Rewarding excellence: Part III
Date Posted: 21/10/2010
Group Leisure talks to Michael English (pictured left) of Tailored Travel in part three of a series of features focusing on our Excellence Award finalists.
Name: Michael English
Company: Tailored Travel
No. of years working in group travel: 10 years
Favourite destination: Italy
The Excellence Award recognises the commitment and dedication of an individual within the supplier sector, highlighting those who truly go the extra mile to provide an outstanding service. Nominations and votes are cast by group travel organisers, before the winner is announced at the annual Group Leisure Awards.
Group Leisure: Hello Michael. Could you first tell us a little about your role and how you became involved in group travel?
Michael: I started out in tourism, on the tour management side of things working in Italy, Europe and the USA - predominantly the west coast of America. I did that for a couple of years, then I worked in Italy working for an incoming agency and looking after ground-handling for UK tour operators. On the back of that experience, what happens on the front line so to speak, and with having the office experience in terms of contracting hotels, costings, putting the tours together etc, I set up Tailored Travel with my brother John. Tailored Travel has been going for over ten years now.
Group Leisure: And do you still do anything on the tour management side of things?
Michael: No, I don’t do tour management at all. We have our own tour managers and many of them have worked with us for quite a few years. We put a strong emphasis on the quality of our tour managers.
Group Leisure: What would you say are the main highlights of your job?
Michael: Probably the satisfaction of people when they’ve been on a tour with us, putting their trust in us to look after their people and their group. If they’ve come back and have had a very successful and satisfying tour, and have been happy with the overall service of Tailored Travel - from the sales department, the operations department, and the accounts department - a good experience from start to finish.
Group Leisure: How do you think the group travel industry has changed in your experience?
Michael: There’s been quite a lot of changes. Obviously you have changes in people’s travelling habits so to speak. We now deal predominantly in the UK, Europe and long haul, whereas five or six years ago I’d have said it was predominantly the UK and long haul. There’s quite a mixture between the UK, Ireland and Europe and over the last three to four years there’s been more requests for UK-based tours.
Group Leisure: Could you highlight any destinations which you have found to be particularly popular with groups?
Michael: I would say in terms of European destinations, Berlin, Dresden, Austria, Italy and Spain are quite popular. Within the UK, Scotland and the north east have also proved popular. We’re also looking to try and open up Northern Ireland as well. We had our first group come back from there recently and that was interesting. We had the group based in Belfast and then explored other areas from there. They had a good time so we’d like to maybe look at developing that.
Group Leisure: Could you name any up and coming destinations which you would recommend for groups over the next few years?
Michael: I think Berlin’s quite interesting. It’s something that people seem pleasantly surprised by. Italy is always a favourite with people. We have many groups that go back there four or five times. You’ve got the northern part of Italy, the central part and the islands. Then you have the Amalfi Coast and the northern lakes as well. With the UK, Northumberland is a good destination, and Liverpool as well.
Group Leisure: Have you enjoyed any personal holiday experience that you’d recommend?
Michael: I hardly ever have time to go on holiday! Berlin is somewhere we built up just on the back of going there from a personal point of view for a city break. It’s very interesting for contemporary history, its architecture, and its art and museums - it’s a very diverse destination. So that was something from a personal point of view which we then looked to present to our GTOs who have seemed pleasantly surprised by it.
Group Leisure: Can you describe the biggest challenges you face in your role?
Michael: I think the biggest challenge is the customer care side of things. We’re very focused on that, in terms of keeping GTOs and their group members satisfied. That’s very important from that first point of contact with Tailored Travel, talking with the sales team, then being passed on to the operations department, and then actually what they receive on the ground. Everything has to be of the highest quality, you always have to make sure you have the right resort, hotels, tour managers, coach companies, and that the itinerary is correct. You have to be very aware that you have to maintain the level of service. In this game you’re only as good as your last tour.
Group Leisure: Do you have a portfolio of hotels and coach companies which you’ll use time and again?
Michael: Yes, many of the tour managers have worked with us a lot. We work with a handful of coach companies where we know the drivers are good - they’ve got good driving experience whether in the UK or abroad, and they’re well-versed with groups and dealing with group travel and touring. There’s a fairly big difference in terms of a coach driver going off to Europe for five or six days as opposed to doing an airport transfer. If they’re with a group for a number of days, they need to have the right social skills. So we work with a number of coach companies whereby we’ve built up a relationship with them and they’ve got a good pool of professional drivers.
Group Leisure: Have you ever received any unusual or peculiar requests from GTOs?
Michael: We do get some unusual requests! And as long as it’s operationally workable then we’ll look at trying to accommodate what the groups want. We saw a group out to Marrakech once, and part of the tour involved an off-road 4x4 wheel drive into the desert, camel riding, dune buggies, and stuff like that - that was for a younger group. That was more of an incentive type group so they were looking for quite a lot of action. In the end, people want a tour that’s interesting, where there’s some good sight-seeing, and where they have good fun.
Group Leisure: What would you be doing now if you weren’t in this role?
Michael: That’s a good question… goodness knows what I’d be doing! I would imagine something in travel. I’m very happy to be doing what I’m doing with Tailored Travel - we’ve got a great team, we’ve got some really good staff, and I couldn’t actually envisage doing anything else. I don’t think I could work for somebody else now - we’re very fortunate for what we have here and what we’ve managed to build up.
Group Leisure: Were you surprised to be nominated for The Excellence Award?
Michael: I was surprised. I often think that with these kinds of awards, a lot of it is a reflection on the business in general. If you have good employees who are working hard, who clients enjoy working with, then that always reflects well on yourself as well.
Group Leisure: Is there anything you would like to say to all the organisers who voted for you in The Excellence Award?
Michael: Just a big thank you to anyone who voted for me and Tailored Travel, and to let them know how much we appreciate their business and working with them.