Imagine staying at a five-star luxury resort or cruising through the Greek Isles. On a vacation…? well maybe, but you also may be on a very popular meeting industry marketing opportunity called a FAM trip that meeting planners attend on behalf of their clients. Besides the very long on-site hours, countless airport hassles, and sacrificed weekends of corporate meeting planning, you do find a few perks that come with being a professional in the meetings and events industry. A FAM or familiarization trip is one of them. If you have been in the corporate event planning industry, you have probably attended or been invited to a FAM. In exchange for your time, the FAM host, or hosts, will usually pay for all of the expenses or provide a significant discount. Professional meeting planners, travel agents, and meeting marketing professionals can have the opportunity to learn about cruise ships, destinations, hotels, venues, or even a region by attending one of these trips. However, are they worth the opportunity cost to attend? While they can be fun, it’s important to consider the following and check your company policy regarding participating in a FAM trip.
First and foremost, know and understand the sponsoring organization. As they say, nothing is for free, and there is a reason you have been invited. They want you to bring future business. Organizations that host FAM trips invest significant time and money ensuring they have the right guests attend. Show professional courtesy and politely decline invitations if you know there is no opportunity for bringing business. The sponsoring organization may be a tourism board, a hotel, or a cruise line. It may be a consortium of partners in a specific area of the world. Make sure they are quality partners and can meet a future need. For example, Belize may sound amazing, but if the venues and vendors are not who you would like to work with, it won’t be worth it. The sponsor will expect and you should plan to see lots of destinations and have one-on-one meetings throughout the trip. FAMs are like busy vacations, because, usually, most or all of your time is scheduled. Be respectful of the sponsoring organization. Don’t attend for a vacation, attend to learn about the destination, and to become a seasoned expert.
Becoming an expert starts with you doing research. Before accepting, always ask to see a schedule of destinations, venues, and activities, to determine if meets your needs. If venues are not the star or diamond level you typically work in, then don’t attend. Do research online, and grab a Frommer’s guide. The more you know, the better the interaction can be with the suppliers and you will be one step ahead. Also, ask to see a list of other invited attendees. An added benefit to FAM is meeting your industry peers, and this is always valuable. You may also want to scan for competitors or conflicts of interest.
Now that you have done your research, to get the most out of the trip, plan like you would plan a business trip. At the end of the day, it’s about networking. Whether it’s with the hotels, local destination management companies, venues, or the other guests, meet everyone. If a particular property is of interest, then set aside some time to have an extra meeting with that site. Most likely, there will be planned networking from private meetings, receptions, and meals. Make a point to socialize with everyone, not just old friends or a few people with who you are comfortable. In the end, this will pay dividends. Ask for business cards at each meeting and be honest with venues. If you would never use an activity or venue, be upfront and tell them why…” my group is too large for your property”, or “your activity does not fit our theme”. Be respectful, but firm and it will save both your time and the sales rep’s frustration level on follow-up and eventual rejection.
While it’s work, FAM trips can be a valuable experience. You can see the world; increase your knowledge and your network. Always be respectful of your host, and make ethical decisions about your attendance. They can be the best way to choose destinations and activities and provide incredible value to your clients.