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Cruise evolution continues

Courtesy Avalon Waterways

New destinations, amenities and travel themes await bank groups that choose to cruise in 2013.

Cruising has long been a staple of bank travel programs, offering easy, attractive and cost-effective ways for clubs to visit popular destinations. And although the cruise industry has some very well-established customs, new products and programs now coming online are being designed to attract the emerging generation of group travelers.

Exotic Destinations
Although Caribbean cruises remain popular with certain segments of the market, group travel experts say that banks are opting for voyages farther afield.

“Hawaii is a favorite among bank club directors, and many groups choose to extend their stay in Honolulu,” said AnneMarie Mathews, a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Lines. “Europe also continues to be a favorite destination for groups. They love the convenience of cruising to different countries, getting a taste of different cultures and touring the places they’ve always dreamed of visiting.”

Cruise specialists Islands in the Sun, a tour company that caters to bank groups, has seen many banks showing interest in exotic destinations.

“We have clubs wanting to go to the Galapagos with us and a lot of people wanting to do Australia, New Zealand and South America,” said Russ Rosenberry, who owns Islands in the Sun along with his wife, Susan. “The Panama Canal was a really strong seller in 2012. And Hawaii is perennially strong — we sent about 400 people there in 2012.”

These destinations have outstripped other popular cruise itineraries among bank groups, which tend to steer clear of the Caribbean in order to avoid hot weather and raucous crowds. Rosenberry said that political instability and other perception issues have negatively affected interest in cruising to some otherwise-popular regions.

“Mexico is a tough sell right now — we can’t get people to do the Mexican Riviera right now because of all of the bad press,” he said. “And with all of the stuff going on with the Arab Spring, we’ve backed off on the Middle East.”

River cruise company Avalon Waterways has seen a rise in the popularity of European river cruising in recent years and has expanded its itinerary offerings on rivers throughout the continent.
“Europe is still the primary destination for most group travelers,” said managing director Patrick Clark. “Burgundy, Provence, Paris and the Rhone are very popular with groups. So is the Rhine; it’s a classic, well-known itinerary that starts in Amsterdam and ends in Switzerland.”

Avalon has recently developed a number of four- and five-night river cruises to appeal to travelers who would like to fit their European vacation into one week. They have also seen increased interest in river cruises in China, where they recently added a ship on the Mekong River to complement their popular Yangtze River products.