Does it go without saying that travel agents should travel? It is easy to ignore the very advice we give our clients. For a travel professional, however, travel is more than a divertissement…it’s our business. When a travel professional journeys, it is an opportunity to reconnect with the passion that first moved you to become a travel agent. By traveling, you are reminded of both the pleasures and the pains of the experience – it creates a greater degree of empathy for your clients. Without the availability of fams, many agents would not be able to afford to experience properties and destinations that are reserved for luxury clients or the greater number they must review to prepare for the vast majority of their clients.
That is not to say that the system is not abused by some. One of the chief complaints with card mills is the way in which their members treat fam opportunities as a cheap vacation and occupy seats that should be reserved for travel professionals. Many suppliers have made a serious effort to put stricter requirements in place and reserve fams only for agents that can demonstrate production. The burden this places on professional agents is more than offset by the impact of removing one of the primary marketing tools of the card mills as they recruit many of their victims by highlighting fam trips as a “benefit”.
Whether on a formal review of a destination or on your own vacation, a professional travels differently than do civilians, with a keen eye to the critical aspects of the experience. Some misguided souls may think of fam trips as a “perk”. Experienced travel agents know, however, real familiarization trips are at best a revitalizing education and at worst a forced march through too many hotel properties in too few days. One of the key characteristics of top travel agents is the amount of travel they do personally – especially to their niche destinations where they have traveled dozens of times.
Suppliers who provide fam trips have a right to expect a return. It is a great expense and no small undertaking to arrange and execute a learning experience at a destination. But the relationships formed between top agents and a supplier as the result of a solid fam experience can mean years of productive booking activity for the supplier as the agent applies newly found knowledge to their local travel planning practice. Moreover, the other agents in the office usually benefit from a co-worker’s fam experience as the details and enthusiasm are communicated upon return. The agent experiencing a proper fam becomes the local expert, a reference point for other agents and clients alike.
Travel agents owe it to themselves, to their profession and to their clients, to travel. Every travel agent should carve out time in each year’s marketing plan to hit the highway. Budget for personal travel as surely as you budget for your office supplies and advertising expense. Keep meticulous notes as records and try to see the experience from the perspective of a client. Keep the trip in professional perspective – many of the complaints about poor professional conduct occurred on fam trips. When you return home, turn the trip into a marketing opportunity. Write a “Just got back from…” newsletter for your clients. Write property reviews and share them with your co-workers.
Fam trips are as necessary to the industry as pen and paper. Fams are a way of reminding yourself, your professional associates and your clients that between you is a passion that unites.