Tour Planners Appeal to Attractions: ‘Accept Groups to Get Things Moving’.


Here at Steve Reed Tourism we could start to feel sorry for ourselves – after all, many of our clients right across the country have had their own businesses stopped in their tracks through COVID and that’s had a huge knock-on effect to us. But no, we’re determined to get through this somehow and as you know, there are a lot of people far worse off.  

For example, the coach and group travel industries – despite feeling abandoned with no grants or support from government – are desperately trying to cling on by arranging tours and excursions to UK attractions. We’ve lost count of the terrible numbers of proud coach companies that have had to call it a day through no fault of their own. Many of them are our friends.


But tour planners still trying to make a living are finding that one crucial piece in the tour jigsaw is often not available - attractions! 


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’.    


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 and these include Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire; Beauleiu Motor Museum and Exbury Gardens in the New Forest; Painshill Park in Surrey; 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.


According to the tour organisers, currently the big players that could do so much to help get group and coach tourism moving again include the likes of the National Trust, Longleat, Woburn and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard say tour planners. They’re vital pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and many other attractions would take their lead. 


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.


And 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:


‘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 and think it's actually more for economic reasons (discounts) than anything to do with covid-19 safety," says Allison.