Those who know me know that I’m all for discounts, promotions, and free things. I take coupons to the store, only buy clothes when they’re on sale, and will wait in lines for free Rita’s Italian Ice on the first day of spring. When I first learned about FAM trips, I was all about the free or discounted travel; but the more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t sold on the idea.
The premise of FAM trips seems perfect: You get the opportunity to travel to a fun destination, learn about the city/country, get tours of properties, experience activities/tours, and have first hand knowledge about the destination. I’m a firm believer that the best way to sell a destination is to experience it yourself, without question. However my concern, or doubt, with FAM trips is that your arrival has been announced in advance and you get some special treatment for being a travel agent. The fact that the hotels, staff, tour operators, and others involved know you’re coming and may increase their business by referrals, tips the scale with how “real life” the trip may be for your client.
I’ve been told by experienced agents that I need to take advantage of FAM trips and that the in-person experience is invaluable. But I want to know how my clients would experience check-in, not a travel agent. I want to see the city for what it is, not be taken down different streets to avoid the “shady” area of the city. I don’t want a welcome basket or wine unless all guests receive it as well. I like transparency and experiencing a location with both the pros and cons – that’s what I want to pass on to my clients. I’m not trying to be negative, but it can sometimes seem like you get the used car salesman’s pitch when you’re on FAM trips.
As I type this, I’m currently sitting in my room at the Hotel Cumbres in Santiago, Chile. I’m on a FAM trip with ten other travel agents organized by Millennials in Travel. Millennials in Travel partnered with the Chile Tourism Office and LAN Airlines to make all facets of our travel and experience flawless thus far. Besides the amazing accommodations and food so far, our transfers, tours and logistics are being taken care of by our stunning hostess Maria Rubio from Chile. Additionally, to up the ante in comparing all future FAM trips, we received complimentary upgrades to Premium Business class on our non-stop flight from JFK to Santiago. Having never had the opportunity to fly Premium Business class, or with LAN Airlines before, it was a once in a lifetime experience. LAN Airlines has been providing us with all of our airfare and our representative José Iván Ortiz has been magnificent in coordinating our air travel.
Why the change of heart? I have made the decision to only take part in FAM trips that include a mix of adventure, culture, and are with multiple vendors/hotels. I have refined and limited the FAM trips I consider, and it has been great to hone in on what I want to offer my clients and the type of travel I want to sell.
Last year was my first time attending ATMEX in Chiapas, Chile. As an adventure-based event, we got to participate in activities around the state of Chiapas and had to get out of the sometimes sterile resort areas and drive through every type of neighborhood. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a travel agent, but I didn’t just stay on a resort property the entire time, or be catered to because I was a travel agent – we ate beans from the can and had mini sausages over the fire during our overnight hike like any other client would have had. No extra frills because we were travel agents, and I liked it that way.
With the current FAM I am on, we are exploring Santiago for two days before traveling to Patagonia (south Chile) and will then be on a Skorpios cruise for three days around the glaciers and icebergs just across the ocean from Antarctica. While we are getting to stay in some great hotels (Hotel Cumbres in Santiago and Hotel Remota in the Puerto Natales area) we are also getting to experience the nitty gritty of each location and meeting with multiple hotels, vendors, tour operators, and are able to explore on our own.
I mean no disrespect for anyone that travels on FAM trips regularly or prefers the all-inclusive options. Everyone has their own way of learning the destinations they sell, I appreciate that. What I’m trying to say is I was wrong (to an extent). I have been able to find my niche of just what type of FAM is my style and offers what I’m looking for to share with clients. There is an option out there for all agents regardless of what locations they sell or type of travel they specialize in. I’m glad I have found mine and am ready to experience Patagonia and all that Chile has to offer.
Nathan Graeff is the owner of Capital Travel and Events based in the nation’s capital of Washington, DC. His agency is a full service travel agency serving leisure and business clients but specializes in adventure travel, non-profit agency travel and accessible travel. Nathan is a home-based agent and a member of Millennials in Travel and OSSN.