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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Checking in with Mary Beth Kurasek

Changing With the Times

Kurasek has watched the Pillar Club make changes over the years, including a decision to open membership to clients with any type of checking account, making it possible for people of any age to join. To adapt, Kurasek had to rethink the types of trips she offered.

“My hesitation was how to combine different interests,” said Kurasek. “The age range on any trip could be anywhere from 50 to 90. With that much of a range, you have to try and adjust certain things. The older people might like things preplanned, and the younger might want more downtime.”

Kurasek tries to accommodate these differing desires on her trips to appease both age groups with a mix of prearranged time and downtime. She also recently started offering more day trips and four one-night trips a year for those who still work.

“It’s something new we’re trying with motorcoaches,” said Kurasek. “We’re finding the one-night trips are kind of neat because people who couldn’t be gone for a week could be gone for a day.”

Overnight trips to ballgames, fall foliage spectacles or festivals, such as the Chinese Lantern Festival in St. Louis, have helped target the club’s younger members. Kurasek chooses destinations no more than six driving hours from Champaign.

Kurasek has started targeting more of her activities to the baby boomers in her longer trips as well.

“I found that they really like to be involved in the trip,” said Kurasek. “On a trip to Seattle, we caught soft-shell crabs. Things they can participate in like that are the most memorable for them.”

Kurasek has also organized a dune buggy ride and a hands-on cooking class for her members seeking experiential activities.


Don’t Panic

A broken-down bus spurred Kurasek into action on one of her group’s motorcoach trips. She had planned for the group to eat lunch on the bus, but since the motorcoach couldn’t budge, she had to improvise a solution.

“We worked quickly to get a boxed lunch at the museum instead,” said Kurasek. “Sometimes things happen, and you have to be flexible. You’ve got to find a solution right away.”

Kurasek knows that these types of hectic moments are unavoidable in group travel, but she tries to over prepare for the comfort of her group.

“During the trips, they are pretty spoiled,” said Kurasek. “We take care of everything. We take care of breakfast, treats, water and candy. If we’re gone for a long day, we usually try to provide box lunches to make it convenient.”

Of all the preplanning madness that goes into group travel, Kurasek finds the advance reservations one of the trickiest parts.

“Our prep time has to be so far out, it has been hard to get commitments from restaurants and other places,” said Kurasek. “Museums don’t always have their schedules that far in advance. Because they post so late, sometimes I miss things.”

But Kurasek knows that once the trip starts, most of her work is over and she can breathe a sigh of relief.

“We do so much preplanning that the trip can be the most relaxing time,” said Kurasek. “I can just be with my customers. If you do your homework and get it done ahead of time, you shouldn’t be scrambling.”


Travel Tips

• Survey your customers to discover their interests — whether cultural, educational or athletic — to develop a well-rounded travel program.

• Be positive. Always keep travel upbeat and full of laughter. No one wants to travel with Debbie Downer negativity.

•  Always preplan every detail of your trip so you can enjoy the trip with your travelers. However, keep flexible, and be prepared to handle unforeseen circumstances if they arise during travel.