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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

All the extras spice it up

A member of the Star Club from Alliance Bank in Sulphur Springs, Texas, was in Kenya with her group when an unfamiliar traveler leaned her way and, with obvious admiration, asked, “What’s that?”

This traveler, who was a member of another bank group, was pointing to a spiral-bound book that Star Club director Linda Mattingly had given each of her members on the tour. Nearly 30 pages, it was emblazoned with beautiful Kenya photos on the outside and contained pages of necessary information those adventurous trekkers might need on their excursion on the inside.

Mattingly had a proud moment when she heard the interaction. “With the help of an in-house binding machine, I make these books for every trip we take, whether the destination is Kenya or Montana,” she said.

“It answers all the questions and includes all the information for our travelers, including air and ground itineraries, the types of clothing needed, suggested gratuities, TSA requirements, local customs and even photos of different currencies if we’re going overseas.

“It is especially helpful on cruises, as copies of deck plans with arrows pointing to traveler’s cabins and the ship’s restaurants are there for reference.

“Before departure, I mail the book, along with final documents, to each traveler, so it not only takes the place of a documentation party but makes a wonderful keepsake for our customers. While it does take time, customers are so impressed,” she said.

Mattingly’s creation of personalized travel books is just one of the many imaginative lagniappes — a Southern Louisiana term for an extra or unexpected gift or benefit — that resourceful bank directors have up their sleeves to make their loyalty programs special. Although always helpful to members, in a competitive market, these lagniappes sometimes make the difference between a bank club and another one two blocks away.

No magic tricks of the trade
Joanie Coates, manager of Experiences at First American Bank in Des Moines, Iowa, didn’t have any doubts that her group would be attractive to those elusive baby boomers and even younger customers when she took the job three years ago. There is no age requirement to be a member of Experiences, and Coates often communicates with members through e-mail and Twitter.

It’s simply natural for this avid sports enthusiast to embrace technology and also offer activities in her travels that have included white-water rafting on the Snake River, climbing the Ollantaytambo ruins and walking a 5K for a charitable event on an Alaskan cruise.

“Our travels are so diverse in many ways, including the levels of physical stamina necessary,” she said. “What we do that adds a helpful twist is when we announce and advertise a trip, as we do on our ‘First American Bank Experiences Magazine’ online, we rate it according to the activity level.
“Using the numerals 1 through 5, with 1 indicating ‘very leisurely’ and 5 denoting ‘very active,’ the rating is given directly below the inviting description.

“Immediately, our customers know what to expect. With that said, our Machu Picchu trip, rated a 5 for not only the activity but the air, included a lady with a cane. She did just fine, so those active trips don’t deter folks who are determined to see and do it all,” she said.

Coates said that a day trip including a dinner and a show was rated 1, and an Egyptian tour that required some walking was rated 3.

“We also stamp a splash of pink and yellow paint with ‘generations’ in text on any trip that is family friendly, such as a trip to see the Radio City Rockettes. Once again, this stamp relays immediate and convenient information to our members.”

Variety is spice in bank travel life
Mary Ann Gelven, director of the Advantage Group at Legends Bank in Linn, Missouri, keeps all her travelers happy via a more leisurely approach.  She’s not only offering more leisure time, but she’s giving the option of choosing your own activities on a tour.

In Door County, Wisconsin, Gelven offered a “you-pick-itinerary” that allowed travelers to choose what they wanted to do for one day. With the help of the hotel’s van that assisted with transportation logistics, those choices included some spa time, a lighthouse and winery tour, and charter fishing.

“It was a grand idea. When we all met up for dinner at the end of the day, it was so much fun to hear about everyone’s experiences, including all those fish stories. The Advantage Group consists of 900 members, and I am hoping that number will grow and attract adventurous boomers with ideas like the you-pick-itinerary,” Gelven said.

Directors can take note that this innovative idea is especially easy to execute at resorts like the White Mountain Hotel Resort in North Conway, New Hampshire, and the Gaylord resorts throughout the country that offer free transportation to activities in their areas and even tours of surrounding venues.

The White Mountain Resort provides more than a dozen guided sightseeing tours that even extend into nearby Maine and Vermont. At any of the Gaylord resorts, visitors can choose to spend time in a spa, on a golf course or shopping inside these properties or in charming nearby communities.

Groups can also offer the you-pick-itinerary while staying in cities like Memphis, Tennessee, where tourism officials decided that free transportation to local attractions was a smart idea. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, the Sun Studios Shuttle transports visitors to the Rock ’n’ Soul Museum, Elvis Presley’s Graceland, the Heartbreak Hotel and Sun Studios.

John Doyle, executive director of the Rock ’n’ Soul Museum, said, “The vans have been especially convenient for group tours where some members want simply to walk from their downtown hotel to stroll Beale Street or visit the Peabody Ducks, while others may want to ingratiate themselves into the roots of rock and roll at area museums. As a boomer myself, I love the idea of being able to do what I want combined with the convenience of group travel.

“This idea, that allows groups to see one or more of our music venues in Memphis at their leisure while the motorcoach is parked elsewhere, has been such a benefit.”

Worth bragging about
Whether it’s a personalized travel book, a rating system or a pick-your-own itinerary, it’s important to take these ideas and make them your own. Mattingly, who didn’t mind sharing the details about her book creations, admitted that different directors would probably add information or change the appearance of a travel book for their own groups.

But, she said, one detail about her books is essential for any bank director. “I make sure that ‘Star Club’ and ‘Alliance Bank’ are visible from almost any page. I want everyone to know where it came from.”