MEETINGS & COMMUNICATION
Since AITO's formation in 1976, regular General Meetings have been at the heart of its activity, providing a forum for an exchange of views between the directors of specialist tour operators with similar philosophies and common problems. Issues of the day, as well as various AITO initiatives, are discussed at quarterly meetings in central London. Occasional guest speakers, including leading industry figures, are invited to talk on a wide range of subjects. These have included holiday and employment law, financial and currency matters, aviation and marketing plus other general subjects as diverse as psychometric testing, problem solving and the drafting and analysis of customer questionnaires.
Annual Overseas Conference
This is the highlight of the AITO calendar. An annual event, it is held over three to five days usually in November at different venues around Europe and, occasionally, further afield. Part social, part educational and part business, the conference affords time in which to get to know one's fellow members and accompanying journalists and to discuss the issues of the day in a convivial, relaxed atmosphere. Largely hosted by the tourist authorities of the countries concerned, each Conference attracts in the region of 200 members and partners.
Destinations have included Morocco, Croatia, Portugal, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Corfu and Malta as well as the long-haul venues of Mexico, New England, Sri Lanka, India.
A number of Conference programmes have included popular 'press forum' sessions during which leading travel journalists are invited to express their views about AITO and the industry and to respond to questions.
Open to all, social events are mainly for fun and for the chance to do a bit of networking with fellow members. It might be a day at the races, a sporting event or an outing to enjoy a 'behind the scenes' look at different places of interest. The House of Commons, Winchester College and AITO Golf days have featured in the past.
Social and other events, which include dinner functions at different locations, are trailed in the association's regular magazine - the AITO bulletin.
Members' Club - via www.aito.com
One of the additional benefits of AITO's website is the ease of access it provides to information of all kinds contained within the restricted membership area. There are guidance notes on a range of issues including comment and advice on various industry matters, details of the AITO Independent Dispute Settlement Service, Business Partners, the AITO Trust bonding scheme, guidelines on responsible tourism and synopses of presentations given to members at General Meetings. In addition there are minutes of previous meetings and details of forthcoming events. The site is proving to be a valuable tool to members in need of reference material about travel in general and AITO-related material in particular.
The AITO Bulletin
As part of the process of keeping members informed about activity within the Association and topics of general interest within the industry, AITO publishes a regular magazine which attracts contributions from members as well as business partners and others on a range of themes. In addition it highlights events for the diary, updates and other topical news items.
E-mail has become the preferred method of sending information and an important part of communication between the AITO Secretariat and the Members. They cover a range of subjects including journalists seeking information about holidays, marketing opportunities, travel awards, forthcoming events, AITO surveys, benchmarking, industry consultation issues, co-operation with AITO specialist travel agents, and training workshops.
AITO Google Noticeboard
In 2010 AITO introduced a closed user group noticeboard where members can exchange ideas and consult on problems which provides an excellent forum for discussions.
MARKETING & PR
One of AITO's main pre-occupations in recent years has been its promotional role through high quality PR. This has concentrated on raising public awareness of the association through editorial mentions in the national and trade press in order to generate more business for members. The aim is to underline the vital part played in Britain's travel industry by its innovative smaller specialists. These are the companies, often pioneers in their respective fields, whose vast range of refreshingly different options offer such a welcome alternative to the run-of-the-mill packages supplied by the industry's largest players.
A Mori poll undertaken in 2008 showed that the public awareness of AITO had increased to 26%. The association is now building on this with a series of specifically targeted initiatives.
AITO's Website - www.aito.com
Developed as an integral part of AITO's marketing strategy, the site continues to provide a significant, and growing, volume of visitors and direct leads to members. One of the main features is the sophisticated search facility which allows visitors to hunt for their ideal holiday by destination or theme. The system displays the brochures which correspond with the criteria specified. In addition to detailed descriptions of each brochure the website also includes links to useful, non-competing sites, and most importantly to members' own sites. The website is supported by the search engine optimisation, web marketing, limited national advertising and by newspaper editorial.
A monthly newsletter containing the latest information and offers from AITO members.
Through the website and newsletter distribution AITO is building up a database of consumers with specifically identified holiday preferences. Consumers on the database receive AITO newsletters in which members may participate. One of the objectives of building an AITO database is to facilitate direct marketing activity. Given the diversity of holidays and destinations available through AITO members it should, in theory, always be possible for one member or another to satisfy any potential customer's particular requirement and thus to ensure that his future bookings remain 'within the AITO family'.
Although the association itself has never had the resources to mount major press advertising campaigns, a certain amount of publicity for the AITO brand has been generated in recent years by occasional display ads in the national newspapers. These have been supplemented by a number of full page joint advertising promotions, in quality press, which bring together several operators under the AITO banner.
Some of the advertisements are of a general nature, others are devoted to sectional interests. Although the pages are part-sponsored by AITO, each participant pays for its own brochure panels, which are offered to members at particularly attractive rates courtesy of a specialist advertising agency, one of AITO's business partners or with the participation of National Tourist Boards.
AITO Specialist Travel Agents
For the benefit of those who prefer to book their holidays locally with a reliable travel agent, AITO Specialist Travel Agents (formerly CARTA) was set up in 1994 to bring together the best of Britain's independent agents and tour operators. AITO assists around 140 AITO specialist travel agent subscribers with workshop training sessions promotional material, newsletters and other practical support, notably in terms of the link between the AITO and AITO Specialist Travel Agents websites (www.aitoagents.com). 2003 saw a re-branding of CARTA to the consumer under the new name of 'AITO Specialist Travel Agents' bringing both AITO and CARTA closer together and the AITO name to the high street.
