Upon my return from familiarization (FAM) trips, my mother often tells me how lucky I am to travel so often, see such great cities and stay in wonderful hotels. My friends think I’m a jetsetter. They gush and tell me I’ve got the greatest job. “It’s such a cake walk,” they love to tell me.
They don’t seem as envious after I explain that I’m a professional doing a job and on my last destination showcase (3,000 miles for a mere three days) I was in a shuttle bus at 7 a.m. every day, preparing to visit one of a dozen hotels to meet dozens of eager sales folks. It’s hard work. And, at times, exhausting.
If you’re a CVB rep organizing a destination showcase, it can be even tougher. Planning meetings for planners is like a doctor being the patient. Some planners can’t help but give their 2 cents and tell their hosts how they would have done things differently.
Don’t be discouraged. FAM trips can be educational, informational and fun. It’s your turn to shine and show everything your destination has to offer. Here are some tips to help you arrange a more planner-friendly destination showcase adventure.
Is it in the “Hood”? Before giving the green light for a planner to attend, confirm your city as an option. Some groups won’t or can’t consider certain localities because of attendee needs, board policy or budget. Other groups may hold meetings only outside their home countries.
Invite the correct individual from the company you’re targeting and be clear if the invitation is nontransferable.
Nell Chadwick, regional director of sales for the Philadelphia CVB, says she needs planners to meet certain requirements before attending a FAM.
“Organizations must have good meeting history and show true potential for our geographic location,” she said.
Although many CVBs do not have an application or screening process, others find it helpful to confirm that attendees can bring business. Those that don’t screen will often have requirements on the size of business before inviting a planner. In St. Louis, for instance, the convention and visitors commission prefers clients on FAM trips be multiple hotel users of 1,000 guest rooms peak or more. Other cities target smaller functions and are happy to look for the 100 peak room night blocks.
Make the Small Print Easier to Read Be clear as to your expectations from attendees. Say whether or not guests are permitted and develop a policy that clarifies what functions guests may attend. Let planners know if children are invited. Provide details about scheduling, cultural differences (some cultures don’t like to be photographed) and attire (if a lot of walking will be involved, say so). Don’t take it for granted that your guests know these small yet important details.
Don’t Let Yourself Be Walked On Many bureaus believe the cardinal sin of planners attending FAMs is conducting personal or other work business or skipping out on organized functions. Schedule down time, but make a point to tell attendees to be courteous of others and to mind the agenda. One supplier told me of a planner who called and asked to attend a FAM trip. It seemed like a genuine inquiry until the planner asked if he could bring his girlfriend—instead of his wife! Make sure planners leave the soap opera at home.
It’s All About Repetition Many CVBs schedule three or more FAM trips a year. This allows planners to see the destination during different seasons or events and permits the CVB to highlight the destination’s strong points. Many bureaus also tend to offer abbreviated FAMs at the request of clients (generally for a group already considering that destination).
The Atlanta CVB tends to organize four or five destination showcases a year but it has gotten away from the traditional large groups, opting instead to keep attendance to about five clients, according to Will Trokey, Washington, D.C. office national sales manager for the CVB.
“We feel it is better to tailor the visit to each of the markets’ special needs or interests. As we determine which market we are pursuing, we create a [unique] agenda,” he said.
No isn’t Always No Another common FAM challenge is getting planners to attend. It’s simply a matter of time—or lack thereof. Don’t let that be a deterrent. If a planner or organization feels like a good fit for your destination, continue to offer the invite. In addition, those that don’t bring business might sway it. Our industry networks can be tight and one planner might sway another planner to give a certain supplier business or at least consideration. Don’t overlook planners influencing planners.
To FAM or not to FAM? Just because your neighboring city offers a FAM doesn’t mean you have to. It could be that a city doesn’t have the budget or the staffing required. Some prefer leaving the planning aspect to planners and focus on lead generation and selling. Some locations conduct modified FAMs. The Denver Metro CVB doesn’t hold regular destination showcases, but when the city experiences growth, the interest from planners blossoms on its own.
Get Planner Input At the end of the FAM, consider sending attendees a survey or evaluation. You might be surprised by the input and its fruitfulness. Mary Gallagher, CMP, San Jose (Calif.) CVB regional director of national accounts, believes it’s one of the easiest ways to improve the FAM process and the attendee experience.
“We had a group of higher education folks in for a FAM a few years ago and one of the opportunities we gained was that they really loved the tour guide we had hired who made the tour much more interesting with bits of trivia and history. The overall attendee experience was enhanced by this individual, and the attendees loved it and we will certainly include the guide in more of the tours in the future.”
Yes, There is Money to be Had Before playing host to a FAM, the big question is, do they grow business? The answer for many destinations is yes. Even if not right away or even in a year or two, showcase trips give many cities needed exposure and provide planners with options they may not have otherwise. If your partners and sponsors ask you to schedule more FAMs, that’s a good sign that they’re working. The other evidence? That CVBs continue to organize them.
FAMs cost money and a good deal of planning. But the general consensus is that they work. They put the best of your destination in the minds of planners. Besides, how will planners impress their mothers if not for all the wonderful FAM travel?
ALAN L. KLEINFELD, CMP, is a partner in MeetingsONE, a full-service meeting management firm in Washington, D.C. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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