Visitors from abroad enjoy the UK as group travellers, just as we do! Germans are amongst the most significant incoming groups and for this issue, Val Baynton investigates what German groups like to do when they are in Britain. She talks to two specialist incoming operators that help them with their plans, and German operators experienced in offering itineraries for visiting groups.
Three specialists who help with German incoming groups
Alex Jacobs was born in Germany, moving to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to study at university before making it his permanent home in 2004. Passionate about the North East and its great tourism potential, he trained as a Blue Badge Guide and set up Northern Secrets in 2010 to promote the area, and to provide a service planning and managing itineraries and leading tours for groups, both from the UK and Germany. (Read more about Alex on page 65 of the August 2015 issue of GTO magazine (258).
Karin is Managing Director of Hotels & More, which was founded in Germany in 1996. Since then the company has become one of the leading wholesalers of tours of Britain and Ireland for German groups, offering a wide range of services. In 2015, the wholesaler organised tours for 2,400 groups and more than 100,000 guests travelled with them. The 70-strong multilingual UK team is based in Harrow.
Niall MacDougall runs Urlaub Cornwall, a Truro-based marketing company, specialising in promoting the county, as well as other parts of the UK such as Scotland, to German groups. He set up the Urlaub website around six years ago to provide information about visits to Britain in a more inspirational way, with iconic photography. His site now comes up first on internet searches in Germany for ‘Cornwall’.
German visitors to Britain have some clear preferences about what they’d like to do and see – and group organisers bringing them here demonstrate those choices in where they visit, stay and eat.
Coach travel is popular in Germany and group travel a significant element in holiday-taking, but the way it is put together is somewhat different to UK–based group organisers. Clubs, societies and local organisations exist, but they tend to leave the programming and travel arrangements to suppliers, including the coach sector, where the ‘tour operator’ dimension of coach firms is more significant than in the UK, and just ‘providing the wheels’ less usual.
Family-run tour operators and small to medium-sized travel businesses are an important sector all over Germany, but there are big names involved in selling collective trips too – perhaps surprisingly including retailers Lidl, Aldi and Tchibo, who promote through their stores – though not in the UK (yet!).
One of the biggest firms engaged in UK group travel for Germans is Hotels & More, whose customers value the experience, quality of products and competent all-round service that’s offered from one source. Karin Urbach, their Managing Director, says ‘Round trip tours to the UK and Ireland are our most popular products, with the south of England and Cornwall being the most popular destination. Scotland is second with the country’s spectacular Highlands, iconic castles and whisky being draws, and Ireland is rapidly growing in popularity.’
The cultural differences and expectations of German group visitors are clearly recognised and supported by Karen, Alex and Niall. The most popular themes include history, culture and countryside. Key is the cleanliness of each hotel and since hotels are more expensive in Britain than Germany, expectations are high! The traditional English breakfast will be tried by visitors, but Germans prefer a selection of continental items such as ham, cheese and fruit on the buffet as well. The quality of group food served in hotels is singled out as being poor with bread being particularly criticised. During a visit, groups like to sample cream teas and fish and chips as well as beverages such as whisky, beer and wine. Jamie Oliver’s ‘Italian’ restaurants are also popular on itineraries. Germans are not used to double quilts and will usually have single quilts even on a double bed. A standard double bed in the UK is smaller than a German double bed and is often mistaken for a single bed. A German double bed usually has two single mattresses in one frame and is comparable to a UK king-sized bed. Germans generally don’t wait to be seated in a restaurant but will go straight to a table. In bars in Germany, it’s customary to place an order at the table whilst in Britain orders are taken at the bar.
The top picks
Niall MacDougall from Urlaub Cornwall develops itineraries for German groups including options for visits that are a little ‘off the beaten track’ and partners with specialist tour operator Barton Hill from Haywards Heath to provide the travel services that the group requires. Niall finds ITB Berlin (the world-leading travel trade show taking place every March) is an important opportunity to meet German tour operators. He adds, ‘The Urlaub website helps to spread awareness but ITB is the chance to talk to operators face-to face. The German market for travel is diverse and deep, and there is a lot going on, but it’s also very traditional and regional, and there are many local travel and coach companies, which each offer the personal service that Germans favour for their holiday needs. The local and fragmented nature of the market means it can be difficult to get information to the operator.’
