Peter French – TNT Social Club

This month, we speak to Peter French of TNT Social Club, in Warwickshire, who has nearly 20 years experience as a GTO. Carrie Drage hears about his programme of trips, which includes up to six overseas holidays a year.

Peter French of TNT Social Club

Peter French of TNT Social Club

Peter French had no previous experience as a group organiser when he first became involved with the TNT Social Club back in 1991.
However, nearly 20 years later, he is now treasurer and co-organises in excess of 30 day trips and breaks a year, including up to six overseas holidays, mainly with the help of the Club secretary, Claire Green. He explains, “On a theatre visit, I overheard one of the committee members complaining that no-one ever volunteered to help with the running of the Social Club so I showed some interest and was invited to go along to a committee meeting. It all stemmed from there.” Peter works full-time as a traffic clerk at TNT in Atherstone, Warwickshire, the well-known parcel delivery company, and his position as treasurer is purely voluntary. He says, “I work night shifts so I have the days free to plan and organise the Club’s activities. On average, I dedicate at least two hours a day to my role as treasurer.”
Peter is supported by a committee of 10 members who meet once a month in a function room at the Red Lion Hotel in Atherstone. Each committee member is responsible for a particular pool of employees, determined by the building in which they work on the TNT sorting site. He explains, “I work in the Parcel Distribution Centre so I take bookings from 94 of our members and ensure all publicity material is displayed in different areas throughout the building, like the canteen and corridors. Others do the same for their designated area.” There are 340 members altogether and each committee member is designated a certain number of places for each trip. Peter explains, “If one of the committee members has difficulty getting bookings from their pool of employees, we re-allocate the places to get a better response. We also gauge the popularity of a trip by the number of people we have on the waiting list. If necessary, we will put on another coach for the members.”

Hitting the jackpot

Membership of the Social Club costs £10 a year and each member is allowed two associate members for which an additional £15 is payable for each. Peter says, “An associate member is somebody that doesn’t work for the company, like a family member, friend or neighbour.” The money collected from membership is put back into the Social Club to subsidise the trips, together with an additional fund collected from the fruit machines in the staff canteens. Peter explains, “We subsidise the day trips and weekend breaks more than the holidays, with an average discount of between 25% and 50%. With the overseas trips we will perhaps offer £20 or £30 off the price or free coach transport instead.”

Checking out some of the hotels in Las Vegas.

Checking out some of the hotels in Las Vegas.

Members are kept up to date with the programme via email with the minutes from each committee meeting sent to the members. Peter says, “The minutes contain details of all upcoming trips, as well as feedback from previous outings so we can monitor how successful each one was.” As well as the committee members, employees are also forthcoming with ideas on places to visit. He explains, “I often get emails from different people in the company. I also keep informed with magazines like GTO, as well as tour operators’ brochures, visits to travel trade shows, television programmes and various websites.”

A foreign focus

For a social club with members of varying ages and interests, Peter admits that the committee often have their work cut out when it comes to planning trips that appeal to everybody. He says, “With the overseas holidays, I tend to organise only the transport and accommodation with a tour operator. Excursions are not common as members often prefer to do their own thing.”
The 2007 visit to Krakow, in Poland, with 78 members is one such example of this. The three-night visit coincided with the Christmas market and some of the group arranged a visit to Auschwitz during their stay. Peter remarks, “Christmas in Poland is a very special experience. They decorate everything with mistletoe over there, which looks beautiful.” The break was arranged through Success Tours in Wiltshire, a company that Peter highly recommends. He says, “Our very first overseas trip to the Rhine in the early 90s was booked with Success Tours, which turned out very well. I deal with Tony Flanagan who knows what I like in terms of destinations and hotels.”
This year, meanwhile, saw 20 members return to Las Vegas for five nights in May. The break was arranged with South Quay Travel & Leisure based in London. Peter remarks, “The service is always very good here and the prices are reasonable too.” The group stayed at Planet Hollywood which, according to Peter, is well-placed on the strip. He says, “A group of us went to Las Vegas two years ago and stayed at Excalibur, which was a long way down the strip. Planet Hollywood is more central, which we preferred.” The visit coincided with Peter’s wedding anniversary and 10 of the members went to the Top of the World restaurant at the Stratosphere hotel. He says, “It’s a revolving restaurant so we got some amazing views.”

