Eleanor Harvey, Lidija Markovic, Merryn Ashwell, Sara Marquis and Katie Matthews from our Concert Tours team have recently returned from an inspection visit to Belgium. Here, Concert Tours Operations Manager Eleanor explains why we feel it is so important for our teams to travel out on inspection visits.
So why do we go on inspection visits?
The most important reason is so that our team can keep up to date with ideas and inspiration for our client’s tours. As the Operations Manager of the Concert Tours team, I am always looking for new ideas that will appeal to a variety of groups and anything new that we can shout about! When it comes to Belgium, this year around 40% of our tours are travelling to Belgium so it’s really crucial that we get to know it ‘on the ground’.
There are of course many factors to take into consideration for every tour, and here are some particular examples of how our recent Belgium inspection trip has helped expand our knowledge to be able to arrange the perfect Belgium tours for our groups…
To check out the suitability of concert venues for our group
Concerts are the focal point of all of our concert tours. Only by seeing a variety of venues in person can we truly recommend the most suitable concert venues. We can sometimes be surprised! For example, a grand cathedral such as Sint Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent might sound like the best option for an orchestra on paper, but in fact when you take into account the repertoire limitations in the Cathedral and the resonant acoustic, a better option would be a smaller and more intimate venue that still has plenty of set up space, a much more suitable acoustic, and will also give a warm welcome from the locals! I particularly loved the friendly and spacious Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk in De Panne for these reasons.
To test out excursions which we think our groups would enjoy
One particular highlight that we all learnt a lot from, was an excellent brewery tour of De Halve Maan brewery in Bruges. The guide was lively and informative, yet also very funny! However, we also discovered that there are lots of steps, so much so that you would have to descend some staircases like a ladder – perhaps not ideal for a group who has mobility concerns, although the view from the top of Bruges was fantastic. You might also automatically assume that a brewery tour is only suitable for a group of adults, but we quickly realised that it had a lot of appeal as a quirky and interesting educational visit for a school group. In addition there were a number of dining rooms where group meals could be served to any type of group – meals could even be arranged with a beer complementing the dishes in same way that wine traditionally does! We could never have had this level of insight from the office.
To source the most suitable accommodation for our groups
The accommodation centres we use in Belgium range from youth hostels, perfect for school groups, to 4-star hotels in Bruges, perfect for choirs and bands. An inspection trip gives us the opportunity to compare similar hotels in different locations. It really brought home to me how a hotel like the Oude Abdij Hotel in Lo could cater for a wide variety of groups. With their lovely landscaped grounds which are perfect for activities and relaxation in the warmer months, their own welcoming bar for adult travellers and tired teachers, and games rooms to keep schoolchildren entertained, it has something to suit everybody. Overall, I felt that some groups may prefer to consider the benefits of staying in less expensive and more relaxing hotel environments, outside the hustle and bustle of Belgium’s lively cities, and we now have some fantastic options that we have seen to suit those groups.
To see how winter tours to Belgium work
We also got an appreciation for how well a concert tour to Belgium would work in the winter months. It will be cold but cities such as Bruges, Ghent and Ypres are perhaps even more beautiful when it’s -1 than when it is too hot to move! There is also still so much you can still do, from a moving visit to the In Flanders Field Museum, maybe with a climb to the top of the Belfry to keep warm, to a wonderful brewery tour in Bruges.
We even scoped out the perfect place for a warm drink and a Belgian waffle for groups to keep out the cold – tried and tested by us all of course!