“The coach and group travel industries are desperately trying to cling on by arranging tours and excursions to UK attractions. But tour planners still trying to make a living are finding that one crucial piece in the tour jigsaw is often not available – attractions!” says groups guru Steve Reed of Steve Reed Tourism.
“Coach and tour operators, who’ve never had it so bad with predictions of over 40% of UK capacity soon to be lost to the tourism industry, are discovering, along with GTOs who depend upon their coaches, that some key attractions are refusing to accept groups – even though frustratingly, many of them are now open to ‘the public’,” explains Steve.
This is despite the positive and helpful lead given to the trade by English Heritage, who provided guidelines to tour planners in respect to group visits to their many sites over the UK. And take a bow too to the various attractions that in general continue to welcome groups. These include Painshill Park in Surrey (pictured here); Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire; Beaulieu Motor Museum and Exbury Gardens in the New Forest; Ullswater ‘Steamers; The Mill at Sonning Theatre; The Paignton Steam Railway and Bygones Museum in the English Riviera to name just a few.
Some other attractions have certainly wanted to welcome groups at present but have been curtailed in their efforts due to the recently introduced local lockdown measures.
Now tour planners of all types and active GTOs are frustrated that attractions – often big and iconic sites that have been the lifeblood of tours for decades – will not accept their group bookings.
Many attractions are either refusing group bookings or cancelling pre-booked group visits. They cite a variety of reasons, but this doesn’t cut the mustard with experienced and committed tour planners like Lin Wilson of Solent Events and Leisure: “To say we’re disappointed with some attractions is a massive understatement – particularly with regards to some of the larger ones that frankly should know better and have more understanding of their crucial role in helping the coach and group sector recover from months of inactivity.
“They'll be crying out for our business when this is more or less back to normal… but the feeling amongst many tour organisers is that we must stand together and NOT go back to these short sighted attractions. We must support the businesses and attractions who have supported us in getting everyone back on the road again,” says Lin.
Tour planners are frustrated that some attractions can’t appreciate that most groups are arriving in COVID compliant, socially distanced and fumigated coaches with passengers who will respect their protocols of attractions at all times. And they suspect that the attractions simply misunderstand the rules and guidelines with regards to group visits. This is in stark contrast to the number of often smaller, independent attractions that are welcoming groups during these difficult times.
Allison Udy of Milton Village Community Association in Portsmouth is a well-known and active group travel organiser. She says: “It’s staggering how some attractions can’t appreciate that they have an important role to play in aiding the recovery of the coach and group tour industry in this country. It’s a massive and inter-connected sector that depends upon everyone playing their part. I, and many other group organisers and coach operators, are very disappointed with venues' attitudes towards group visitors."
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