UK Coach Tourism Association (CTA) recorded its highest ever event attendance as over 200 members came to Newcastle for the organisation’s annual Conference & Workshop. This included 20 new members who attended the event for the first time.
The CTA Conference & Workshop 2024 took place from 28-30 January. Based at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead hotel, the weekend also included fam trips around the North East.
Coach Tourism Association gathering 2024
The event’s formal business networking session also reached new heights. The Meet the Buyer Workshop saw 860 10-minute meetings take place between coach tour operators and wholesalers, and industry suppliers, including attractions and hotels. This was an increase of 60 meetings on last year’s event, previously the highest total at 800 meetings, CTA says.
The numerous informal opportunities for networking across the weekend meant that a further range of new business agreements between industry buyers and suppliers were confirmed. Several operators also made immediate bookings as a result of the fam trip programme.
“We believe the high visitor number was a result of the new fam trips on offer, combined with a format that enables operators and wholesalers to meet suppliers from across the whole supply chain, all at a single event,” says CTA Chair, Robert Shaw. “The business development generated over the weekend also confirmed the value of participation from the hotels, attractions, and wider suppliers involved.”
Ahead of the Conference, CTA operators and wholesalers attended a pre-event fam trip to The Auckland Project. A new tour option for many, the collection of attractions at Bishop Aukland welcoming coach groups was a particular success. Following the weekend, CTA buyer members learnt more about the DFDS service on a two-day cruise to Amsterdam.
The Conference weekend included fam trips to Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, as well as Raby Castle, County Durham, both locations having invested in facilities to encourage coach groups. A tour of Newcastle also featured, and while a destination in its own right, Newcastle and Gateshead are seeking to attract coach groups as an accommodation hub to explore Northumberland and County Durham.
During the Conference session, Ian Thomas, Director of Visitor Economy, NewcastleGateshead Initiative, explained how North East England has been chosen as the first Destination Development Partnership towards the goal of doubling the region’s visitor economy over the next 10 years. Ian explained that coach tourism would be a valuable aspect, with a new travel trade initiative coming soon.
Lyndsey Turner Swift, Deputy VisitEngland Director, explained how the Destination Development Partnership would fit into the national programme. Lyndsey also reported on market prospects, saying that domestic visits were up in 2023, while giving a balanced forecast between domestic and overseas travel in 2024.
Carol Southall, Head of Staffordshire Business School, Staffordshire University, outlined a proposed research project, which will be carried out in conjunction with CTA and its members, to assess coach tourism volumes and value added as well as perceptions of the industry.
The Conference presentations instigated lively debate, chaired by Louise Fitzpatrick, Albatross Travel and CTA Board Member. This included the challenge of broadening the coach tour market’s age demographic while maintaining product for the current customer core.
“Momentum is gathering for the need to develop new product, focussing on the customer experience for a broader generational span. This will increasingly be a focus for the market, and a key issue for CTA’s future discussions,” says CTA’s Robert Shaw.
Brendan Sheerin, star of Channel 4’s Coach Trip series, gave an entertaining after-dinner talk on the first night of the Conference. Brendan also hosted the evening’s fundraising event, which raised £2,000 for St. Oswald’s Hospice, serving the North East.