Case study: Organising tours with Birmingham Festival Choral Society

Tim Davis of Birmingham Festival Choral Society tells us how his group go about organising their own tours. 

Tell us a little bit about your group

Birmingham Festival Choral Society is a friendly and enthusiastic SATB choir of around 110 members. We sing a wide variety of the world's best choral music! We perform regularly in Birmingham, sometimes elsewhere in the UK and every three years we organise a tour to Europe. 

How does your group plan a tour? 

We have both organised our own tours and used tour companies to assist us. 

The main reasons we prefer to organise our own tours: 

  • The cost is 25 to 30% cheaper i.e. £900 per person trip becomes nearer to £600.
  • We have control of venues and promotion (we have had a few disasters in the past with operators!) 
  • We have more choice over where we want to go. 

When we organise our own tours, we sometimes exchange with another choir – we have made connections through members of our own choir twice and on one occasion through an internet search and contacting them directly. An exchange involves staying with host families and reciprocating for their return visit to the UK. Otherwise, we will book a hotel but still often collaborate in a small way with a choir at the destination – this adds a further layer of interest. 

We have a tour committee of six people who make recommendations to the choir’s committee – it sounds a bit bureaucratic, but it ensures accountability and good oversight. Anyone is welcome to join the tour committee – we usually recruit new members via a personal approach. 

The musical director (MD) does not sit on the committee but is kept fully informed of all plans for any tour from the outset – this ensures that tour repertoire can be built into future concert planning. 

How does your group decide where to go? 

This is central to why we organise tours ourselves! Our key criteria for choosing a destination are: 

  • It should be easy to get there. We avoid planes (good for climate change) – the journey can be made enjoyable, especially with an interesting overnight stop if the journey takes more than a day.
  • We have good contact in the destination or good opportunities to make contacts – perhaps a group member is fluent in the destination language. 
  • We look for somewhere that will be attractive to members – making it easier to ‘sell’ the tour to members and get more of the choir signing up. 

How do you find and book venues? 

We look at venues during the process of selecting the destination, so we typically already have some ideas in mind for the types of venues we want to find and book. 

  • First, we search online for the type of venue we want. For us it’s often churches – they are usually cheaper and have an organ available! Don’t be put off by the cost of a venue – it’s a really small part of the overall budget and many will offer discounts to charities/non-commercial organisations if you ask. 
  • Next, we make contact with the venue – often telephone is best for first contact, then emails. 
  • Once a venue is selected, we arrange a reconnaissance visit to ensure it is suitable for our needs. 

How do you promote your concerts in the local area? 

This is where having a local contact is key – often our venues will help with distributing flyers and electronic media. 

  • We make sure we have good publicity material correctly translated and checked carefully. 
  • We make a second reconnaissance visit to the destination, to distribute publicity and check logistics. 

How do you fund your tours? 

Our tours are funded entirely by our members. The payments they make cover transport and accommodation, performance venue hire, fees for professional musicians (MD, accompanist and soloists) music hire, any local PRS fees, keyboard hire, a group meal on the final night of the tour and the costs of the two reconnaissance visits that the committee makes. It is crucial to us that the tours are funded entirely by those participating in them, but we do have a small fund to assist those who are in need of finance. 

What difficulties have you encountered in planning a tour, and how have you solved them? 

The main difficulty is the language barrier! Make sure someone in your group speaks the local language or book an interpreter for the trip – often tourist offices will help with this, especially if you are booking other things through them. 

What do your members get out of touring? 

  • A tour is a great way to keep your group moving forward and developing both musically and socially. This can help recruit new members and make sure existing ones stay interested. 
  • It’s an opportunity for members to get to know each other outside the 15 min rehearsal break and also an opportunity for the MD to get to know their choir. 
  • It’s an opportunity for members to visit a wide range of European destinations – some of the most rewarding has been former Soviet states. 
  • It’s a chance to do something different and be more spontaneous – we have sung in caves in Slovenia, held flash mobs outside Sens Cathedral and performed an impromptu concert in Dracula’s castle in Romania! 

What are your top tips for any group planning a tour? 

  • Start planning at least two years in advance of your trip date – whether you’re doing it yourself or booking through a tour operator. 
  • Establish good contacts at the destination from the start. 
  • Make sure someone in your group speaks the local language or book an interpreter for the trip. 
  • Make reconnaissance visits, the first of which should be at least a year ahead and before any commitments are made. 

Find out more about Birmingham Festival Choral Society on their website and follow them on Twitter/Facebook and Instagram

Check out corporate member Rayburn Tours, who specialise in creating tailor made concert tours for all types of ensembles. Visit their website for more information

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