Making the most of the weather in Lake Garda.

Making the most of the weather in Lake Garda.

Just a month later, a group of 22 people flew to Lake Garda for three nights, with Success Tours. The Hotel Splendid Mayer in Desenzano provided the accommodation for the trip. Peter says, “The hotel was located right on the lake front so it is conveniently positioned for buses and members wanting to take boat trips on the lake.” The trip ran like clockwork except for the flight home. He explains, “Our flight was cancelled but Success Tours handled the situation perfectly, arranging a bus back to the hotel, an extra night’s accommodation and another flight free of charge.” Although Peter’s members are confident finding their own way around, occasionally he breaks from the norm and arranges excursions for his members through the tour operator he is using. He says, “I don’t do a lot, maybe just one or two per trip so they get the best possible experience.” In 2008, 33 members travelled to Marrakesh for three nights, again with Success Tours. Peter remarks, “It’s like you’ve stepped back in time 400 years; it’s a walled city with donkeys pulling carts and old-fashioned houses. On this occasion, I arranged a tour of the souks, which was an eye-opener! There was also a day trip to the Atlas Mountains.”

On Kaunertal Glacier

On Kaunertal Glacier

The same number of people flew to Austria for three nights in 2009. Peter remembers, “I organised a day excursion to Kaunertal Glacier where we had a meal in the restaurant and played in the snow.” The group stayed at the Hotel Sonne in Landeck. He remarks, “The package included a free bar between midday and midnight, and there was a nine-pin bowling alley too.”

Peter’s overseas holidays tend to attract smaller numbers than day trips and UK breaks so tour operators that stipulate ‘no minimum numbers’ are often a safer choice. In 2009, for instance, he organised a four-night break to San Francisco for just 10 people with The Travel Adventure, based in Sussex, and a three-night break to New York with Success Tours for just eight members. Peter remarks, “Jayne Kerr at The Travel Adventure is very passionate about her work and always does a good job of organising breaks for us.”
Meanwhile, New York was also the destination for a three-night break for 20 people over New Year in 2008. Organised through South Quay Travel & Leisure, the package included a New Year’s Eve cruise on the Hudson River. Peter says, “There was a fantastic black tie dinner and we watched all the fireworks going off at midnight.”

Back at the hotel in Austria

Back at the hotel in Austria

Out for the day

Peter’s programme of day trips numbers at least 20 a year. These usually attract a coachload of members at a time and transport is provided by Woods Coaches of Leicester. He remarks, “Their drivers are professional yet friendly. I can’t fault them.”
Theatre outings are always a popular part of the programme and the group visit London’s West End at least twice a year, if not more. Tickets for these shows are booked through London ticketing agency Group Line. He says, “The best thing is that they have a ‘book now, pay later’ facility, which means you have time to finalise numbers before making a payment.” Visits to local venues are also common, particularly Birmingham’s Hippodrome and Alexandra theatres.
Also in Birmingham, Peter’s members visit The NEC for many of its events such as the BBC Good Food Show, Clothes Show Live, BBC Gardeners’ World Live, Sewing for Pleasure and Carole Nash Motorcycle Live. Peter comments, “We’re so close that people make their own way there. Again, I tend to buy tickets through Group Line.”
Shopping trips are popular with the members too and there is at least one visit a year to the UK’s malls. Most recently, the group visited The Trafford Centre in Manchester. Peter remarks, “Groups receive a ‘meet and greet’ and a discount voucher booklet for use in some of the stores. I’d recommend a visit at Christmas time particularly as the decorations are rather impressive!” Bluewater in Kent is also a favourite with the members. He says, “There’s a lot of choice here as it’s so big.”
When it comes to day trips, Peter tries to limit the travelling time to no more than two hours, although one exception is an outing to Bournemouth in June 2009. He says, “We had lots of requests for a trip to the seaside and, despite taking three hours, it was worth the wait.” As with most of the overseas holidays, the members were left to do their own thing with some visiting the beach and others taking advantage of the shopping facilities or visiting some of the attractions. Indeed, the trip was such a success that a few months later the group enjoyed another trip to the seaside; this time to Blackpool to see the Illuminations.
Peter’s local area is brimming with interesting attractions to visit and the group don’t have to travel far for a fascinating day out. One attraction that stands out, for instance, is the Black Country Living Museum, near Dudley, which the group visited in 2009. He comments, “It’s very authentic here with costumed characters speaking in an old Black Country accent – it’s a struggle to understand them at times!”

