FAM trips… are they worth the time investment?

Imagine staying at a five star luxury resort or cruising through the Greek Isles. On a vacation…? well maybe, but you also may be on a very popular meeting industry marketing opportunity called a FAM trip that meeting planners attend on behalf of their clients.

Besides the very long on-site hours, countless airport hassles and sacrificed weekends of corporate meeting planning, you do find a few perks that come with being a professional in the meetings and events industry. A FAM or familiarization trip is one of them. If you have been in the corporate event planning industry, you have probably attended or been invited to a FAM.

Are FAM trips worth the investment for corporate meeting and event planners?

In exchange for your time, the FAM host, or hosts, will usually pay for all of the expenses or provide a significant discount. Professional meeting planners, travel agents and meeting marketing professionals can have the opportunity to learn about cruise ships, destinations, hotels, venues or even a region by attending one of these trips. However, are they worth the opportunity cost to attend? While they can be fun, it’s important to consider the following and check your company policy regarding participating in a FAM trip.

First and foremost, know and understand the sponsoring organization. As they say, nothing is for free, and there is a reason you have been invited. They want you to bring future business. Organizations who host FAM trips invest significant time and money ensuring the right guests attend. Show professional courtesy and politely decline invitations if you know there is no opportunity for bringing business.

The sponsoring organization may be a tourism board, a hotel or a cruise line. It may be a consortium of partners in a specific area of the world. Make sure they are quality partners and can meet a future need. For example, Belize may sound amazing, but if the venues and vendors are not who you would like to work with, it won’t be worth it.  The sponsor will expect and you should plan to see lots of destinations and have one-on-one meetings throughout the trip. FAM’s are like busy vacations, because, usually, most or all of your time is scheduled. Be respectful of the sponsoring organization. Don’t attend for a vacation; attend to learn about the destination, and to become a seasoned expert.

Becoming an expert starts with you doing research. Before accepting, always ask to see a schedule of destinations, venues and activities, to determine if it meets your needs. If venues are not the star or diamond level you typically work in, then don’t attend. Do research online, and grab a Frommer’s guide. The more you know, the better the interaction can be with the suppliers, and you will be one step ahead. Also, ask to see a list of other invited attendees. An added benefit to FAMs is meeting your industry peers, and this is always valuable. You may also want to scan for competitors, or conflicts of interest.

Now that you have done your research, to get the most out of the trip, plan like you would plan or a business trip. At the end of the day, it’s about the networking. Whether it’s with the hotels, local destination management companies, venues, or the other guests, meet everyone. If a particular property is of interest, then set aside some time to have an extra meeting with that site. Most likely, there will be planned networking from private meetings, receptions and meals. Make a point to socialize with everyone, not just old friends or a few people with who you are comfortable. In the end, this will pay dividends.

Ask for business cards at each meeting and be honest with venues. If you would never use an activity or venue, be upfront and tell them why…”my group is too large for your property,” or “your activity does not fit our theme.” Be respectful, but firm and it will save both your time and the sales rep’s frustration level on follow-up and eventual rejection.

While it’s work, FAM trips can be a valuable experience. You can see the world; increase your knowledge and your network. Always be respectful of your host, and make ethical decisions about your attendance. They can be the best way to choose destinations and activities and provide an incredible value to your clients.

About the author:

Andy McNeill, CEO of AMI, is a veteran of the meetings and event industries, with more than 25 years of experience in the profession. He has assisted firms in a variety of industries including pharmaceutical, biotech, healthcare, consumer, sports marketing and investment banking. He firmly believes in the strategic meeting marketing model and provides consulting services to Fortune 100 clients on the practice. After graduation from Florida State with a degree in marketing, Andy began his career in the event marketing group at Florida State Athletics. Soon after, he launched his own event marketing company and after five years merged with a major sports marketing firm. Andy spent six years with NSG Corporation as the Senior Vice President leading the sales and marketing for the firm who produced events for over 200,000+ attendees annually across the globe. Andy and the NSG team worked with the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta to produce portions of the Opening Ceremonies. Following NSG, Andy secured the role as COO at Fanizzi Associates, one of the nation’s largest event pharmaceutical firms. There he managed the overall operations of the company who executed over 400 events annually for physicians and internal pharmaceutical clients. Revenues exceeded $40 million a year. In 2002, Andy left Fanizzi Associates, and launched AMI with the vision of owning and operating a premiere event marketing and meeting management firm. Since 2002, AMI has grown into a multi-million dollar organization producing hundreds of events annually. The firm has managed programs in more than 20 industries for clients such as Novartis, Mars, Cleveland Clinic, J & J, Baxter, Pfizer and Office Depot. Andy’s vision of keeping AMI on the forefront of meetings technology, theory and practice has made it an industry leader. He is a member of MPI, Site, and the American Marketing Association. He volunteers as a chair of the Human Rights Campaign. Andy's day-to-day responsibilities include client acquisition, consulting and overall company strategy.

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