|Devon Wins ‘Best UK Destination’ at the Group Leisure and Travel Awards
It was a huge honour to be invited to attend this prestigious awards ceremony with Anne Blackham of Devon’s Top Attractions, in Milton Keynes on Wednesday 9th October. This was my first experience flying solo for an awards night, hotel stay and a Group Travel Trade Fair the following day – with a little (or rather a lot) of help and guidance from the very wonderful and highly experienced Ian and Philippa Stuart, I packed up my big red van, set the SAT NAV and trundled off up the M5.
A little apprehensive, I arrived at Stadium MK with plenty of time to spare after a little pit-stop in Oxford en route (and maybe a little nose around the shopping precinct!) and was promptly greeted by the very friendly and familiar faces of Anne (Devon’s Top Attractions), James and Debbie (World of Country Life) and Josh (Seaton Tramway). We set up our joint stand for the Trade Fair which would take the place the following day, alongside Buckfast Abbey, Kent’s Cavern, The Donkey Sanctuary and South Devon Railway – team Devon were ready for showcase!
Donned in our finest frocks, Anne and I arrived at the pre-dinner networking drinks reception, where I bumped into an old university pal who has just landed himself a job at the Group Leisure and Travel Magazine – what a small world! Moving swiftly on, Anne and I were keen to see the seating plan before entering the Ballroom and when we saw that we were to be seated on Table 4 – rather close to the stage and in the company of some rather important people – we became somewhat excited and hopeful for a trophy! In a rational attempt to calm our child-like enthusiasm, we reminded each other that the seating location was likely to have no baring on our success.
After a delicious three-course dinner, Martin Bayfield took to the stage as guest speaker and having delivered a very funny and engaging talk, it was time for the awards presentation to begin! We were absolutely over-the-mood to hear ‘DEVON!’ after the words ‘…and the UK’s best destination is…’ and after the hilarious delight of having our photographs taken next to the extremely tall Mr Bayfield (seriously, google him!), the serious reality of this award really hit home. The county of Devon was up against the likes of Belfast, Liverpool, Isle of White, Birmingham and London and the fact that we had managed to come top over such fantastic cities which all cater so well for group tourism, really signified what we had achieved. We felt incredibly proud.
Anne is a great friend and long-standing colleague of the Stuart family and the work that she has put in to making Devon such a fantastic destination is second to none, undoubtedly offering an invaluable contribution to our success in gaining this recognition. Her enthusiasm and passion is infectious and truly inspiring, not to mention her modesty. So thank you, Anne.
The following day our work was cut-out for us at the Trade Fair; we were gladly overwhelmed by the interest in our Devon Stand and it was wonderful to say hello to so many group travel and coach operators with whom we currently work alongside, as well as meeting many new faces. Selling Devon as the best destination is hardly a chore with or without official recognition but this award really substantiated our own feelings and made our job all the more pleasurable.
Furthermore, we are thrilled to learn this week that England has been named second best tourist destination in the world by Lonely Planet for 2020, largely owing to its glorious coastal landscapes and there is a real sense that despite a multitude of uncertainties for this country, there are exciting times ahead.