by Brian Jewell
Last May, I wrote a column in this magazine with some advice for tour operators and travel planners about acting professionally during familiarization (FAM) tours and professional events. Some readers in the travel industry have since asked for a follow-up article that would address FAM tours from their point of view.
In 15 years of travel journalism, I’ve been on more FAM tours and press trips than I can count, and I’ve even assisted in hosting a handful of them. This has given me a lot of chances to gather insights and observe best practices.
So, if you are responsible for planning FAMs for a CVB, tourism board, state travel office or tour company, read on. These tips are for you.
1) Don’t overfill the itinerary.
When you have a group of travel influencers in town for a few days, you’re going to be tempted to pack your itinerary and keep the group busy from dawn to dusk to showcase every attraction and activity you have to offer. But you must resist that temptation. Tour participants who don’t have a chance to rest or check in at the office will quickly come to resent the overly ambitious schedule, and resentment is the last feeling you want to foster in your guests. When planning activities on a FAM, less is almost always more.
2) Don’t play politics.
There are some things about a trip like this that are inherently political. Your community partners will be paying attention to which attractions you visit, where you eat and what hotels you stay, and if someone feels like they were unfairly left out, you’ll probably hear about it. This is often the main reason itineraries become overloaded. But tour planners and travel writers can sense when we’re being used as pawns in a political game, and we don’t enjoy it. If a stakeholder pressures you to do something that isn’t best for your guests, politely decline, and explain your reasons.
3) Follow a theme.
One of the best ways to avoid overscheduling and diffuse political pressure on FAMs is to build your itineraries around a specific theme. Instead of trying to hit every highlight of an area, focus on one aspect, such as culinary experiences, historic sites or student attractions. This gives you an easy way to weed out stops that don’t fit your theme without offending anybody. And it makes the trip easier for your tour planner or travel writer guests, who are probably already looking for themes to use in their travel packages and articles.
4) Limit presentations.
A good FAM tour is a dynamic, interactive affair that leaves lots of opportunities for collaboration and relationship building. These things happen best in casual conversation, and inserting a formal presentation into the mix only gets in the way. If you need to make remarks, do so quickly and casually, then offer details only as people ask for them. The same principle applies to hotel tours — there are few things more boring than being dragged from one guest room to another, so reserve tours only for people who specifically ask for them.
5) Keep entertainment optional.
After-hours entertainment can be a valuable relationship-building tool on FAM tours, but it’s not for everyone. Some people love nightlife, but others can’t wait to wind down alone at the end of the day. As a rule of thumb, any activity that takes place after dinner or before breakfast should be strictly optional. Be quick to invite people to join you for after-hours socializing and gracious if they choose to decline.
You invest a lot of time, effort and resources into your FAM tours, following these principles will help you maximize your positive returns.