Interview With New GTOA CEO

Mike Bugsgang was recently appointed CEO of GTOA (Group Travel Organisers Association) read his latest interview with Rebecca McWattie of the Pass magazine


Mike Bugsgang

Recently appointed CEO of GTOA (Group Travel Organisers Association), having worked in the travel industry for over 25 years, Mike will be making one of his first presentations on behalf of the GTOA at Great for Groups South on 29th April. Rebecca McWattie chatted with him about his plans for the organisation.

Tell me about your career in the travel industry… I have a great affinity with the groups market as my first job with Global Tours started my involvement with that side of the travel industry, which continued throughout my career; as Marketing Manager for the London Tourist Board, Marketing Director at Ladbroke Holidays, where part of my role was getting groups to go visit their holiday parks, and as PR Director of Hilton International Hotels. I founded Bugsgang & Associates travel marketing and PR consultancy in 1991 and many of our clients are cruise companies, coach operators, hotel groups and visitor attractions.

 How helpful do you think your existing contacts in the travel industry will prove?
It will help a great deal, especially my experience dealing with companies specialising in the group sec- tor. I’ve been attending travel trade shows recently on the behalf of the GTOA and it’s good to get back in there with the contacts I’ve made over the years.

How has your appointment as CEO been received?
Both the newly constituted board and my appoint- ment as Chief Executive have been very well received judging from feedback, both on the GTO side and the associate side. Members feel that it’s a much more balanced approach. It would be extremely forward of me to think my joining had revitalised the GTOA – my appointment is just part of an overall moving forward for the organisation. The GTOA will also be celebrating their Silver Jubilee in 2016 and that’s something we want to shout about – it’s a tremendous achievement.

What are the main priorities for the GTOA? Raising the profile of group travel within the overall UK travel market – it’s such an important part of the UK travel market – and there are a lot of positive things to promote. The GTOA will also be taking on a new administration company and I’m sure there will be even more positive things to announce at our AGM Gala on 18th to 20th September at the Mar- riott Gosforth Park Hotel in Newcastle.

What is the new marketing strategy? We’ll be conducting research in order to understand what members want. We can then start to form a thorough strategy involving social
media and website development, and perhaps looking at new marketing collateral. There’s a lot to be said for partnership marketing synergies with other organisations, something which GTOA have a good track record with, for example they have a strong relationship with the Coach Tourism Council, but we can widen this to include associations such as The Tourism Society, of which I’m a board director.

With an estimated 
11,000 Group Organisers in the UK, why are there only 300-400 GTOA members? That’s something the research will hopefully explain. I’m already chatting to members and I’m greatly encouraged, but if negative comments come along I’ll need to analyse those and come up with solutions.

How do you plan to increase membership? We’ll attend various travel trade events like Great for Groups, which raise the organisation’s overall profile and encourage new members. I will be speaking at Great for Groups South on 29th April and I’m looking forward to seeing both current GTOA members and some potential new members there. I’ll be ready with my pen and application forms!

Define a typical GTOA member? One conjures up a picture of the typical GTO being older or retired, but I don’t totally subscribe to that. Although that’s a large percentage of the market there are many younger Group Organisers and I think we can target a much broader market segment.

Entice our readers to join GTOA… Trade passes for National Trust and English Heritage; insurance discounts (it’s vital for Group Organisers to be properly covered); being kept up to date within the industry; the opportunity to participate in familiarisation visits to famous attractions; having access to the GTOA branches around the country and receiving newsletters. There are many benefits but we also need to look at some other nuggets which can make it even more enticing.

What do you think 
of the current membership pricing & will you look at increasing this? The current rate is extremely competitive. £24 to become a member is outstanding value. In terms of increasing the price it’s much too early to say. The benefits have to be weighed up and this will come into our research.

How do you see the GTOA regarded within the travel industry in five years?
 With a bigger membership, a higher profile within the marketplace and looked upon as a key contributor within the UK tourism economy.

The Pass, March 2015