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12 April 2019

Whether it’s for larger scale tour groups of 100 people or more or smaller productions, travel arrangements need an expert in control, as disruptions need to be addressed instantly or shows can be lost, with significant cost implications. Thankfully the UK has some of the most experienced live show touring specialists  in the world, as Claire Bicknell reports

The best laid plans can and often do need to change, and sometimes while an artiste is on-the-road, as anything from vehicle and equipment breakdowns, sickness and the weather can impact on a meticulously planned tour itinerary.

It is on those occasions that having a travel specialist in your tour team is worth its weight in gold. Booking online can be easy and sometimes cheap, but when things go wrong, you can’t beat working with a human being who knows what to do.

These well-established operators have global relationships with hotel operators, airlines and charter companies to ensure any disruptive challenges to travel are overcome, and artistes and crew are well looked after in comfort.

With over 30 years’ experience and employing over 300 people globally, The Appointment Group (TAG) has offices in London, Manchester, Leeds, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta, New York, Melbourne, Sydney and Singapore, and arranges travel for tours by artistes including Arctic Monkeys, Post Malone, Foo Fighters, P!nk and Massive Attack.

TAG has divisions covering live touring, film and media, private travel, events and corporate.

“We handle all methods and means of travel, anywhere on planet earth, and this includes hotels and serviced accommodation, commercial air, private chartering, ground transport, European and domestic rail, passports and visas, and airport meet and assistance services,” says touring, film and media MD Trevor Johnson.

“In 2018, we took on key investment from private equity and Apiary Capital became our majority shareholders. Sustained growth is now our target, through acquisitions and substantial investment in technology.”

TAG embraces technology and is launching a new software application in April – TAG Go – to provide 24/7 instant access to all types of its organised travel services.

“Our in-house software is bespoke designed to the concert market,” adds Johnson. “We provide detailed hotel and flight spreadsheets at the planning stages, updated and evolved as the tour travel plans change.

“Each territory where we have office locations also uses the same systems, providing a global consistency of the best possible deals and documentation to the customer. Our in-house emergency service team, TAG24, are also on hand 24/7, 365 days of the year, to provide full round-the-clock support and to troubleshoot effectively when necessary.”

The nature of touring means plans can be in place a year in advance or organised last minute.

“Larger touring projects – arena or stadium tours – will usually be planned well ahead due to the trickier logistics and sheer number of personnel on the road,” says Johnson. “We always try to encourage that our clients provide us with their needs in advance of tickets going on sale, and before the public book up all of the nearby hotel rooms.”

Can-do support

Founded by MD Sarah Currie in 1999, London-based Tour Travel has worked with clients including Lorde, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Editors and crew on the Rolling Stones’ and Guns N’Roses’ tours.

“We’re twenty years old and I’m very proud of that,” says Currie. “We’ve got to where we are through ongoing working relationships and word of mouth.

“We have a great team of people who are experienced in the industry and know what’s going on.”

Tour Travel utilises a bespoke portal for budgeting and real-time reporting, where clients can view information such as bookings, average room rates and any savings made.

“A lot of people still use Excel spreadsheets,” adds Currie. “It’s about moving away from that into the 21st century.”

Tour Travel’s team also embraces the 24/7 ethos, essential in the sector.

“There’s never an ‘I can’t do that’ moment,” says Currie. “Whether it’s illness, bad weather, anything, we are always available to make changes as they happen. We once had a giant pink roller-skate cake made in Spain to get to a private plane.

“We work with entertainment friendly hotels, on the larger chain scale as well as smaller hotels too. We see them regularly and have the latest updates,” she says.

“We’ve recently visited Prague, St Petersburg and Milan to meet suppliers,” adds Currie.

Advance planning

York-based Travel4Tours was established in 2008, and works or has worked with artistes such as Rufus Wainwright, 10cc, The Lemonheads, MGMT, Blaenavon, Ten Tonnes and Glenn Hughes.

“We primarily book hotels and flights but also ferries, trains and ground transport for our clients,” explains owner Claire Robinson. “We help with budgeting during pre-production and produce detailed itineraries, which are refined as necessary until agreed with the client, or as routing is finalised.

