Special Report: Tipto chairs hail trade body’s success 25 years on

Former and current Tipto chairs have hailed the organisation for its continued success at helping independent tour operators and travel agents work together after 25 years.

The Truly Independent Professional Travel Organisation (Tipto) hosted a special 25th anniversary Chairman’s Lunch for more than 50 former members and staff at The Ivy restaurant in London.

Former chairs at the lunch were Graham Balmforth, Allan Lambert, Jane Atkins, Colin Wilson, Zena Hall, and Nick Hughes alongside current chairman Richard Forde, who announced he would be stepping down this week.

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Forde, who has been chairman since 2022 and will be replaced in September for Tipto’s 26th year, told the lunch the organisation was still thriving.

He said: “There is so much history in this room; it’s lovely to see so many past and present members of Tipto. We now have our maximum number of 25 supplier members. We have seen 2,000 agents at our roadshows this year, 58% of those are new.”

TIPTO 25th Anniversary Lunch The Ivy 4th July 2024. Pic: Michael Newington Gray

He thanked Lorna Willis-Edwards, whose company Spirit Marketing & Events was set up to save Tipto from closure in 2021, and noted one that one of the changes over the last 25 years was the axing of “black-balling” where members were allowed to prevent rival operators from joining.

“We all get along at meetings now,” he joked.

Former chairs also hailed Tipto’s ongoing success in helping agents to learn about and sell independent operators’ products.

Atkins, chair from 2016 to 2019, said: “Tipto’s ongoing relevance is evidenced by the “full house” of tour operators and the [current] waiting list.

“As agents and homeworkers continue to fight for market share over online businesses, and direct sell operators, their knowledge of what is hot, and what is not, and where the value plays are, is key. Tipto members impart this information on a daily basis, not only at their roadshows but online and in training activities.”

Lorna Williams addresses attendees at the lunch. Pic: Michael Newington Gray

She added: “Being chairman was a complete honour, and gave me great insight into guiding and influencing a bunch of lovely folk, with differing views.”

Balmforth, chair from 2008-2010, who still comperes at Tipto’s larger SuperShows, said: “If you go to a Tipto roadshow, small or big, it’s all about having a good time and learning something. You can win a goody bag, or go on a ‘game show’, and there’s a free dinner. It’s a breath of fresh air going out of the agency.

“It’s amazing how 25 years on, agents are still interacting and having fun and wanting to win the roadshow quiz – it might be old fashioned but it still works.”

Hughes, chairman 2019-2022, said he had been involved with Tipto for half of his life. “I went to my first Tipto roadshow when I was 24, I’m 48 now. I have that emotional attachment,” he said, adding: “It still offers the best in-class training and engagement for frontline travel agents.”

He insisted Tipto roadshows remained vital, particularly for the growing number of homeworkers in the sector. “It’s time for homeworkers to get really engaged with suppliers; it’s really important,” he said.

Wilson, chairman in 2006-2007, recalled how he was told by his team at Bourne Leisure at the time “not to underestimate” the power of Tipto.

He said: “Tipto is just amazing. When I left Bourne Leisure to join Page & Moy, the very first thing I did was instructed them to join Tipto. It was the best route to market for operators like us that didn’t have big sales teams on the road.”

He added: “It’s extremely gratifying to see Tipto thrive 25 years on.”

Zena Hill, chair from 2012 to 2016, commended the organisation for helping operators and agents to forge strong professional and personal friendships. She said: “When I walked through the door today I felt very emotional; you step back into that world of kindness and it makes you remember what’s good about our industry. I have made some very good friends through Tipto.”

Jane Dyson, founder of The Network, which ran Tipto’s trade roadshows after it was set up in 1999, recalled how they had to persuade operators to join by suggesting others in the trade were about to sign up.

“It’s just how we did it,” she said, adding: “We had never done anything like this before. If we go back to the 1990s travel industry, the press was talking about the march of the multiples and vertically integrated companies who all wanted their own distribution networks. This massively squeezed independent tour operators and particularly independent agents who just couldn’t compete.”

Tipto started life with a two-tier annual membership. It cost £25,000 for the full membership including roadshows and merchandising and £15,000 for the roadshows only.

Describing Tipto as “her baby”, Dyson said the organisation went through some “scary times”, citing the September 11 attacks in 2001; the Iraq war and the 2008 financial crisis.

Addressing suppliers past and present in the room, she said: “Thank you from me for believing in it.”

Main picture shows current chair Richard Forde, centre, flanked by former chairs, left to right: Allan Lambert, Colin Wilson, Jane Atkins, Zena Hall, Nick Hughes and Graham Balmforth.

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