Rochelle Zemke and Stephanie Cavelli are two travel professionals who saw a need common to many, if not all, travel advisors and set out to meet it. The challenges they faced will sound familiar to anyone who has decided to build a web application on their own.
TRO: Rochelle and Stephanie, thanks for the opportunity to speak to you about My Fam Trip. I certainly want to get into the capabilities and functionality of your brainchild, but give me a little bit of background on the two of you.
Stephanie: Rochelle and I met around a decade ago… on a Fam trip! We’ve been great friends ever since. Rochelle owns Zemke Travel in Fridley, MN and I own My Favorite Travel Agent in Massillon, OH. We have a combined 35+ years in the travel industry, both consistently achieving premier status with various tour operators. In the summer of 2017, we were in Aruba discussing the very unsystematic way in which we, as advisors, all experienced Fams. Some Advisors are picture takers, others are heavy note-takers, some rely on voice/video recordings, some use a combination, while yet others try to rely on osmosis. When Advisors may be conducting multiple inspections per day, none of these is a complete method. We thought “there has to be a better way.” A few months later, we headed to Mexico with sketchbooks & pencils in hand and an abundance of ideas about how we could reinvent the Fam experience for the entire industry. We returned to the U.S. with a full mockup of our vision.
TRO: I know a bit about technology development myself, and it can be a challenge for even experienced programmers. How did you go about your plan to develop the My Fam Trip app and what were some of the challenges you faced?
Rochelle: Our first attempt to bring our vision to life was explored on Fiverr. Isn’t that where everyone with a new technological venture starts? (Big Grin.) While we did like whom we selected; the process was too slow going. We realized an entire team would be required to develop a tool as intricate as we had designed. We also realized this second round would require significantly more capital, research, and a very methodical approach.
We brushed up on all things app and issued a Request for Proposal (“RFP”) to entities we fully vetted and who had offices based in the U.S. Interviews were conducted online, via phone/video, and in person. At that time, it wasn’t as easy as one may think to find a full staff nationally. Many subcontracted or had their team of developers in India. We entered into a contract with a company we felt offered the best overall offer in terms of development, price, and product support/maintenance. Their developers were based in India which translated into countless midnight meetings. Despite now having an entire team behind the project, despite hearing several first-hand testimonials from their other clients, we noted we were encountering obstacles. One of the most significant was adherence to the timeline we jointly established. Another was working out the bugs. Due to staff in India not having the same phones that are available to us here in the U.S., simulators had to be utilized. It was difficult to identify and apply fixes to unique iOS and Android systems this way and have them translate properly to local devices. Once grossly over the anticipated release date with bugs they could not correct, we came to a stalemate. This resulted in a court case we swiftly won to obtain our coding from the developers.
Stephanie: They say the third time’s the charm and that happened to be the case for us. By this time around, we were delighted to see many more players in the domestic marketplace. We once again conducted an RFP and aligned with a technology company fully based in the U.S. The iOS/Android versions of the My Fam Trip were upgraded to a web-based platform. Not only did this make My Fam Trip available to more users worldwide, via phone or computer, but it also eliminated the astronomical fees Apple & Google Play are popularly known for.
There were definitely times we paused to ask ourselves “Why are we doing this?”, “Is this worth it?”, “Should we throw in the towel?”. However, we believed in ourselves, in our vision, and in our desire to close this gap in our beloved industry. Nearly five years after we started this passion project, we are thrilled My Fam Trip is now available for those working in travel.
TRO: OK, tell us about the My Fam Trip app and its capabilities.
Rochelle: The first goal of My Fam Trip was to provide a single resource to efficiently capture the entire Fam experience. Users identify if they are on a site inspection, cruise, or guided tour which will allow them to record everything they could experience; from static data to personal insight. The design allows for quick entry while on the go. Photo prompts are strategically placed where users will need them most. Instead of juggling multiple items, users can catalog, take pictures and video, make notes, and record personal observations in one easy-to-use tool in the palm of their hand. Further, they can save Fam reports to their devices or share them with colleagues.
While this in and of itself is extremely valuable, we wanted to make My Fam Trip even more robust. One frustrating hassle many users have had to deal with is the theft of digital content. Every picture taken/uploaded in MFT will automatically have a customized, user-defined watermark where transparency levels and location can be preset.
Another pain point of most Fams is the long days and lack of free time to implement a marketing strategy. Often, you are starting early, visiting multiple resorts a day with lengthy set menu dinners and group engagements in the evening only to do it all over again the following day. There is a need for users to make the most of their time, effort, and investment in having a marketing tool that can be capitalized on in real-time. With one click of a button, My Fam Trip users can share information and branded pics to their favorite social media outlets or send them directly to clients. When utilizing this feature in destination – you can obtain leads from your audience.
Stephanie: There are really four key advantages to using the app to assist in your Fam record keeping. Firstly, easy organization & retention of everything observed during a Fam. Secondly, An opportunity to store the Fam report and share the details with colleagues. Next, the watermark feature allows you to maintain the integrity of your brand and digital content, and, importantly, it gives you the ability to market in real-time and generate tangible revenue from your Fam experience.
TRO: The program sounds great for travel advisors, but it looks like the app could also be useful to suppliers, right?
Rochelle: For anyone hosting a Fam, whether it be an individual, association, host agency, hotelier, tour operator, or tourism board, My Fam Trip can be instrumental. It can be pre-populated with static information for the exact resorts, cruise ships, and/or excursions you will be conducting. Business cards or contact information of key staff members, property maps, deck plans, daily itineraries, special promos – anything deemed of importance can be uploaded for the group pre-departure. This will allow participants to input only their subjective data, personalized ratings, and pictures and video to be marketed to their audience. A general report of anonymous ratings can be shared so the host has more insight into what their strengths and area of improvement are.
TRO: So what’s next?
Stephanie: We have a few ideas for the future growth of My Fam Trip we can’t wait to unveil down the road. For now, we are bringing My Fam Trip to advisors at a time when we need to be faster, better organized, protective of our brand or digital content, and market on the go. It is the first of its kind in existence and we hope My Fam Trip is the must-have tool in any arsenal for Fam trips.