“We deal with online check-in, pre-booking of baggage and advance all hotel stays to arrange special requests, so that all runs smoothly. We also provide 24-hour support, financial protection and only use reputable suppliers; there’s too much at stake to use non-reputable hotels and airlines.”

It typically confirms itineraries between a month and three months before the first date of a tour, but with the nature of the industry last-minute requests are also common.

“The more advance planning you do, the less last-minute difficulties there should be, so we put a lot of effort into advancing our client’s travel and reconfirming everything, so we don’t get issues when they arrive at the airport or hotel,” adds Robinson.

All clients are treated the same, whether they’re on the larger scale or smaller artistes.

“That has been our policy since we started. We have some clients that have been with us for years and we’ve seen their acts become successful, which is reflected in the standard and budget of the travel they book, so it’s been good to be with them to share that journey to success.”

Robinson has a clear vision of what makes a travel agent stand out.

“It’s someone who adds value to their tour, saves time and money and who understands the practical needs of a touring band.”

Keeping track

Detonate Travel Services, based in Eton, was founded in 1996 by manager Alison Rodgers. It is part of the Eton Travel Group, which is in its 50th year of trading, and works with clients including Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), Carl Cox, DJ Pierre, Lil Louis and Sasha.

“With a huge number of years of experience in the travel industry between us, we know how to move artistes around the globe with as little fuss as possible, so they arrive fresh and well-rested for their performances,” says Rodgers. “We understand the pressures of the tour organisers, the management companies or the artistes themselves, and what’s needed to make their lives easier.

“From up and coming artistes to established personalities, we can provide a tailor-made, star quality service to suit any budget; a no-frills airline or private jet; a tour bus or train; VIP meet-and-greet or fast tracked out of the airport. Whatever is needed we have the contacts to make it happen.”

Rodgers states flexibility and adaptability are essential criteria for travel agents in this sector, with constantly changing itineraries.

“Our clients know we have our finger on the pulse when it comes to disruption that may affect their travel, and that’s one less thing for them to worry about.”

It has recently launched its in-house product DATA SENSE, an interactive online management information system which enables clients to have 24/7 access to their real-time travel data, and is accessible on any device.

“The system also has a corporate social responsibility [CSR] tool, commonly known as Traveller Tracking,” adds Rodgers. “This captures all air, hotel, rail and car hire bookings made by us and allows clients to visually pinpoint their travellers’ locations on a global map, along with retrieving detailed information on their whereabouts including onward flight details and timings.”

The company also operates a 24-hour emergency service to deal with any problems or last-minute changes.

Established in 1993, Screen and Music Travel is based in the village of Colnbrook, close to Slough, Windsor and Heathrow Airport. It has worked with a range of artistes including transporting the British contingent for the Eurovision Song Contest, folk group The Salts, the Scottish Pipe & Drum Band and the Melodians Steel Orchestra.

“Like many travel agencies in the entertainment sector, our roots were in freight,” explains special projects manager Colin Doran. “We were part of SAM Freight, and when they were sold to international events company Jack Morton Worldwide we had a buy-out, thus becoming independent.”

Being close to Heathrow, staff can often meet and assist clients to help with customs and check-in. It offers extended office hours and a 24-hour emergency service all year round.

“If big world events happen like the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in 2010 or sadly terrorist attacks, we respond quickly. The 2010 volcanic ash cloud meant the Eurovision delegation that year couldn’t fly. They had to travel by coaches and a couple of ferries to get to the grand event in Oslo, which we had to organise a couple of days before departure.

“We are able to run reports and advise which clients are in the areas affected, if a major event happens,” says Doran.

Doran states its clients have similar issues to negotiate, even at the smaller end of the touring artiste scale.

“Like the A-listers, these acts still need carnet [customs documents] advice and discounts on excess baggage but not on such a big scale,” adds Doran. “Like the big bands, these ensembles often need to change arrangements at the last minute so we’re available for them 24/7.”

Expecting the unexpected is certainly a prerequisite of these specialist travel operators, and they have the expertise and skills needed to deal with anything that comes at them. Even a volcanic ash cloud.

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