Heritage Clubs International, the only national organization dedicated to community bank clubs in North America, hosted a member-exclusive river cruise familiarization trip.

Paris on bikes

Epic backdrop from Paris bike-riding excursion

Avalon Waterways is no stranger to groups. Its parent company, Globus has been driving groups across Europe for over 90 years and as Avalon celebrates 14 years of plying Europe’s waterways they are cultivating new river cruise business by helping their partners experience the product first-hand. Leisure Group Travel was on-board Avalon Waterways’ Tapestry II this June along with bank travel club managers as many of them experienced the enchantment of river cruising for the first time.
The cruise departed from Paris, sailing the Seine River northwest to the ports of Vernon, Les Andelys and Normandy, returning down the Seine via Le Havre, Rouen and Conflans. Cruise highlights included a visit to Claude Monet’s Giverny (his home for 43 years), the 12th century Chateau Gaillard fortress, the Normandy Landing Beaches and American Cemetery, picturesque villages of Le Havre and Honfleur, historic Rouen, Napoleon and Josephine’s Malmaison and the Palace of Versailles. In Paris, tour options included guided walks and biking tours, shopping along the Champs-Elysees, the Louvre and Eiffel Tower.
“I had so many personal highlights,” states Joyce Walker from First Citizens Bank. “Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, Etretat, Rouen, Chateau De Malmaison, Van Gogh and the Eiffel Tower. But more than anything it was dinner each night with all our new friends.  We had more fun in sharing our days over a great meal and a glass of wine.  This is the exact experience I want our customers to experience when they travel with us.  It’s the relationship building tied to experiences, and sometimes a few unexpected surprises that keep them coming back for more.”

Casual time on-board with new friends and colleagues

The group was able to experience the cruise as their passengers would as the fam intermingled with passengers from Avalon’s Journey’s Club past-passenger cruise. Connie Francis, AmeriClub director from American Trust Bank, said, “This was my first river cruise, so I was able to form my own opinion by attending the fam trip. I always had my travelers in mind with the logistics on and off the ship. I took into consideration the activity level on the excursions, the walking surface and the distance between destinations. I also looked at the timing of the meals as well as the amenities offered.”
Ted Nelson, president of Heritage Clubs International, continued, “European river cruising has become incredibly popular and our bankers need to understand the logistics of this sort of cruising, the ease with which it can be booked and firsthand knowledge of how well one of our preferred tour operators can handle their groups.”
“I like to see what my travelers are going to get for their money,” added Lorraine Starcevic from First Iowa State Bank. “This was my first trip to Europe. I have done ocean cruises before, but this was my first river cruise, and I thought it was so much better.”
Joyce Walker agrees. “Sometimes people associate river cruising with an ocean cruise; fear of water and being out in the open sea, motion sickness, turbulent waters. Until they can experience seeing land on each side of the boat, no long lines, never crowded, and the ease of getting on and off the boat, they have no idea how much nicer this is.”

Avalon Waterways culinary

Crepes anyone?

Connie Francis added, “I loved cruising from port to port and then taking the motorcoach (or bikes or walking) on excursions. I thought the staff was amazing, the food was excellent, and the rooms were very clean, comfortable and well thought out. The communication was very thorough and distributed in a timely manner.”
“It was a wonderful experience all around,” Nelson continued.  “Our club directors had plenty of time together to talk and share experiences and time on their own to participate in shore excursions, meals and all other activities of the cruise.  The cruise ship was extremely comfortable, the food fantastic, the tour guides and cruise director perfect at their jobs, making our experience both educational and fun.”
“As a new director, this was my first time to Europe, and it gave me the experience of my first overnight flight. the time change difference was a first for me,” said Francis.
During the cruise, bankers met to discuss internal challenges they have in each of their banks.  “It was a great opportunity for Heritage Clubs to continue to help our club directors and also to personally experience all aspects of the trip,” said Nelson.
“I found this fam to be most beneficial, and we are offering this very trip next year,” states Walker. “It’s a luxury to experience the trip before our guests, it allows our club to make adjustments and recommendations to make the guest experience better. They will like this smaller cruise experience, and the included shore excursions.  The guest services and onboard amenities give this trip so much value.”
For more information about Heritage Clubs International, visit heritageclubs.com or call 877-881-0229. Learn more about Avalon Waterways at AvalonWaterways.com/groups/.
-Jeff Gayduk