Travelling with Marian

Marian’s group on holiday in Austria.

Marian Durbidge is a very active GTO and organises a full programme of day trips,  short breaks and holidays for each of her two groups.
Val Baynton discovers how Marian became a GTO and gains insights into her expertise.

Marian Durbidge.

From her Harpenden base, GTO Marian Durbidge organises activity for two groups – The Herts Theatre Club and the Go Together Travel Club – resulting in some four theatre and two day trips a month plus five to seven holidays a year. Her programmes for the 500 or so members of each group are varied and although she does plan ahead she’s also keen to take in unexpected opportunities as they arrive, Marian says, ‘I like to be spontaneous, so I can take advantage of last minute ideas and developments and can offer my members lots of choice and reasons to keep travelling with me.’ With such a busy calendar, it’s not surprising that Marian’s husband, Robert is involved too – responding to enquiries when Marian is away, or going on trips himself.

Becoming an organiser
Marian worked for a London-based company called Theatre Goers for around 10 years and thoroughly enjoyed the time working with groups and helping them to enjoy days out. When that business closed in 2002, Marian thought, ‘I’ve enjoyed the experience so much why don’t I do it by myself?’ and so she set up the Herts Theatre Club and organised theatre and day trips. For the first three or four years she did this on a part time basis and then was persuaded by a local community organisation, The Harpenden Trust, to begin organising outings for its mainly single and senior membership providing opportunities for them to socialise and to experience life outside of the town, and suddenly Marian found she had a full time job! ‘I called the new group The Go Together Travel Club (GTTC) and decided from the outset to keep the two groups separate. Very occasionally I offer the same itinerary to both groups but generally I plan different programmes, for the GTTC I also organise holidays in the UK, whereas for the Theatre Club – where members tend to be in couples and younger – I include overseas breaks.’

Marian and her group at Royal Ascot.

From talking to other GTOs Marian says that she feels her two groups have developed over the last 15 years in quite a distinctive way. She explains, ‘Our groups are  made up of friendly people who like travelling and experiencing different activities in the company of others but there is no shared focus linking individuals such as work, social or sporting interests and they are not part of a national organisation such as Rotary, WI or U3A. The two groups work more as an extended family where people keep in touch and take part in trips as their work and life schedules allow.’

She is a founder member of the New Meridian Association of GTOs, which formed in 2016 – and she says meeting, networking and attending Fam Trips with this group of very active travel organisers is invaluable to her. She adds, ‘When we meet we pass on and swap information about what has worked or not worked for us. Although we organise for very different types of groups we share high standards and expectations and so we can trust each other’s judgments.’

Theatre outings and day trips
Many of the four monthly theatre outings for the Herts Theatre Club are to the London West End, and Marian includes musicals, opera, ballet and serious plays in her programme and offers both matinées and evening performances. Occasionally she will book two different productions on the same afternoon or night so that her members have choice, but she also selects provincial theatres and Richmond, Guildford, Milton Keynes and Windsor are all favourite venues.

Weymouth’s pretty harbour was popular with Marian’s group.

As well as theatre outings Marian organises a selection of day trips at weekends and weekdays for the Theatre Club. Galleries and exhibitions, such as the recent ‘David Hockney’ Exhibition at Tate Britain and the current ‘Canaletto & the Art of Venice’ exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, and Race Days are popular choices. There’s an annual trip to Brighton but ‘Surprise Saturdays’ and ‘Mystery Sundays’ to places such as a tour of the Cotswolds or to Broadstairs add a sense of fun to the programme.

Marian likes to plan activities that her members would not easily be able to book on their own. For example, in 2013 she took two groups to the Museum of London to see ‘The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels’. Marian says, ‘This was a captivating exhibition with an amazing story, which was really enhanced by the introductory talk from the museum experts I booked for my groups. They explained how the jewellery was discovered and the amazing work that went into cleaning it before it was displayed.’

Travelling overseas
When organising overseas breaks Marian always works with a tour operator as this gives much needed back up and over the years she has used several companies including Success Tours, Brightwater, Greatdays Travel, Norman Allen and Travel Adventure. ‘I select the company according to the type of trip I am looking for, and I might discuss an idea with a couple of different contacts before selecting the one that has the best solution and suggestions for the particular holiday.’

Marian will also look to book a guide or guides as their insider knowledge adds to the success of the break. This was true for a Canadian holiday that she organised with the Travel Adventure. The programme for the 23 members included the Rocky Mountains and an Alaskan cruise, Marian decided to travel by coach rather than by train. ‘This worked very well as we could stop when and where ever we wanted. The driver and the guide took us to the best places to see wildlife such as wolves and they knew the outstanding beauty spots and vantage points.’ The cruise, on a Celebrity ship, Celebrity Century, was excellent too, as Marian recalls, ‘we were able to go on smaller boats right up to the ice wall, which was amazing.’ She says that this trip was a challenge for her to organise and she felt it was a huge responsibility but it was a fantastic experience. ‘The icing on the cake was that two of my members met each other because of the holiday and are now partners. I just love people and seeing others make friends is wonderful.’

Celebration on board Balmoral on a cruise to Norway.

Another holiday enhanced by a memorable guide was in Andalucía in Spain in 2013, which included Ronda, Seville, Cordoba and Granada. The guide was on hand for the whole of the seven-night tour and her insights, Marian says, made the most ordinary buildings come to life.  On this occasion Marian had met the guide on a familarisation visit to the region and so she asked for her again when she made a booking for her group. She says, ‘This is one of the benefits of taking part in educationals. They can be time consuming but if the country is somewhere you are planning on taking a group to, there is no better way of doing the research because you can learn at first hand if it is suitable and see which elements will work best for the group as well as discovering attractions that are not obvious when researching on-line or by reading brochures.’

Other fam trips she has joined included trips to Switzerland and an educational cruise organised by Fred. Olsen to Norway last year. Following on from these, Marian has booked holidays for her groups. Unusually, she offered the nine-night cruise on the ship Balmoral to Norway from Dover to both clubs and because many people did not know each other, Marian organised a lunch party for everyone before they went, Marian says, ‘It’s great to get people to meet before a  holiday starts and its particularly important for those who are new to the group or who are travelling on their own.’

Evolving for the future
Marian and Robert are hoping that their daughter-in-law will become more involved in the next couple of years.  Marian says, ‘In our opinion our two groups are unusual and I’m not sure if anything similar exists in other town and cities. We want to build on the extended family character that we have seen develop – amazingly some members now live on the other side of the world but we all keep in touch!’ Their plan is to involve younger people, enabling them to enjoy the variety of experiences on offer, but also to encourage them to help look after older people on the trips at the same time. ‘Our thought is to bring the generations together and to focus on nurturing the sense of an extended family, so we are considering how best to achieve this.’

On a trip to Switzerland with Sylvia Saxon from the New Meridian Association of GTOs.