The following guest column is the latest in a series by the founder of Talking Travel.
For the host of a fam trip, the return on investment is measured in increased sales from the travel agents who participate. For agents themselves, the ROI of fam participation may be as simple as personal enjoyment and fulfillment.
For the travel agency who sends its advisors on fams, the returns can and should be considerable – including increased revenues and improved client retention and referrals, thanks to the your agents’ insider knowledge and the excellent service they deliver as a result.
Here are eight ways to derive the best return on your investment when your travel sellers go on a fam.
1. Set clear expectations. Provide both first-time and experienced fam trippers with what I call a “fam trip purpose and conduct manual.” This explains what the agency expects when an agent returns from a fam. For instance: educating other sellers about the destination; writing a report for the agency newsletter, social media sites, blog and/or host agency’s list-serve, and outlining a marketing plan and sales projections for the destination or product.
2. Choose sensible destinations. Not every destination is fam-worthy. We once received an application from an Antarctica specialist for a fam to Sri Lanka, a destination she admitted she would never sell. The destinations you want your staff to master are the current and future mainstay and trend-setting destinations that will accrue revenue to your bottom line.
3. Ensure that agents are prepared. Begin by educating agents about the many details involved in putting together a fam, particularly when it involves a preferred supplier. Then, emphasize that the agent’s own pre-trip preparation should include, at a minimum, researching the basics of the destination, including preparatory map work, and understanding the itinerary.
4. Customize as you familiarize. If an agent is visiting a resort that fits one of your specialties, such as weddings (or sports or bird watching), she should meet with the appropriate resort specialist. An agent’s expertise includes their “little black book” of important contacts at a destination — the movers and shakers who can deliver the trip enhancements that exceed clients’ expectations. These contacts make the difference between mastery and merely being an agent.
5. Record the details. Once I saw an agent record every aspect of a fam trip on video. She videoed hotel room numbers and the rooms’ interior details, narrating the video with her impressions, including details such as room location and view, plus interviews with the hotel sales manager to get his take on the uniqueness of the room. This gave her a record of the features that differentiated each hotel room. These nuances may constitute the critical details that make or break a client’s trip.
6. Bring business cards. In most of the world, the business card is a critical relationship builder and contact management tool, so make sure your agents bring plenty of cards with them on fams. On the receiving end, those cards communicate a strong message: “I am with XYZ Travel, and we plan to sell this destination, so we want to know it inside and out. We want your support and referrals, and we want to work with you for years to come.”
7. Use your people skills. For many travelers, the most memorable times in a destination are exchanges with locals and shared laughs. Agents on fams should go out of their way to engage with the people in a destination, as this is key to understanding the ambience, feel and culture of a place. Then agents can share their impressions –– and their stories –– with clients. Sometimes these alone will sell a trip.
8. Familiarize, then incentivize. While many agencies use the promise of a fam trip to reward agents who reach a certain sales threshold, not many incentivize agents after they return from a fam. Why not reward fam trip returnees for increased sales of the destination or product they experienced firsthand? This sends staff the message that fam trips are an important business tool –– not just a travel perk.
Fam trips have been undervalued for too many years. For agencies, fam trip participation should lead to improved sales and revenues, an enhanced reputation, and better client retention and referrals.
For individual agents, the ROI of fam trips goes beyond increased sales and pay to include improved confidence, client appreciation, career growth and even job security.
Those travel agencies that look at fams as part of their business strategy will reap the rewards in both agent and client satisfaction.
Steve Gillick, president of Talking Travel, has participated in fam trips, assisted tour operators and tourist boards in organizing fams, and written customized manuals and collateral materials since 1981. Contact Steve at email@example.com.