FAM trips have always had real value, and still do. Typically, clients trust a travel advisor’s advice about a potential vacation much more if the advisor has had personal experience with the destination, hotel, or cruise, or if a colleague in the agency has had that first-hand experience and shared their insight.
But, like everything in travel, FAM trips have been reinvented and continue to evolve and roll with the punches.
One of the biggest changes in FAMs—social media is the new carry-on baggage, and travel advisors are often encouraged, even requested, to participate.
“FAMs have changed a lot in the last few years,” says Jonathan de Araujo, owner of The Vacationeer Travel Agency, which specializes in Disney, Universal, and cruise travel. “There's a much larger focus on social media now. Most vendors want you to post on social as much as possible when you're visiting their properties.”
Advisors are typically asked to use designated hashtags when posting, so the results of the FAM trip can be tracked.
“At the end of the day, FAMs are marketing for the vendor, and like any other marketing, they need to be able to show a return on investment,” says de Araujo.
And, while FAM trips are, of course, still fun and exciting, with opportunities to experience fabulous destinations and resorts, these days FAMs also tend to also be more educational.
“In the past, organized FAM trips were a fun way to introduce advisors to your product in a very controlled way,” said Steve Spivak, Tauck’s Vice President, Global Sales, and Reservations, who noted the company ended organized FAMs in 2013.
“Advisors got a glimpse into the brand but not really the experience a guest would have and not in a way that would build skills, a lasting connection, or an understanding of the true experiential difference from one product to the next.”
So, ten years ago, the company introduced Tauck Academy, a hybrid approach to traditional familiarization trips. “We wanted to create the same fun and engaging environment as a FAM but with a measurable lasting benefit for the advisors and for Tauck,” says Spivak. “We became much more data-driven and collaborative with agency owners in the attendee selection process and created a curriculum that would help the advisor build their business not just with Tauck but with any product that was the right fit for their clients.”
Spivak says the idea was to help the advisor to become better at marketing, prospecting, and closing and more astute at matching their clients to the right experience no matter what that is. And, he says, they want to show the advisor what it’s like to travel with Tauck, so academy experiences are typically held in Tauck hotels or onboard Tauck river ships.
“Our goal is for advisors to feel what our guests feel when they travel but to be able to do it in a three-day Academy program with nine hours of classroom content,” says Spivak.
Advisors who complete Tauck Academy are given the opportunity to travel with a guest—and as a guest—aboard one of Tauck’s river ships, says Spivak. Each year, nearly a hundred advisors are hosted. “We know the best advisors sell from experience and we want that experience to be as authentic as possible,” he says.
There’s also a strong push to introduce advisors to the local culture for unique experiences rather than just touring the popular sites and attractions.
“FAM trips are an essential part of a travel advisor's job,” says Balaram Thapa, director/travel advisor, of Nepal Hiking Team.
“They help us gain invaluable insights into the destinations we recommend, allowing us to better inform our guests' needs and expectations.”
“This year, we expect to see a shift toward more sustainable and responsible travel options on FAM trips,” says Thapa.
”The demand for sustainable tourism continues to grow, and we will be able to access more eco-friendly experiences, such as those focusing on reducing single-use plastic or promoting locally sourced products. Additionally, advisors can expect to experience more immersive cultural and community-based activities, such as homestays and volunteering projects.”
Discover Lancaster in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has hosted FAMs for 25-plus years, says Chris Ackerman, director of sales, Discover Lancaster.
One challenge in recent years that has been, and continues to be, is that a staffing shortage throughout the hospitality industry has also impacted FAMs.
“Staffing challenges have made it difficult for those to get out of the office to take a FAM trip,” says Ackerman.
Lancaster has pivoted and partnered with a trade publication to assist in planning and organizing a multi-meeting planner FAM, says Ackerman, and is also offering more ‘specific’ tailored FAMs for those requesting individualized exploratory visits, he says.
Ackerman offers these three pieces of advice for travel /advisors interested in participating in an upcoming FAM in Lancaster—and elsewhere:
- Explore unique experiences, “off the beaten path” in a destination
- Go where the locals go
- Be flexible due to the hospitality industry staffing challenges