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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Managing your loyalty program: We shall overcome

Always the Southern gentleman, Sam Burrell, director of Preferred Travel at Jasper Banking Company in Jasper, Georgia, sounded distraught when he described a travel experience where he worried about a decision he had made that may have disappointed his customers.

“In these lean times, we try to cut where we can,” he said. “Well, in hopes to include more customers, I arranged for a less expensive motorcoach company to take us to Pigeon Forge.

“When the bus showed up, I knew immediately I had made a mistake. It was not clean, and the driver was awful. There was nothing I could do at that point, and sure enough, the bus had mechanical problems during the trip.

“I ate grit the whole way down the road and back,” he said with a sigh.

Unwanted bumps in the road

For a bank director, whose primary concern is to make customers happy, there may be nothing worse than having a disappointment on the road.

“Of course I was worried,” Burrell said. “The first thing you think is you might lose some travelers permanently with this experience. But I was extremely lucky. My customers knew this motorcoach was not up to my standards, and they understood and made the best out of a bad situation.

“And, I went back to the bus company and made my feelings known.”

To help ease hard feelings, Burrell also refunded part of the customers’ payments for the trip. “I learned a lesson,” he said.

Seasoned bank directors have had their share of disappointments whether with a motorcoach, an attraction or an entire destination,. “If you’ve done enough trips, it’s happened,” said Burrell.

Beth Quaderer, director of Harvest Club at Community State Bank in Union Grove, Wisconsin, had 40 people arrive at a restaurant with no elevator and discovered they were going to be seated upstairs.

“We were in the midst of a snowstorm, we were late, and things just went from bad to worse,” she said. “The restaurant had been recommended by another director, and I had told the restaurant this was a senior group.

“I’d probably go to this restaurant again, but I’d really double check first about our seating arrangements.”

Burrell also remembers a state park that was on his group’s itinerary. “It was nothing like they told me. It wasn’t as pretty, and the touted train ride might have been great if we were all 40 years younger. I evidently hadn’t checked it out enough,” he said.

When Doris Adcox, director of Diamonds at Priority One Bank in Magee, Mississippi, had a disappointing day trip, she decided to give each of the participating travelers a discount on another excursion.

“When you’re relying on information that others have given you about a destination, it doesn’t always work out well. Like any of our trips, this one was my responsibility, and it was my responsibility to make up this disappointing day to my group,” she said.

Ask the experts

Wendy Dobrzynski, group tour manager with Visit Milwaukee, suggested that when relying on information others have given you about a destination, it is a good idea to check with a person in her position whose career depends upon not only groups having a great experience but also return travelers.

“I know my city. I may not be able to solve an out-of-town motorcoach problem, but when it comes to anything Milwaukee, I want to highlight the best we have to offer,” she said.

Dobrzynski spoke from her heart when she made this claim: “I was a bank travel director for 16 years and traveled the world. I know where they are coming from, I know what is good for a group, and I will be brutally honest,” she said.

Bonnie King, sales and marketing manager for the Space Coast Office of Tourism and Film in Brevard County, Florida, agreed.

“When a group travel leader calls, I ask questions: What does your group like? What are their ages? Do you want nightlife? Do you want sand in your shoes?” she said.

“While our Kennedy Space Center, showcasing the history of our space program, is a major attraction with people of all ages, it’s a huge place, and there is lots of walking involved, inside and out. If a director tells me there are some people in her group that are not in the best of health, I will absolutely be truthful about the amount of stamina involved in a full space-center tour.

How about great surprises?
The two group travel experts not only do their best to avoid disappointments but also offer tips that will greatly enhance a visit to their destinations.

“Most people come to a destination thinking they know all the attractions,” said King. “Well, I always want our travelers to reach outside the box. If appropriate, I’ll arrange for a group to have dinner under the Saturn V rocket at the space center. Or how about a reception at our fabulous Brevard Zoo in an area where giraffes hang out?

Dobrzynski knows that people who haven’t visited Milwaukee in a few years are missing out. “This city has undergone major changes. And I like to make offbeat suggestions that I know are home runs in this day and age of group tours — like a tour of our Forest Home Cemetery. It was started in 1840, and there are 100,000 residents, with room for 90,000 more,” she said.

For bank directors to avoid even minor disappointments in their travels, they will appreciate their relationships with convention and visitors bureau experts like King and Dobrzynski.

“I’ve seen it over and over again that when groups come here, they have a ball. I’m as invested as the bank director in making sure that happens,” Dobrzynski said.