Seeing in the New Year aboard the ‘M.V. Elizabethan’.

Seeing in the New Year aboard the ‘M.V. Elizabethan’.

Stopping the night

In addition to overseas holidays and UK day trips, Peter organises up to five breaks in Britain annually. London is one destination that always holds appeal for the members and, as such, the Social Club arranges at least three breaks a year to the capital. Peter used to organise all the separate components for these trips independently; however, for the last couple of years, most elements have been booked through Success Tours. Last New Year’s Eve, a coachful of members travelled to the capital for a black tie dinner cruise aboard Thames Luxury Charters’ ‘M.V. Elizabethan’, a replica 1890s Mississippi Paddle Steamer. Peter says, “We moored up outside the London Eye to watch the fireworks then welcomed in the New Year with a glass of champagne and a rendition of Auld Lang Syne.” The group enjoyed another Thames cruise in May this year when a dozen members got together for a Bateaux London dinner cruise as part of a London weekend break. He comments, “I booked the cruise element myself. There was a good-quality fourcourse meal and, after dinner, a singer entertained us with West End show tunes.”

Sitting down for dinner on the Bateaux London cruise.

Sitting down for dinner on the Bateaux London cruise.

A surfing weekend in Bude, Cornwall, also featured on the programme in 2008. Peter explains, “There were 39 people on this trip with 10 of them having a go at the sport. The others had free time to do as they wished.”
A more structured three-night break to the Isle of Wight was taken over Easter this year, with the group staying at the Melbourne Ardenlea Hotel in Shanklin. Peter comments, “It was close to the seafront and very reasonable – it cost just £35 per person per night for bed, breakfast and an evening meal.” On this occasion, Peter felt it would be beneficial to organise excursions for the group. He adds, “We visited Waltzing Waters, a spectacular water fountain show with lights and music. I was also impressed with our visit to English Heritage’s Osborne House.”

A cheaper way to travel

Peter admits that one of the biggest perks of being a group organiser is that he can visit places he has always wanted to go in the company of good friends. He adds, “I usually find if I want to do something, others do too. It helps that groups often get a reduced price.” Although GTOs are offered free places some of the time, all the money saved is put back into the Social Club funds. He explains, “Everybody who goes on the trips pays the same. I don’t get any special treatment in that way.”
Coming up, Peter’s members will be exploring destinations familiar and new including three nights at Disneyland Paris in November with The Travel Adventure, a return to Krakow in December for three nights with South Quay Travel & Leisure and three nights in Dubrovnik in May 2011 with Success Tours. The group will also embark on their first cruise holiday in April 2011 with a mini cruise from Southampton to Keele, in Germany, via Copenhagen. The cruise is booked through Coaches Excetera in London and will be aboard ‘MSC Orchestra’. Staying in Britain, the members are looking forward to West End theatre visits to see The Wizard of Oz in June 2011 and Shrek in September next year.
For the last three or four years, Peter has been telling himself that he is going to retire from his role as treasurer but this is yet to happen. He is the first to admit that his organiser duties take up a lot of his time and reveals that a simple ‘thank you’ from a member is what gives him the most enjoyment. He says, “Above all else, hearing those two words makes it all worth my while.”