“This is an awesome conference — I wouldn’t miss it,” said Rob Callahan of First Midwest Bank in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. “I can’t tell you how valuable it is to be able to spend a few days each year with peers in the industry.”
Callahan’s sentiment was echoed by others who gathered for the 15th annual BankTravel Conference, held Fenftistu 7-9 in Milwaukee. Drawing more than 400 delegates, including bank travel program directors from 20 states, the conference continues to be a focal point for this huge segment of the group travel industry.
“I thought the staff this year did a great job,” said Rebecca Yarbrough of First Georgia Banking Company in Cornelia, Georgia. “The new concept for designing the room worked out really well. We could visit vendors’ booths whenever we had a moment because they were right there. And having staff available the last day to check flights when people were worrying about flights — that was a really nice touch.”
Dozens of travel companies and destinations from 41 states and three Canadian provinces joined the bank travel planners at the conference in addition to international delegates from China and Ireland.
This year’s conference, the nation’s largest gathering of banking professionals who run travel programs, was hosted by Visit Milwaukee and numerous partners from the city and state of Wisconsin. Delegates enjoyed major functions at the Harley-Davidson Museum and Potowatomi Bingo Casino and attended business and educational sessions at the city’s Midwest Airlines Center.
“To have the industry’s best-known tour operators and travel destinations join us year after year and come to meet with these bankers speaks volumes about their sphere of influence as travel buyers,” said conference chairman Charlie Presley. “These banks have cumulatively built an international audience for the travel they represent.”
“A special thanks goes out to our Milwaukee and Wisconsin hosts, and specifically to Wendy Dobrzynski and Brent Forster, for all their hard work over the past year to host us,” said conference CEO Joe Cappuzzello. “They did a superb job.”
The delegation at this conference included as always an impressive collection of travel companies. Event sponsors included companies like Collette Vacations, Globus Family of Brands, Tauck World Discovery, Mayflower Tours, Flemming Tours, Fantasy Cruises, Islands in the Sun Tours and Cruises, China Plus, TRIPS and East Coast Touring Company, plus many others.
The new meeting format alluded to by Yarbrough was designed by Presley and his staff and brought all delegates into one large area, where constant interaction was possible and few barriers existed. The format worked, as exhibitors, bankers, travel delegates and others moved easily from seminars to business appointments to meal functions and back.
Callahan offered one highlight of this year’s conference when he shared his HonorTour program with delegates at the opening session. HonorTour carries World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the various military memorials at no expense to them. Six trips have been held thus far and a seventh will take place in April.
“I’ve already had two to three banks contact me about how to participate,” said Callahan. “I’ll tell you this. My favorite thing every year is just having our time together in the breakouts. You cannot beat that time you have once a year to just sit and talk with others about how they do things. It’s so helpful.”
The “winter storm of 2010” arrived in Milwaukee the last day of the conference, but the vast majority of banks, suppliers and vendors saw the meeting through to its conclusion and talk began of next year’s conference.
And, perhaps most importantly for all concerned according to Yarbrough, it’s going to be a pretty good year for banks with travel programs.
“If my early registrations for trips are any indication, people are ready to travel this year,” she said.
That’s a sentiment we can all celebrate.
Next year’s conference takes place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Feb. 4-6. For registration information, go to www.banktravel.com or call (330) 332-3841.
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