To FAM or not to FAM | TravelResearchOnline

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To FAM or not to FAM

For years we have been told that it is our expertise that will differentiate a professional agent from a faceless database portraying itself as an agent on the Internet. I wholeheartedly agree. We need to make sure that our expertise is one step ahead of the game. This weekend, Peter Greenberg was stuck in Dallas and his automated “travel agent” kept telling him there was a 45 minute delay. However the real people in the terminal told him that the plane had not even taken off from its previous destination—Houston, a 55 minute flight. Real people will get you the real information. And travelers know that!

And despite the plethora of training available at conferences, online and regionally, nothing beats a FAM (familiarization) trip. But, as the industry has evolved in the last decade, many do not understand the value (and perhaps the definition) of a true FAM. They are not vacations. They are not designed to bring along the family or potential clients. They are work. They are tiring. And often, they are completely paid for by the supplier or destination.  But, as travel professionals, we need to take them seriously—not only for the benefit of the supplier, but for the benefit of our customers. Remember, those are the people who come looking to us for our expertise.

From my experience, one of the biggest mistakes is taking a FAM trip to the same location time and time again. Unless you specialize in that specific destination or property, your job as an agent is to be visiting the destinations that your clients are asking about. Today’s traveler typically knows as much (if not more) than you, so you need to be on your “A” game. Let’s be honest, has Cancun really changed that much in the past 12 months? Sure some hotels may have renovated and a new boutique resort may have opened up; but if your clients are clamoring for the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, doesn’t it make more sense to go there?

As travel professionals, we need to keep on top of the trends and the hot and emerging destinations. While every trade magazine and consortia will publish a list of “hot” destinations; just make sure that they are “hot” for your clients too. Somehow, I feel the travel dreams for Westport, CT are far different than Pontiac, MI.  Ask your clients—Survey Monkey offers free surveys and it is a perfect opportunity to reach out to them and to let them know you are still alive. Never make the assumption that they remember you and will return for their next trip—they likely won’t.

Training is the bane of our existence. However, it is imperative that the training we select is the right training. If my clients all want to cruise and all I do is suck up the Cancun FAMs, my clients will shortly find a qualified professional for their business. Choose wisely.

  13 thoughts on “To FAM or not to FAM

  1. Joanne Hunt says:

    There are only three agents in my travel practice and we always branch out to new destinations or
    those we haven’t seen in years. If one of my
    agents has recently been to a certain area I will
    pass on an invitation to the same location.
    Time is too valuable to use on a duplication.

  2. Good points about exploring new places. Our niche is so small, however, that we must revisit the same luxury and deluxe trains repeatedly for our list of the World’s Top 25 Trains and be very selective about the hotels, activities and guides we use when we’re reviewing the trains. Please write about agent behavior. I was recently traveling with a group of agents who were an embarrassment to us all. Probably none of them read your column, but their owners should.
    Sincerely,
    Eleanor Flagler Hardy
    President
    The Society of International Railway Travelers

  3. Ramon Wilson , CQC, ACC,DS says:

    A 5 day “Fam Trip” can end up costing the office sending that person around $1,400.00..( Office pay of $160 per day @$20 per 8 hour day, inc. benefits) and a $600.00 air fare ). The Governmental ” Hours worked ” laws still apply. After 8 hours , someone has to pay overtime or that person may do as they please.. the 12 hour day of endless ” Hotel Inspections ” is over. Non ARC/IATAN agents DO have to par AIR , taxes, etc.so it’s NOT all ” Free Ride “. As an agent and Owner for the past 57 years , the agents are many times better off to buy an inexpensive trip to a Destination , including air , and set their own pace throughout.

  4. scarlett says:

    Some agents probably feel that they are paying so much for these fams that they treat is as vacation. A few times , I have been on fam trips where some agents showed up to checkin as a group and at destination disappeared,returning on the last day or some just barely came out some days. Others feel it is their right to bully you into buying expensive gifts for their Tour Operators Managers having a free ride on these trips. I am completely turned off and prefer to buy my own vacation alot a given amount of time for my own “fam”
    and call it a day. I feel intimated by some agents that just want to be in charge and then there are some very miserable unfriendly groupies that make you feel that you don’t belong .I am a person who speaks up and they are so offended.

  5. WENDY says:

    FIRST AND FOREMOST WHO EVEN OFFERS AN AGENT A FAM AT A REASONABLE COST. CARIBBEAN WHOLESALERS ITS 2 NIGHTS? THOSE WHO LIVE IN TORONTO FINE BUT OTHER A TRAVEL DAY TO GETTO THE AIRPORT AND THEN GET HOME, UNGODLY FLIGHT SCHEDULE,TOO MANY HOTEL INPECTIONS. MY LAST …AT THE AIRPORT 3:00 A.M. HIT THE GROUND RUNNING, FIRST INSPECTION @ 11 AM, HAD SUPPER AT 8:30 AFTER 4 INSPECTIONS, NEXT DAY 8 – 10, FINAL DAY, INSPECTIONS TILL AIRPORT CHECK IN ARRIVAL 2:00 AM IN TORONTO 4 PM FOR ME BY THE TIME I MADE CONNECTIONS. I KNOW IT IS EDUCATIONAL…….BUT WITH SO MANY HOTELS AND VENUES ON FAMS………IT TAKES 3 DAYS TO RECOVER AND THEN YOU CAN’T REMEMBER WHICH HOTEL WAS WHICH EVEN AFTER CONTINUOUS NOTE TAKING THEY ARE ALL MUDDLED TOGETHER IN YOUR MIND.
    AFTER 27 YEARS I AM BEGINNING TO SAY THANKS BUT NO THANKS

  6. John Frenaye says:

    HI Eleanor–Behavior is more than a post—more like a novel. Actually Annie Petronio did tackle that a bit here:
    https://www.travelresearchonline.com/blog/index.php/2008/10/miss-manners-goes-on-a-fam/

    Well, with a niche, I feel it is important to keep up–trains change as do the itineraries. But for you to go on a FAM to a destination that is not in your area of expertise makes no sense. If you want to VACATION there, get an agent rate and have a blast!