Over the years AITO members have attended a variety of exhibitions and holiday shows including Destinations held in both London and Birmingham, The Daily Mail Ski Show, The Ideal Home Exhibition and the BBC Holiday Live Show under the AITO banner, all at reduced rates. More recently, AITO companies have made their presence felt by linking up in the AITO Village at the annual consumer show, Destinations.
For many years the mainstay of AITO's promotional activity, PR is handled by one of the country's leading specialist firms. Apart from a steady flow of news stories about AITO members and their holidays, PR initiatives include an annual Meet the Press day, a summer press party, and a series of regular press lunches and suppers organised at prestigious venues in London. Because of AITO's close links with top travel writers, an excellent attendance at these functions is always achieved. For smaller members in particular, many of which do not have the resources to employ a PR firm or to fund press-related events of their own, participation at these AITO functions represents an excellent and cost-effective way to meet the press - an opportunity to put across their message personally to the most influential travel writers.
For many years AITO has been a strong supporter of the Observer Travel Awards (now run jointly with the Guardian). The 'Best Brochure' category, suggested by AITO, was added to encourage operators of all types and sizes to improve brochure standards generally, with particular emphasis on clarity of design and pricing and the quality of writing. With AITO's focus on quality and service, it is no surprise that AITO members have dominated the 'Best Tour Operator' awards in the Observer/Guardian and Holiday Which? polls since they were introduced in the eighties.
As AITO has grown in size and stature to become a respected organisation representing around 140 companies jointly carrying about 1.1 million passengers, it has been consulted by political and regulatory bodies on a wide range of travel-related issues. AITO has established close links with the CAA, FCO, the Office of Fair Trading, BIS (following discussions on implementation of the EC Directive on Package Travel), the Department for Transport (DFT), the FSA and the Foreign Office. AITO is directly represented on the CAA's Air Travel Insolvency Protection Advisory Committee (ATIPAC).
AITO has campaigned vigorously in recent years for greater transparency of ownership and customer choice in the selection of holidays offered by Britain's larger, multiple retailers. Indeed, AITO has led the field in drawing the attention of the press, public and government to this important issue.
Currently, AITO is lobbying for a level playing field regarding consumer financial protection following the impact of the no frills airlines. It has also been defending its members against attempts by credit card service providers to increase charges for operators perceived as presenting a greater risk, despite the operators in question being fully bonded as required by law. AITO has regular meetings with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with regard to their Travel Advice in order to improve communication and understanding between tour operators and the providers of the advice.
Provided by one of the country's top firms specializing in the field of travel law, this is a useful facility which, for an annual subscription, provides telephone guidance for members on the legal aspects of disputes with customers and suppliers. Brief opinions will be given by experts on issues that can be dealt with via oral advice.
This is a free service from one of the industry's leading consultants available to members considering upgrading their computer systems or in need of advice on the use of e-mail and the internet. The telephone service is limited to general guidance intended to point people in the right direction for obtaining solutions to their various problems.
OTHER MEMBER SERVICES
This low-cost service, provided by an independent third party, is available to both members and customers who find themselves involved in intractable disputes. The documents-only process, supplemented in some cases by telephone discussion where clarification is required, is designed to dispense with drawn-out cases in a bindingand speedy manner. It offers a simple and inexpensive method of settling disputes by the appointment of an independent mediator who examines the facts and gives a ruling quickly, without the expense of litigation and in a manner intended to retain the goodwill of both parties.
Business Partners and Tourist Board Affiliates
These are specialist companies or advisers, operating mainly or exclusively in a support role to the travel industry, appointed to supply services and advice to the association. These sponsors support AITO in a variety of ways. Several of them regularly join members at General and Overseas Meetings where close working relationships can be formed and developed.
AITO continues to select additional suppliers and business partners to complement those already appointed with the aim of providing members, and the association itself, with access to a comprehensive network of experts and advisers from various fields connected with the travel industry.
The range of business partners includes such areas as IT, insurance, crisis & liability insurance, advertising, marketing, design and print, websites, banking, accountancy, solicitors, hotels, and airport parking. Over 30 national tourist offices also support the association as affiliate members.
Potentially one of the most valuable benefits of AITO membership is the provision of access to preferential rates on a range of services, many of them provided by AITO's Business Partners. Not least among these is insurance, both for members' clients and for members themselves (policies for professional indemnity, public liability, buildings and contents and the like). Similar arrangements have included deals with car parks and hotel booking services at major airports. AITO is always alert to potential commercial benefits for members.
Given AITO's emphasis on quality in every area of the tour operating business, the need for briefing sessions and ongoing training, at all levels, is regarded as one of the association's most important functions.
AITO tries to respond to members' needs in improving the professionalism of their staff by putting on seminars, as well as half and full day courses, on a regular basis. Legal topics, 'Creating and Keeping Customers for Life', Telephone Sales Skills for reservations staff, Time and Web Marketing have all been covered in the past. In addition, regular briefings are held during General Meetings on a wide range of topics.
From time to time AITO organises familiarisation trips overseas, usually in conjunction with the national tourist offices of the countries concerned. Of particular interest to members considering starting up operations in new areas, the trips are part educational, part social. Included among these events is the annual ski trip for AITO ski operators and potential ski operators, which has become a traditional fixture in the AITO calendar.
For more information on Member Services please contact AITO on 020 8744 9280.