Film location tours are popular with British groups and unsurprisingly also with a German audience. More than 100 of Rosamunde Pilcher’s novels including The Shellseekers have been serialised and broadcast by national German TV since 1994 and so her works have become a focus of many itineraries, with visits to places in both Cornwall and Devon that feature in the novels, and to attractions and destinations that were filmed in the different episodes. Amongst attractions often included are Prideaux Place, an Elizabethan manor in Padstow, Port Eliot house and gardens in St Germans, the Victorian Duke of Cornwall hotel in Plymouth (now a Best Western hotel), St Michael’s Mount and much of the coastline at Chapel Porth. Hotels & More offer Rosamunde Pilcher itineraries as part of more general tours to the UK and Ireland, which can also take in London and Scotland. Karin Urban, Managing Director of Hotels & More, reports that Ireland is growing as a destination because it offers good value for money and has a reputation as a safe country.
Niall MacDougall adds that his expertise and in-depth knowledge of Cornwall means he’s able to add tailored options to the Rosamunde Pilcher tour including visits to houses that are not normally open. He also plans other themed itineraries including Myths & Legends tours, with a visit to Tintagel whilst in Cornwall and to Stonehenge, on the way to or from the county, being an important must-see part of many trips. Alternative tours are essential both for returning groups and for specialist groups popular in Germany such as baker or butcher professional groups or others such as dolls’ house collectors.
Most groups travel to Cornwall by coach direct from Germany, but some groups fly from Frankfurt Hahn airport to Newquay with Ryanair, meeting their coach once they are in Britain. Niall remarks, ‘The number of hotels in Cornwall is declining and this is a challenge, but the Hotel Bristol in Newquay is a favourite with German guests as it has German speakers on the staff including the general manager.’ Niall continues, ‘The county has had a chance to develop its offer for German groups with printed information in German as standard and many German speakers on hand, and these are benefits other parts of the country that want to make themselves attractive to this European nation should consider when developing their offers.’
One destination in Cornwall that has already developed its facilities for Germans is Clovelly. This historic village, in private ownership since Elizabethan times, is famous for its steeply cobbled street clinging to a 400-foot cliff in North Devon, and can only be accessed by donkeys and sledges. Its picturesque beauty makes it a natural stop for German groups to take in the views and the tourism team have accordingly developed German literature, a welcome film in German plays at the visitor centre and German-speaking guides help to ensure a warm greeting to groups. Coaches with German groups – some 500 each year – come between Easter and October, and are brought by a host of operators including over 100 by Hotels & More.
Alex Jacobs tailors programmes around northern England and Scotland with a focus on the North East to meet the specific needs of his groups – he brings around 7,000 people to the region every year – and he aims to let them experience the character of the area. A several-night package involves accommodation, visits to attractions and restaurant bookings, and there are several destinations that regularly feature on itineraries because of their importance – such as Alnwick Castle with its links to Harry Potter films and Downton Abbey, which is currently popular on German TV. Alex comments, ‘Another series that is a favourite in Germany is Vera, which is filmed in various locations in Northumberland, and I am seeing demand to visit Vera hot spots increasing on my tours.’ Iconic buildings such as Durham Cathedral, the National Trust-owned country house Cragside and the Bowes Museum are regular stops, and groups also enjoy exploring the city of Newcastle. Alex adds, ‘If an attraction would just prepare a little bit of information in German for visitors to take away, this would really add to the quality of a visit.’
Generally groups stop in one hotel for the duration of their visit and the Ramada Encore hotel in Newcastle is a popular choice. One of Alex’s groups of family and friends is returning for the third time this year and their 11-night stay will include return visits to Newcastle and Durham but many new places including gardens throughout the region and Edinburgh Castle.
A recent group of 32 singers and their friends, from the Der Gesangverein Freundschaft (the Singing Club Friendship) from Hamburg in Germany travelled to Newcastle for a six-day tour in August last year, and their itinerary took in many of the sights mentioned as well as Hadrian’s Wall, Vindolanda and the concert venue, Sage Gateshead. The choir group said, ‘The trip was excellent – we especially enjoyed the mix of boat trips, cultural exchanges and tours, free-time and coach excursions in general. Alex’s explanations were easy to follow yet comprehensive and interesting.’
Now well-known as a food retailer in Britain, where it entered the market in 1994, Lidl traces its roots in Germany back to the 1930s, when it was founded as a food wholesaler, and the first retail stores were opened in Germany in Ludwigshafen in 1973. Since then it has added stores in most countries of Europe, and many different services to its offer including travel.
