Tourism South East Annual General Meeting and Tourism Conference 2017

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Tourism South East Annual General Meeting and Tourism Conference 2017

TSE AGM, Tourism Council and Tourism Conference 2017

This year’s AGM, Tourism Council and Conference took place at the Safari Hotel Chessington World of Adventures, Surrey.

Mark Smith, TSE’s new Chairman, welcomed everyone to the event and introduced Grant Kennedy, Director of Hotel Operations at the hotel. Grant gave a brief history of how the Chessington World of Adventures opened as a theme park in 1987 replacing what was previously Chessington Zoo. The first hotel, a Holiday Inn, was opened in 2007 and then in 2014 the Resort saw nearly £15 million spent across the estate including the new Azteca Hotel, with 69 amazing new themed rooms, a new splash water play zone within the leisure club and a unique temple-themed restaurant.

Mark began the Annual General Meeting by introducing Ken Robinson CBE, to give an overview of the 2016/17 year. Ken had previously been Chairman, stepping down this year after over 40 years involvement.  Ken explained how this event was, almost to the day, a 40th anniversary of the creation of the Southern Tourist Board in September 1977. This body later merged with the Thames and Chiltern and South East Tourist Boards to become Tourism South East. A special 40th Anniversary cake was cut in celebration.

A short presentation was made to Ken to thank him for his work over such a long period of time and in taking the chairmanship in recent years.


Nigel Smith, Chief Executive, gave an overview of the main achievements during the year and John Atherton, Chairman of the Audit Panel, outlined the financial performance. The Annual Report and Financial Statements for 2016/17 were approved (and can be downloaded here). 

Mark Smith also announced the successful candidate from the Tourism Council ballot that will now sit on the main TSE Board - Martine Humphray from Green Pastures Camping and Touring Park New Forest.

Nigel Smith Chief Executive then introduced the theme for the Conference – The New Normal. In a rapidly changing environment what are the expectations of visitors and how can we meet or exceed those expectations?  Nigel introduced the first speaker Kurt Janson from the Tourism Alliance. Kurt outlined the Three Things that the audience needed to know about latest Government Policy. 


Kurt Janson - Director, Tourism Alliance 

After graduating with a first class Masters Degree in Public Policy from Lincoln University (NZ), Kurt worked for the New Zealand Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Tourist Board to develop national and regional tourism strategies. he moved to Britain in 1997 to work as Policy Manager for VisitEngland and VisitBritain and then Head of Strategic Planning for VisitBritain with responsibility for Policy, Strategy, Sustainable Tourism, Business Planning and Marketing Evaluation.  Kurt left VisitBritain in 2004 to become the Director of the Tourism Alliance, an umbrella trade association for the tourism and hospitality sector that comprises over 50 industry associations representing almost 200,000 businesses of all sizes throughout the UK. The Alliance lobbies the Government on issues that support the development of the UK tourism industry.

Please view Kurts presentation here 




Sharon Orrell - VisitEngland Head of Research

The next presentation, from Sharon Orrell Head of Visitor Research for VisitEngland/VisitBritain, looked at the performance of the industry in 2016 and the first half of 2017. Sharon then went on to look at the current and future analysis of the market including the motivations for people to visit and how they make their decisions. 

Sharon is a market research professional with over 20 years’ agency and clientside experience. She started her career with Research International in London before moving to Munich where she worked for research agency Infratest Burke and for the publishing company Meister Verlag. On returning to London she joined TNS, where as a Director in the Consumer Division, she managed some of the company’s largest FMCG accounts. In 2008 she joined VisitEngland as Head of Research and Insight, where she has responsibility for delivering a wide-ranging programme of research, intelligence and evaluation to inform the work of both the organisation and the English tourism industry. In the past year, Sharon has delivered an extensive insight programme to support the delivery of the new Discover England Fund.

The presentation can be viewed  here



Bob O’Connor - Managing Director at Howletts and Port Lympne’s Wild Animal Parks  

The final presentation from Bob O’Connor, MD at Howletts & Port Lympne answered the question to a large degree, of ‘what are visitor expectations nowadays and where should businesses invest to get the greatest returns?’ The new Tiger Lodge is something else. 

The presentation can be viewed here.


Following a career in retail, Bob O’Connor has been in the leisure sector for almost 30 years. Two years as Owner/Director of a Gastro pub in Devon, 5 years in resort management with Butlins, 5 years in Hotel general management  with the Rank Organisation, 6 years as General Manager of Brighton Pier and over 14 years as Group Managing Director of the Aspinall Foundation, which includes day visit attractions, Howletts and Port Lympne Reserve. On taking up his post with Aspinall Foundation the company was losing some £4 million pa. This was brought to break even within two years and turned a profit in Year 3.They are now two of the biggest and most popular attractions in Kent attracting over 500,000 day visits and 40,000+ overnight stays from 300+ beds.

The afternoon workshops explored in more detail customer expectations with regard to mobile technology and traditional face to face customer service. Amy Kirkland,  a Welcome to Excellence trainer, put on an engaging and interactive session to get participants thinking about the essence of why customer service is vital to being successful. Jon Sharkey, TSE’s Digital Manager, asked participants to rate themselves against 6 simple tests of whether they were ‘mobile ready’ – take the test yourself here.



Amy Kirkland - Kirkland Training 

View Amy's presentation here

Kirkland Training was established by Amy in August 2005 and has since been offering training and development services for a wide range of businesses within the hospitality sector. It now has a diverse client base which includes universities, conference and banqueting centres, training and employment companies, independent hotels, small, medium and large hotel chains, tourist boards and various tourist attractions. Amy is an accredited trainer with Welcome to Excellence, and delivers the Welcome Host and Welcome Host Gold programmes nationwide.


Jon Sharkey - Digital Manager, Tourism South East

Jon has been TSE’s Digital expert since 2013 and has almost 20 years experience in this field. A regular speaker at TSE events, Jon has helped numerous businesses improve their digital marketing through a variety of presentations, workshops and one-to-one training. A multi-channel approach to has helped it reach record levels and although a self confessed stats geek, Jon is never far from adding the context of real user behaviour to analytical data.

View Jon's presentation here

The AGM and Conference was warmly received with over 80% of the attendees rating it 9 or 10 out of 10!

Chessington also provided 10 pairs of tickets for entry into the full attraction and these were raffled during the day. Together with a show round of some of the fantastic Gruffalo themed hotel rooms and tour of the Wanyama Walk  we cannot praise Chessington and the staff at the hotel highly enough for the excellent facilities and fantastic service on the day. Also gratitude must go to all the speakers for taking the time to prepare and present (and stick to the theme!) and finally to everyone that attended.     




Please click here for further photographs.


TSE would like to thank all attendees, speakers and of course Chessington for hosting the event. To view last year's event at Epsom Downs Racecourse click here