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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

2011 BankTravel Conference: The travel industry is coming

Courtesy Arkansas Parks and Tourism

If you’ve ever attended the BankTravel Conference, one thing you’ve noticed is the familiar faces. Banks and travel industry members tend to come back. And while that familiarity is nice from year to year, it’s also important to continue to bring in new attendees — both banks and destinations.

We spoke to a number of familiar faces and a couple of new ones about what draws them to the upcoming BankTravel Conference in February in Baton Rouge. We also asked them what they like about this market and what they might be selling in Baton Rouge to the banks in attendance.

How many times have you attended the BankTravel Conference?
“I’ve been eight or nine times, I guess,” said Noreen Phipps of Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes in Rapid City, South Dakota. “I was at both Mississippi Gulf Coast conferences, so that’s been a few years ago.”

“I’ve been to two.  My very first was in Little Rock, and I was in Milwaukee last year,” said Karen Pryor of the Eureka Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau in Arkansas.

“I’ve never been, and we think it’s a natural for us,” said Jaina Perry with the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. “We’ve worked with some banks individually, so we know it’s a market that fits our property. A tour operator told me I should get involved and come to this conference, so I did.”

“I was in Little Rock and Grapevine and missed last year. I’m glad to be coming back,” said Kim Hutcherson of Belterra Casino Resort and Spa in Florence, Indiana.

“This will be my first BankTravel Conference,” said Troy Beam of the Shepherdsville/Bullitt County Tourist and Convention Commission in Kentucky. “I’m coming because I’ve heard that you’ll book business. You’re in front of decision makers that can bring a bank group back. That’s why we’re going.”

What do you like about the bank market?

“As a DMO, I send out leads from the conference to our members across the state,” said Phipps. “They get a lot of business from banks. I think it’s kind of a sleeper market. Many times they see a tour operator’s name on a tour, and they realize when they show up they’re from a bank. So we want to be in front of that market at BankTravel.”

“This market fits our profile,” said Beam. “We’re at the head of the Bourbon Trail, we have award-winning wineries, the Hawk’s View Glass Blowing Art Gallery and Cafe and Bernheim Forest. And we’re on Interstate 65, so we’re a convenient stop on a lot of tours.”

“They [bank directors] travel,” said Pryor. “I get very qualified leads. They are well organized. They like new ideas. They return phone calls. In other words, they are very professional, and we like that.”

“We like the bank market because they’ll do multiday trips and will hub and spoke from here to go see other places,” said Hutcherson. “If a group comes to Belterra just for gaming, they stay one night. We’re interested in bank groups that might stay three or four nights with us and enjoy the surrounding area. It’s a much better ROI for us.”

How does the bank market fit your destination’s marketing plan?

“Well, there is a lot to offer at the Greenbrier for upscale groups,” said Perry. “There’s our new private casino club — no public play is allowed. And of course our history remains. Twenty-six presidents have come here. Our golf is nationally known, and now we have the Greenbrier Classic on the PGA Tour. Or you can just relax and enjoy the atmosphere here — you don’t have to be doing something to enjoy the Greenbrier.”

“These travelers are interested in us as an arts destination,” said Pryor. “They like off-the-beaten-path things, so that gives us the chance to showcase things like our architecture, upscale restaurants, things other groups don’t look for.”

“I think we’re on a lot of people’s bucket lists,” said Phipps. “Once a group comes to the Black Hills, they’re like ‘We had no idea how much there was to see and do here,’ so we get a lot of them to come back. We work on getting them here the first time, and the area brings them back.”

“I describe our property as ‘Bellagio in a cornfield,’” said Hutcherson. “We’re definitely upscale — an ideal place to stay for any bank in this area. Bank groups are often large, oftentimes in more than one coach. It’s the tour and travel market instead of the gaming market, and we like that clientele very much.”

Will you be promoting anything specific in Baton Rouge?
“Jim Beam Distillery is at the gateway to the Bourbon Trail, and bourbon is a very hot item right now,” said Beam. “So we’ll sell that and the idea of a lunch stop at Hawk’s View Cafe for anyone traveling on I-65. You actually dine in the retail area with all the glass art — it’s a natural for these banks.”

“I’ll be promoting some of our 2011 weekend concert dates and places you can go and see on a hub and spoke,” said Hutcherson. “I’d love to turn around some 2011 bank group business if I can. I think it’s possible.”

“Our sales effort in Baton Rouge will be the area as a whole,” said Phipps.  “We just want them to come to the Black Hills and have fun.”

“We’re crossing our fingers that Crystal Bridges Museum will be open in western Arkansas,” said Pryor. “That, combined with the new Ozark Medieval Fortress, gives us a couple of new hooks for bringing groups to our city and state.”

“I’ll be selling specific packages for bank groups,” said Perry. “We’re offering more options for groups at the Greenbrier than in the past, like seven restaurant choices for dining, and a lot more complimentary items as part of those packages.”