Tours to the UK and other countries are promoted through its stores in Europe and are available from the online Lidl Travel shop at www.lidl-reisen.de, for customers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Its UK tours programme is launched in October for the following year and customers fly from a variety of airports such as Munich, Berlin, Cologne and Frankfurt, arriving in London, Manchester or Dublin, to join their coaches.
Two new programmes are added to the selection each year – and there are usually eight departure dates between April and October for each tour. For 2016, the trips include ‘Classic England’ – taking in Liverpool, Chester, Snowdonia, Birmingham, Leeds, York and the Peak District – and a ‘Castles and Garden Tour’ with visits to London, Chester, Snowdonia, Oxford and Brighton as well as to Sissinghurst, Canterbury and Rochester in Kent. A popular option is the ‘Classic South England and Cornwall’ itinerary, which takes in Windsor, Glastonbury, Land’s End, St Ives, Stonehenge and Salisbury, Southampton, Purbeck and Brighton.
A final option is a combined ‘England and Ireland’ tour with a choice of 16 dates. Meanwhile, the ‘Ireland’ only tour is extremely popular with five different itineraries running three times weekly from March to October. Itineraries allow some scheduled stops and tours as well as free time to explore destinations.
Hotels are booked depending on the size of the group and availability, but are generally three or four-star, offering good quality. It is estimated that Lidl tours bring 40 group trips to the UK every year plus others exclusively to Ireland.
Croydon stays suit German guests
London is a popular destination in the programmes of German tour organisers. We checked out three of the firms, whose coaches are regularly seen in the capital, to find out about their arrangements.
Graf’s Reisen of Herne in the Ruhr regularly bring groups on trips of up to four days in London, taking the ferry from Dunkirk or Calais to Dover. The three-night accommodation options generally are hotels on the outskirts of the city, such as the Croydon Park Hotel and Jury’s Inn in Croydon, which are promoted as good quality four-star, and well-placed for independent trips into London by train during the visits, for which the formal programme includes The British Museum, Windsor Castle, a city tour with a guide and pub lunches. Perhaps surprisingly, Graf’s also offer a day trip to London from Germany with no overnight accommodation for just 79 euros/£60.00. In February, Graf’s brought 40 travel agents on a three-day educational trip to London.
Another regular London visitor are Jansen Reisen of Wittmund, on the North Sea Coast near Bremen, using the same hotels in Croydon.
Hoffman Touristik of Vechta in Lower Saxony use both the Jury’s Inn and Holiday Inn Express in Croydon, and the Double Tree by Hilton in Islington. As well as their London trips, Hoffman’s bring other group visitors to the UK on eight-day tours along the South Coast, including Brighton, Portsmouth, Salisbury, Stonehenge, Bath, Bristol, Tintern Abbey and the Brecon Beacons, returning via the Cotswolds, Straford Upon Avon, Birmingham, Oxford, Blenheim Palace and Windsor. The trips with seven nights accommodation cost 1195 euros, which is around £900.
Tips for tourism suppliers
• The coach driver is often likely to be the owner of the company so treat him well!
• Train staff to be patient and understanding with German groups – many visitors can speak English but are unfamiliar with regional dialects
• Provide some information in German
Fact File… German groups in the UK:
• Coach travel is popular in Germany – there are some 2,500 coach tour operators and 4,200 coach companies.
• Just under 300,000 Germans travelled to Britain by ferry and coach in 2013, with a little under 50,000 travelling by coach through the tunnel.
• The average coach group size is 30 to 40 people, with groups arriving by plane being 25 to 30 people on average.
• German groups make four to seven-night stays on average and three or four-star hotels are preferred.
• London is the most popular destination, accounting for 31% of visits, the south east is second with 14%, and the south west and Scotland both receive 10% of visitors.
• As well as coach and tour operators, food and non-food retailers in Germany offer holidays to their consumers – including Lidl, Aldi, Otto and Tchibo (see page 36 for more on Lidl).
* Figures courtesy of VisitBritain and RDA. The RDA International Coach Tourism Federation in Germany represents the complete spectrum of the coach tourism business activity. There are over 3,000 member companies, with several associated federations in some 40 other countries. Over 70 individual sectors include coach companies, tour operators, tourism federations, destination marketing organisations, visitor attractions, culture and event suppliers, carriers, hotels and restaurants. The RDA organises major exhibitions and workshops (travel trade only). The next takes place in Cologne from 5th to 7th July and will have between 900 and 1000 exhibitors, and trade visitors from some 3,500 companies. www.rda.de