade campaign to support the new branding, we came up with ‘Southport Pick ‘n’ Mix’. We launched it at the British Tourism & Travel Show where, I’m delighted to say, it seems to have captured the attention of GTOs and coach tour operators in a way we haven’t seen for many years.
“The level of interest has far exceeded our expectations. Supported by our trade media advertising and PR activity the flow of enquiries coming into our trade team is around 15% up year-on-year. What we’re hearing is that while most GTOs and coach operators know about Southport, they hadn’t really given much thought about coming to visit. They’re telling us that not only does the ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix product stand out, but it also makes it so much easier to understand what the group offer is.”
The ‘Southport ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ attractions and destinations that groups can visit in the surrounding area include WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre near Ormskirk, the National Trust’s Formby Beach, Samlesbury Hall near Preston, The World of Glass in St Helens, Ena Mill and The Courtyard, Tarleton, and a full day out in Liverpool.
The launch of ‘Southport Pick ‘n’ Mix’ follows on from the introduction of the ‘Southport Welcome’, an initiative launched at the end of 2016 to remind coach operators tour planners why the seaside destination is coach and group friendly.
New Lanark Mill Hotel, situated at the heart of New Lanark Mills World Heritage Site in Scotland, has received a 4-star grading from VisitScotland.
The accolade comes at the same time as the hotel is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
A two-year investment programme of around £350,000 has seen all 38 bedrooms refurbished to a modern, contemporary style. All the bedrooms look out onto the River Clyde or the surrounding conservation area. The hotel features a heated indoor swimming pool, gym, sauna and steam room, the Mill One restaurant, a bar and spacious lounges.
The move from a 3-star to a 4-star rating doesn’t affect existing group rates, which remain unchanged.
The hotel building was originally one of the four mills that made up New Lanark Village, the 18th century cotton mill village set alongside the River Clyde, now less than one hour from Glasgow and Edinburgh. By the 1990s, ‘Mill No. 1’ was in an advance working state of disrepair. The New Lanark Trust made the welcome decision to restore the building and turn it into a hotel. After many years of painstaking work the hotel opened in May 1998.
Commenting on the 4-star rating, John Stirrat, the hotel’s general manager, says: “Over the last two years we’ve invested heavily in the hotel, so I’m absolutely delighted that VisitScotland has awarded us its prestigious 4-star rating. This isn’t just about the building of course, but testament to all the staff who work here. In January this year we launched ‘Spinning a New Yarn’, a new travel trade campaign to raise awareness of what we have to offer groups. That has encouraged more group travel organisers and coach tour operators to take a closer look at what we have to offer. Our new 4-star rating looks set to make the hotel even more attractive to groups wanting to experience the delight of waking up in a World Heritage Site.”
New Lanark Mills World Heritage Site is set in a beautiful location alongside the picturesque River Clyde and the nearby ‘Falls of Clyde’ waterfalls. Visitors can discover Scotland’s hidden past and see how villagers lived, learned and worked with recreated millworkers’ houses, historic working machinery and the ‘Annie McLeod Experience’, a ‘dark ride’ that tells the story of a child millworker. The Mill Shop offers an extensive range of contemporary gifts, souvenirs, Scottish produce and the New Lanark Wool & Textiles range.
Coach tourism consultancy Stuart Render Tourism has launched a new press release-writing service for small and medium-sized coach operators.
The new service aims to offer professional support for those coach operators that want to raise their profile in the local and regional media but who don’t necessarily have the time or knowledge to carry out that activity for themselves.
As part of the new service, operators will also be given professional advice and guidance on generating more positive PR stories to help enhance their reputation in their local communities.
The introduction of the new service builds on work carried out by the consultancy with destinations, visitor attractions and tourism suppliers to attract more coaches and groups.
“Talking with coach operators I’ve found that when it comes to shouting about their good news, they can find that writing a press release, or coming up with ideas that will generate positive PR, presents a real challenge,” says Stuart Render. “Whether it’s talking about a new coach, staff successes, the latest tour programme or a new product, this new service offers a low-cost solution that will enable operators to promote their successes and maximise positive PR opportunities.”
For more information, call Stuart on 07760 172773, or email email@example.com
After a journey that started in 1982 under the title Coach Monthly, trade publication Group Tourism & Travel Magazine has reached its final destination.
In a statement issued on 6 April, publisher Diversified Communications UK announced that the monthly magazine had published its last issue (April 2018).
Diversified has also closed the magazine’s website together with its Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Carsten Holm, managing director of Diversified Communications UK, says: “Like any business, we are alive to the market trends and have to adjust our portfolio as the market continues to evolve. This decision allows us to put even more focus and effort into our other successful brands and developing new ones for the sector.
“The British Coach Tourism Awards, the Coach Drivers’ Club, our online offerings, and the highly successful Coach Tourism Yearbook will also continue to benefit from ongoing investment. Other exciting ideas are also in the pipeline. Diversified maintains trade-mark ownership of Coach Monthly and Group Tourism & Travel and is considering opportunities for the future of these well-loved brands.
“We are very grateful to all our readers and customers for their continued support and we look forward to continuing to serve this important sector through our market-leading products.”
The final decision to close the magazine appears to have been made after the April issue had gone to press. The magazine carries details of features that were due to appear in the May issue including a look at the wartime legacy in Wallonia (southern Belgium) and northern France.
The closure comes at the same time as the departure of editor Jessamy Hudson whose baby is due in May. Samantha Noble, tourism sales manager, and Tim Farr, tourism sales executive are also understood to have left the company.
The news of the closure of Group Tourism & Travel Magazine was a surprise, but perhaps not unexpected. The change of title in March 2017, from Coach Monthly to Group Tourism & Travel Magazine, was a positive move by Diversified Communications to align the magazine more closely with its flagship British Tourism & Travel Show and with the wider groups market.
Coach Monthly, which began life in 1982 as the membership magazine for the Coach Drivers’ Club, and then developed into a stand-alone magazine in 2005, always stood out from the other trade magazines circulating in the group and coach tourism sector. The name of the magazine often generated comment for its quirkiness, but at its heart was a focus on the specific needs of coach tour operators, delivering a one-stop source of news and features aimed at helping them to understand what was happening in their industry as well as giving them inspiration and information to help them put together tours and excursions.
As editor of Coach Monthly from March 2010 to February 2016, I feel a degree of sadness about the closure of the magazine. During my tenure my mission was to make Coach Monthly something special, a magazine aimed at helping coach tour operators and the supplier side understand more about each other’s challenges, products and services.
But times were changing. Trade magazines depend on advertising support, and owners Diversified Communications recognised that widening the focus of the magazine to appeal to group travel organisers would help attract additional advertising. The change of name to Group Tourism & Travel Magazine in March 2017 reinforced this move. But of course, the result was to see GT&T, as the magazine became known, fighting for the same pot of available advertising revenue as the other long-established group magazines. As Carsten Holm so rightly points out, like any business, Diversified is alive to market trends and has to adjust its portfolio as the market continues to evolve.
However, it’s also important to note Carsten’s comment that this allows the company to put even more focus and effort into its other successful brands and developing new ones for the sector.
The coach tourism community, and coach tour operators in particular, value products that reflect their specific interests and requirements. Group Tourism & Travel Magazine may well have reached its final destination, but in an industry renowned for its innovation, and for refreshing, reinventing and reinvigorating its products, something tells me that it won’t be too long before we see something new hitting the streets.
Over the years, Group Tourism & Travel Magazine and Coach Monthly have taken us on some memorable journeys. Here’s to the next adventure!