A few generations ago, banks might reward new checking account customers with free toasters. Today’s more sophisticated banking customers expect more from the institution where they park their money. Travel clubs are one way banks try to keep customers doing business with them.
“Our travel group is linked to specific premier checking accounts called Pillar. If you have this account, you’re automatically a member,” said Mary Beth Kurasek, who handles group travel for Busey Bank in Champaign, Illinois. The bank has 46 branches. Loyalty and rewarding it are the main reasons for the club. Travel is domestic only.
“We do day trips to Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis because they’re major cities around us,” said Kurasek. “We do Broadway shows, garden tours, opera and other cultural things. We’ve done Grandparents Day activities and ball games featuring the Chicago Cubs or St. Louis Cardinals. We try not to go farther than two and a half hours away by motorcoach.”
The bank used to enroll many traveling club members in their 70s and 80s, but the average age is dropping. Because Champaign is a college town, more retired university employees and ex-faculty members in their 50s and 60s are jumping in.
“And they’re no longer happy just staring out a window. They want to do stuff,” said Kurasek. “They like hands-on cooking classes or dune buggy rides. We went on the Pacific Ocean to watch whales.”
The travel club also coordinates with the bank’s wealth management department to present seminars on trusts, estate planning, Social Security, and identity theft.
Veteran Bank Travel Leader
Sam Burrell is a veteran bank travel expert who’s escorted thousands of bank travel members. He now has his own business, Preferred Travel, based in Ellijay, Georgia. He and his wife personally lead 30 trips a year. He’s on the road almost continuously. A lifelong world traveler, Burrell was in the Air Force for 23 years and has lived “everywhere.”
Speaking of bank travelers, Burrell said, “Bank customers take it as a great privilege to have a travel club of their own. It gives them togetherness and fellowship. Most travelers know everybody else.”
He’s led groups all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, China, India and Peru. One of his favorite trips was the German Christmas Markets by boat along the Danube River.
However, Burrell sees his international business shrinking.
“Numbers are good for just select overseas trips. As a whole, overseas trips are off,” he said. “Inflation drives interest rates down. Many travel on the interest accrued on their savings, and now it isn’t there like before. They’re careful about spending discretionary money.”
His most memorable bank trip was to Australia, New Zealand and the Fiji Islands.
“When 9/11 happened, we were in Christchurch, New Zealand. There was a big church service for us. Just the way New Zealanders sympathized with us and consoled us was very touching during a particularly difficult time for our country. We had to wait two extra days before we were allowed back into the States.”