    Thanks for your comment

  7. John Frenaye says:

    I had never thought of the 8 hour a day issue. Is that a state by state deal? When I sent my office on FAMS while the days were definately rigorous, very few (to my knowledge) exceed 8 hours, but good to keep in mind.

    I am still seeing 100% compensated FAMS for producing agents. Not nearly as plentiful as they used to be, but resorts, destinations, and even suppliers will indeed foot 100% for people that produce.

  8. John Frenaye says:

    Most suppliers are cracking down on the agents that desert the FAM. I have never witnessed it but have heard stories where if there was someone that was MIA, when they returned to the room, the door was locked, bags in storage, and a return flight booked along with an appropriate charge to the folio for the flight. Followed up with a stop sell letter to the agency owner.

    Sure that is extreme, but if more suppliers took that stance, we likely would get a much better class of agents and in turn a more knowledgeable industry.

    I get tired of hearing how the MLM agencies use FAMS as “cheap vacations” for you and your family.

  9. John Frenaye says:

    Wendy, there are still many FAMS at very reasonable (or no) cost to the producing agency. I agree that the schedules can be rigorous, but they are typically announced in advance so you do know what is expected and what you are getting into.

    I also agree that with 12 hotels, they all begin to run into one another. Thankfully, technology helps to recall the whirlwind tour. I use a combination of my flip camera, still camera, voice recorder and notes on the sell sheets that are usually provided. I have seen some with checklists, but I find that takes away (tried it) and it is probably easier to use what you captured on the site to develop the check list AFTER the fact and maybe a followup email to the GM to fill in any blanks!

    Thanks for commenting!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I understand your comments John about the importance of FAM trips being important for knowledge/business and not just leisure. However I agree with the comments above that FAM trips are not plain and simple and not to the benefit of the agent a lot of times. Agents deserve vacations also but for us traveling is always business plus leisure. Most agents can’t go somewhere and not want to do a site inspection and meet suppliers and ask questions. We get limited time to travel and it’s important that we do what clients do which is also just be able to relax. Suppliers should appreciate there is a mix of business and leisure we need – it’s not just all business. Look at Caribbean officials – they go to conferences multiple times a month all over the world but stay at 5-star hotels and wine and dine and socialize. They work hard but they also are definitely relaxing. Execs at tour companies/hotel chains and such also preach product knowledge but many of them have hired their spouses/children to work with them and travel in style. Meantime many international tour companies like those offering FAMs to Europe and Asia especially sometimes treat FAMs just as revenue makers. There FAM prices are just crazy that I see advertised in places like Travel Weekly – i.e. Asia only 3k-5k per person excluding taxes and other things. A good FAM should offer a great steep discount without hidden conditions, have lots of value added upgrades, and leave lots of time for leisure enjoyment. If family is allowed all the better as that is why we are all in travel – to still get benefits and knowledge while sharing memories with our loved ones. Traveling is never about all business but needs to leave time for fun also to make a better mark and imprint.

  11. John Frenaye says:

    We can agree to disagree on this one. Restaurants do not allow their bartenders to do do shots when they are working. The industry needs to treat the FAM as a part of the job and work–not a vacation and certainly not one that you are encouraged to bring along the kids.

    I do agree that some suppliers use “FAMS” as a revenue stream and I believe that is wrong. But again, perhaps this is the way to counter the agent wannabees that think the job is all about free travel. Hey let them pay for it and they will never know the difference.

    As I have said there are plenty of free or minimal (taxes) cost FAMS offered by suppliers for the agencies that do indeed support them. And most well managed agencies ought to be able to put together their own FAM unique to them for little to no cost. IT is all about the relationships you have and how well you support the suppliers.

    FAMS cannot be treated as getaways and family (unless they are actively involved in the business) have no place on one.

    If you need time to relax and have leisure time because of the stress of the job, take the time off, arrange for your calls to be handled and book an agent rate and take advantage of the discounted vacation.

    Sorry–just my two cents!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Your points are well taken John because there should not be lack of focus if a FAM is a true agent experience FAM where the agent’s full attention is necessary during training. I guess ultimately it’s important to realize the classification and type of FAM because not all FAMs are created equally! For an owner/exec of an agency, their needs may be different (relationship building) than a front line agent who is more dealing with the public (knowledge). Sometimes a FAM can be customized / individualized or be a reward and there is nothing wrong with bringing along the family to stay in the room. Other times it’s a quick in/quick out full knowledge blitz where family of course does not have a place. So ultimately I guess it depends how we interpret a particular FAM. Overall though no matter what kind of FAM it’s important that agents are not treated as a herd but as individuals who get to both work and also play – don’t send someone to paradise and not give them the opportunity to at least have some fun too right?

  13. Carolyn says:

    I have done self escorted and organized fams many times throughout my 25 years in the industry. Nothing beats experience as a selling tool for our valued clients. The key is to keep this information as a back up to refer to for future. Also I always ask my customers for feedback- good or bad. This provides an invaluable databank of information for future inquiries.
    I would like to know why I can’t find Fam info on Open Jaw? or am I missing something?

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