GTO Olivia Goodfellow offers her members a diverse travel programme that takes her members around the world. Based on her rich experiences, Olivia shares her top tips for organising group travel with Val Baynton.
Olivia Goodfellow is GTO for Enfield Over 50s Forum and the scope of her annual travel programme – both in terms of type of trip and geographic location – means she has many useful tips and recommendations for other GTOs. With experience from her teaching days organising trips for her students, Olivia first became involved with Enfield Over 50s Forum – a community group in North London with no political or religious affiliations – when she took up a National Lottery funded role to develop its membership. One thing that struck Olivia at the outset was that the social side of the Forum was very poor, and so, she explains, ‘I decided to introduce some day trips as a way of encouraging more people to join.’ This was successful and when the funding for the role ended, Olivia decided that she had enjoyed organising travel for the group so much that she would continue in this role on a voluntary basis. There are now 6,500 plus members and Olivia’s itinerary is hugely varied to appeal to the diverse local community and ranges from meals at local restaurants to long haul holidays.
Becoming an organiser
Olivia is a former teacher and gained experience in group travel by organising skiing and educational holidays for her students. She’s been arranging trips for Enfield Over 50s Forum, in North London for some 10 years and thoroughly enjoys this volunteer role, which complements her work as a massage therapist and trainer.
Olivia’s programme has something for every type of member with outings that cater for different budgets and interests and the mobility needs of members. She has organised very active trips such as white water rafting at Lee Valley White Water Centre in Hertfordshire or walking in the Cotswolds, as well as cultural trips to the theatre, art galleries or to the Hindu Temple in London. There are day trips to destinations such as Rutland Water and Kent or attractions including the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, whilst longer breaks have included Christmas markets in Germany, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg and city breaks in Marrakech, Amsterdam, Istanbul and Paris, amongst other locations. Holidays are just as varied in scope and range from the Scottish Highlands by Rail to the Amalfi Coast and the French Riviera to long haul destinations such as Cuba, India, Vietnam and Kenya.
Meanwhile, close to home Olivia also plans meals in local restaurants taking advantage of the vast choice available in London. Whether specialists in Turkish, Italian, Greek or Peruvian food, Olivia has found that most restaurants are happy to take a group booking, she says, ‘what I do is explain that I have 6,500 friends and I will put their details in the newsletter that goes to them all! I ask them which day or evening they are quiet and when they can do a good deal for me.’ These occasions are always popular with her members
Olivia admits that she makes most of the decisions about where to go, especially for the long haul holidays, ‘I do take holidays with my family and friends, so for the group I suggest places I’d like to go to so that I can be enthusiastic. All my ideas are approved by the Forum’s social committee before I promote them and there are other people within the Forum who also organise days out such as to heritage railways, trips on canal boats, visits to local gardens and walks around London.’
Working With Professionals
Olivia usually works with a tour operator if she’s planning more than a day trip and she has used the East Anglian and South East England company, Crusader Holidays, for short breaks by coach and Travelsphere based in Market Harborough for holidays involving a flight for several years. Travelsphere was recommended to Olivia by one of the Forum members as he worked for them back in the 1980s. She trusts their advice and says that they are very reliable. She adds, ’What I really like is that there is no requirement to sell a minimum number of seats, as I hate this sort of sales pressure.’ Olivia also notes that the team at Travelsphere are highly knowledgeable and for each holiday she deals with the expert for that destination, so for example when the group went to Kenya, Olivia was able to ask all sorts of questions and be confident in the answers – from whether there would be mosquitos to the typical daily temperature. ‘When travelling so far afield it’s so important to have the right travel company behind you, this gives both me and my members confidence.’
A satisfying role
GTOs regularly put their heart and soul into organising travel for their members and Oliva is no exception to this rule! So why does she do it? ‘I think I enjoy the trips as much, if not more, than my fellow members,’ Olivia says. ‘It never ceases to surprise me how popular some trips are – even the very expensive ones – and it’s the opportunity the Forum gives individuals to travel that is so satisfying.’ She points to a recent trip to India that gave one member the chance to tick off a much wished for holiday destination on her bucket list. This particular lady would not have travelled to India by herself, and since her husband doesn’t like to fly or eat curry this holiday gave her the chance to fulfill her ambition. Another member made her first trip out of England when she joined the holiday to Vietnam! ‘It never ceases to amaze me how brave people can be – one of the people who joined the raft trip at Lee Valley was not able to swim and of course she was the one who fell off the raft! She was wearing a good life jacket, though and was perfectly safe and really enjoyed the whole experience.’
Olivia’s recipe for success
Looking back over her first decade of organising, Olivia has drawn together her top tips for successful trips.
Whenever possible do a recce prior to organising trips, or listen to feedback from others if you are not able to experience the destination at first hand. ‘With so many members in the forum, it’s quite likely people will join the trip who I haven’t met so I need to know as much as possible about where we are going so that I can give correct information in advance – such as steps, gradients or hand rails,’ Olivia says. Clear descriptions are essential and if you are not sure, check with the tour operator or the destination.
Before booking a trip to Norway, Travelsphere put Olivia in touch with another GTO who had previously experienced the trip. ‘This was so useful and reassuring,’ Olivia says, ‘by talking to other GTOs I pick up all sorts of gems of advice such as when to take tea-bags or a travel kettle!’ Olivia also joins fam trips where relevant and having recently been to Thailand with Travelsphere, this Asian holiday may soon appear on the programme.
Know your product inside out
Olivia tries to cover all eventualities so she can tell people precise details, such as what injections are needed, the length of the flight, the distance between arrival airport and the hotel, how long excursions are at the destination and what the start times are. ‘Not every trip is suitable for everyone so as long as you are clear at the outset then it saves a great deal of disappointment and stress for everyone.
All inclusive prices
From experience Olivia now includes all costs in the price – such as entrance fees and the driver’s tip. This way there are no hidden extras and all the Forum members can budget properly, whether it’s a day out or a longer holiday. ‘I prefer to give money back than ask for extra!’ Olivia says.
Always be available for questions
Make sure members know how to contact you if something is not clear and that you will find out the answer for them.
‘The Forum Is always open to new members, and I want to be very welcoming to them so they feel included when they first join a trip,’ says Olivia. She does this in several ways, often lunches can be freestyle but she will always offer to arrange a lunch for as many members who would like this option so no one is on their own. Secondly, if the group is flying overseas members usually make their own way to the departure airport but Olivia will also make it clear what time she will be leaving and from where so that members travelling on their own can join her if they wish. Olivia also tries to minimise the cost of single supplements for accommodation and will offer to pair people who are travelling alone so they can share a room.
Olivia likes to add in lots of elements to her trips to make the day or holiday more memorable. She will book guides for visits to historic city centres such as Bath or Winchester. On a recent outing to Rutland Water, Olivia included a visit to art galleries in Uppingham, a trip on Rutland Water itself on the Rutland Belle and a harp recital over lunch. The whole itinerary made this one of Olivia’s favourite day trips.