FAMS are sometimes thought of as one of the great perks of being a travel agent, and no doubt about it, FAMS can be fun; especially when you have a chance to meet and compare notes with other agents. But make no mistake about it, FAMS are also work.
I suppose there are some circumstances – a trip offered by a supplier as a reward for outstanding production, for example – when you can afford to just relax, go with the flow, and just enjoy yourself. But even in that kind of setting there is still work to be done.
Here are just a few of the things an agent should be attempting to accomplish on a FAM.
Most obviously, a FAM is an opportunity to learn more about the supplier and the particular product or products being showcased on the FAM. But agents should go beyond the brochure talk and once-over-lightly briefings. How big exactly are those staterooms? Is the layout convenient? Is there enough closet space? Which are the best rooms in that resort (and don’t forget room numbers)? How long is the walk to the main dining room, the pool, the beach, the gym? What is really cool about this feature and what’s not? Which rooms should you definitely NOT book for your clients? The list is almost endless.
This kind of intelligence, often lumped under the heading “product knowledge” is valuable, but it becomes truly powerful when it is combined with your psychographic knowledge about your target clientele or, better yet, specific clients. You should constantly be asking yourself questions like “Will this appeal to my target market of young families?” or making mental notes like “These bungalows are exactly the sort of thing at appeals to Dr. Frobisher.”
Another goal of a FAM should be to make contact with and develop relationships with supplier personnel that can be used for your advantage down the road, when you need some information, face a tough sales challenge, or need the rules “bent” just a teeny bit. Always be sure to write thank you notes to the salespeople, BDMs, or on-site personnel who have helped make your FAM a success. Creating warm relationships is an underrated factor in travel agent success.
Also, the “down time” spent with fellow agents, while great fun, is not just about mindless pleasure, hard drinking, or trading “war stories.” Most successful agents will tell you, if asked, that some of their best strategies were picked up from fellow agents. So don’t hesitate to ask, “How did you do that?” when a colleague brags about some big booking.
Won’t your fellow agents be annoyed if you pepper them with questions about their methods and maybe even their “trade secrets?” Not at all. At the risk of sounding like Dale Carnegie’s ghost, one of the best ways to forge close relationships with people is to get them talking about themselves. And most experienced agents will be flattered to take a newer agent under their wing and answer questions over the phone or email – especially if that neophyte agent plies their trade in a distant state.
If you think about the topics I’ve touched on so briefly, you should see that we are talking about a lot of work. And since most of this activity is investigative or reportorial, good note taking and record keeping is essential. On the many FAMS I have had the privilege of taking, I have consistently observed that the most obsessive note takers and question askers tend to be the most successful agents.
So if going on a FAM means going to work, that ship or that resort becomes your workplace and, since you are a professional, you should conduct yourself in a professional manner. That much is pretty obvious to most agents, although you may have encountered a few who seem to forget. But let me take this train of thought a step further.
I would like to suggest that – in a sense – you become an employee when you are participating in a FAM. Yes, yes, I know that is not literally true, but let’s just pretend for now. You are no longer just any old agent, but an agent for this particular supplier. For the duration of the FAM, you are working in that supplier’s place of business. That supplier is providing you with an experience of which they are proud, not to mention feeding you and occasionally plying you with drink. They have certain expectations of what you owe them in return, just as they do about their employees.
In the corporate world (and some home-based travel agents may have transitioned from that world), companies take a dim view of inappropriate behavior on the job and even what their employees do or say in their “off” hours. The same tends to be true of travel suppliers–vis-a-vis agents on their FAMS.
Now in most cases, this is not an issue. Every sane travel agent knows enough not to brag to “regular people” they may encounter about how little they paid for their trip or to hand out business cards and try to poach business from other agents. Some agents, however, are not so careful about what they say in “private” or share online with “friends.” For better or worse, we live in an electronically interconnected world in which gazillionaire Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, can blithely say there is no such thing as privacy.
What this means is that what you say and do, during and after a FAM, even among “friends,” can come back to bite you. This is all the more reason to think of yourself as an employee when you are on a FAM, even if you know it’s really not true. All the more reason to stick to the highest standards of professional conduct.
Kelly Monaghan, CTC, is a writer and publisher who has been covering the home-based travel agent scene since 1994. Prior to his entry into the travel industry he was a sales trainer for major companies such as AT&T, Arrow Electronics, and Brinks and wrote widely on sales and marketing for a number of professional publications. His Home-Based Travel Agent Success Course has been endorsed by OSSN and The Travel Institute. His publishing company, The Intrepid Traveler specializes in Orlando area attractions and offers discounts to travel agents who wish to use its guides as gifts or premiums.