Which of our finalists will take the title of GTO of the Year 2014?

Date Posted: 21/08/2014

Pictured (l-r): Pam Evans, Alan Hayes, Sue Shapland, Winnie Benford.

The time has come to reveal our four finalists for the prestigious title of Group Travel Organiser of the Year 2014.

Here, we shine the spotlight on the finalists who have made the shortlist, and find out more about their experiences as a GTO.

The winner will be announced at the Group Leisure Awards ceremony, which takes place on Wednesday 24th September at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole Hotel.

Following a six-month process, our four finalists have been whittled down following numerous nominations from the travel trade.

Shortlisted for a deciding interview, which took place at London & Partners’ headquarters at Tower Bridge at the beginning of August, the finalists were grilled by an expert panel who would agree the eventual winner.

As well as the prestigious title, the winner will receive £1,750 to spend on a familiarisation trip of their choice.

2013 winner, Lin Wilson of Solent Events, spent her prize money cruising the Dalmatian coast with Travelsphere. You can read about her trip here.

Read on to find out who has been shortlisted for the Group Travel Organiser of the Year Award 2014...

Winnie Benford
Fetcham U3A


“What does one do after retirement, when mind and body are still active and one still has one’s own teeth? 

Well, in my case, I joined a newly formed University of the Third Age group (U3A for short), a registered charity. All members are 50 plus, retired or approaching retirement.

At the inaugural meeting 12 years ago, I found myself offering to take on the job of publicity and organiser of trips and outings.

Social and educational time with like-minded members

What a rewarding experience it turned out to be. I have met so many people keen to explore places they had always wanted to visit, spend days out doing things they didn’t realise they wanted to do and thoroughly enjoying social and educational time with like-minded members. 

Over the years our repertoire has included beautiful gardens, European Christmas markets, Edinburgh Tattoo, Manchester Ship Canal, Thursford Christmas Spectacular, Shakespeare’s Globe, European river cruises including the Danube, Medieval Banquet, Lambeth Palace, Houses of Parliament, Strasbourg European Parliament as guests of Nigel Farage and our tenth anniversary dinner. 

Full support from an enthusiastic membership

Full support from an enthusiastic membership makes each trip special, and organising a yearly Quiz Night, Group Leaders’ Lunch, Midsummer outing, Autumn Dance and Christmas Party on top keeps me busy throughout the year. 

I try to learn from problems when they occur to ensure they do not happen again. A contented group is the most gratifying aspect - then I know I have been successful.

And the teeth? They are useful for dealing with rebellious staples!”

Pam Evans
Barnsley Independent Alzheimer’s and Dementia Support (BIADS)


“After caring for a dear friend who developed Alzheimer’s in her early 50s, I went to work for a national dementia charity as an admin assistant and inherited the organising of a holiday booked to Lytham St Annes.

I’ve always been an organiser so I made sure that I had everything in place to make the break from their normal routine as stress free and as much fun as possible. 

That holiday had such a profound effect on me when I saw just how much it was appreciated. 

A friendly atmosphere and supportive environment

The carers got to meet others in the same situation and relax, the person with dementia seemed to soak up the friendly atmosphere, and they loved the dancing, singing and making friends in a non-judgemental and supportive environment. They were treated with dignity and respect at all times.

Three years later my colleague Linda (who had cared for her own mum for 12 years) and I started an independent charity so that we could continue to spend the funds we raised in Barnsley on those people of Barnsley affected by dementia. 

This also meant we were free to have as many holidays and day trips as we wanted. So we did.

We now run two holidays and two day trips each year for people with dementia and their carers, plus various breaks and trips for our former carers through the Keeping in Touch Club.

Doing whatever it takes to give members a great time

There are plenty of risks involved with our vulnerable people but we know that the alternative can be social isolation, loneliness and a decreased feeling of well-being for our members. 

Luckily we have excellent staff (most are former carers) who are willing - like me - to do whatever it takes to give our members a great time. 

We usually start laughing before we get on the coach and we don’t stop until the last taxi departs with the last jolly holidaymakers.”

Alan Hayes
Teston Tours


Teston Tours is a community group travel organisation, based in Teston, and is supported and run by the villagers.

Teston Tours was formed in June 1997, following a Saturday morning get-together in Teston Village Hall, when I was asked if I could arrange a coach outing to the seaside for the senior members of our community.

Our first outing was to Eastbourne, Sussex, and unbeknown to me at the time, Teston Tours had begun.

Coach travel to varied destinations

Teston Tours is setting high standards as we provide group coach travel to many assorted and varied destinations, including domestic and overseas day trips and holidays. We have visited a total of 20 different countries.

Upcoming excursions and holidays include a six-day Paris, Palaces & Monet’s Garden tour; Buckingham Palace and afternoon tea cruise with Bateaux London; and a five-day Downton Abbey & Hampshire Delights tour.

An all-inclusive hospitality experience

Teston Tours aims to give the best possible service to members, including an all-inclusive hospitality experience.

In addition to our website I circulate a monthly newsletter, with notices of our current excursions and holidays, together with leaflets of any new outings that have been arranged.

A questionnaire is circulated in October each year to enable me to see where our members would like to go.

Once the returns have been collated, our future itinerary is arranged.”

Sue Shapland
Exmoor Extroverts and National Trust


“In 1993, following a move to Somerset, I attended a ‘New Members’ lunch for the West Somerset National Trust Association - little did I know how much this would influence my life.

I was invited to join the sub-committee organising outings, and took my very first one the following summer.

I can still remember it in very great detail - over 400 outings later, I have to admit the details of subsequent ones are not nearly so clear! 

Holidays soon followed and this side has greatly increased - this year I have 19 on the list.

In 1999 I suggested an outing to see Phantom of the Opera in Bristol. We were not able to do this through the usual channels of the NT, so I rang round and during the weekend filled a coach.

Holidays and stay-aways with the Exmoor Extroverts

The visit was a great success and I was asked to do more, thus the Exmoor Extroverts (EEs) came into being. I now have the help of Vickie Hickman who looks after the financial side and does the day-to-day logging of bookings - quite a massive task. 

This year our ‘Stay-Aways’ as we call them, have included four nights in Montecatini in April; a six-night Springtime Garden Cruise in May; and 42 of us had a brilliant week in Iceland in June. 

We also have over 45 people booked to go to the Alsace and Strasburg in September and 48 booked for a visit to the Isle of Man in October.

2015 highlights include Amalfi Coast and Canada

Next year our plans include a visit to the Amalfi Coast; a two-week Baltic cruise; and an adventure trip to Canada in the autumn.

Apart from the thrill of going to all sorts of places I would otherwise never have visited, the huge number of lovely messages of appreciation and thanks I receive make being a group travel organiser all so worthwhile.”

The Group Travel Organiser of the Year Award is sponsored by Travelsphere.

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