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Familiarization tours: See it to sell it

Courtesy Pennsylvania Dutch CVB

From twisting a pretzel in Pennsylvania to learning how to lasso in Colorado, convention and visitors bureaus are addressing a universal challenge with familiarization tours — how to make them distinctive and how to expose more local attractions to group leaders, tour operators and travel writers on the fams.

“The Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau has conducted various forms of fams over the years, from organized group fams to a fam on your own format,” said Audrey Bialas, director of tourism sales.

“We asked [ourselves] how do we make it different and also find a way to incorporate more members they might not have time to visit.

“We found out recently that a Hands on Marketplace that we developed was a great format that worked for us.”

The CVB invited its members to a central location and encouraged them to work together in teams of three to come up with a hands-on activity. Each team was given a table, and tour operators visited each table.

“At each location, they actually participated in some kind of activity,” said Bialas. “Some examples were twisting a pretzel, sewing a quilt square, decorating a cookie, making a Christmas decoration.

“It provided a more memorable experience for the tour operator than the typical ‘shopping cart’ format, and it was a lot of fun for everyone. And it was something they could take home and be a reminder, rather than a brochure they would never look at.

“We took a lot of pictures and then shared them with the participants after the fam,” she said.
The Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau faced the same dilemma. “Their schedule is so packed, it is often hard to get in-depth visits,” said Chelsy Murphy, public relations director for the CVB. “We want to show as much as possible, but it is quite a challenge to provide the opportunity for them to experience multiple attractions.

“We combat this issue with hosted dinners. We invite the attractions to the dinner and provide space for them to showcase something special.”

For a recent fam of tour operators from the United Kingdom, the CVB’s dinner featured roping lessons from the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, a fencing demonstration by pentathlon athletes from the U.S. Olympic Training Center, a traveling animal exhibit from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and a performance by the Flying W Ranch Wranglers.

“This is a unique way for operators and journalists to get a snapshot of the area in a short amount of time,” said Murphy. “You have to be very creative with the limited amount of time you have.”

Another option the CVB recently offered was a helicopter tour over area attractions such as the Garden of the Gods, the U.S. Air Force Academy, Seven Falls and the Broadmoor.

Everyone likes to eat

The Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau in Delaware also uses a dining format to expose more members to fam participants.

“My job is to promote attractions and restaurants,” said Esther Lovlie, director of marketing and sales for the CVB. “Sometimes the restaurants don’t get as much focus.”

The CVB’s annual FAM/Dine Around combines tours of area attractions with a progressive dining experience, either at different restaurants or catered by the restaurants.

“The goal of the FAM/Dine Around is to introduce group tour operators and meeting planners to our area in a very personalized way,” said Lovlie.

The fam begins with a cocktail reception and marketplace for CVB members not involved in the fam. Participants are then transported to an area attraction for dinner and then shuttled to another attraction for dessert, wine pairings and coffee.

The second day of the weekend fam begins with Sunday breakfast at an area restaurant and then continues with a visit to an area attraction and hotel and lunch at another hotel.

The fifth annual FAM/Dine Around in February will, for the first time, combine tour operators and meeting planners and include an educational component.

The tour will feature restaurants and museums that also have meeting space. “If someone knows they can have a private lunch or dinner at a museum, it works as well for group operators,” said Lovlie.

Local cuisine is the star

Food is a key element of distinctive fams operated by the Beaumont, Texas, Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“One of the main things that sells our area is our unique food,” said Ashley White, communications specialist for the CVB. “The most current thing we have done is our Keepsake Recipe Card.

“We designed a photo keepsake 5×7 post card that would further promote our Gators, Gardens, Gushers and Great Food itinerary and send our visitors home with a recipe they saw prepared in Beaumont.”

Upon their arrival, the CVB takes a group photo of the fam participants in front of a local attraction such as the Dalmatian spotted fire hydrant, St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica or Spindletop Museum.

“We then upload the pictures and drop them into a predesigned post card template,” said White. “It is designed to look like a regular post card from Beaumont.”

The fam includes a cooking demonstration, and the chef or caterer who does the demonstration provides a recipe of what they cooked that is put on the back of the post card.

“We also offer a list of local ingredients and how to buy them,” said White. “We send it as a follow up. Our goal is that this inexpensive gesture will offer the lasting impression to generate return visitors and additional overnight stays.

“We have had great feedback from this and really feel we have taken the idea of a keepsake a step further by reinforcing it with a recipe from their trip. This allows them to take home a piece of Beaumont, our local flavor. It’s all about the personal touch,” said White.

Mardi Gras spreads the word

Participants in the annual Mardi Gras Bash fam for group leaders in Shreveport, La., get to savor the local culture and atmosphere by giving things away.

“Mardi Gras is zany, exciting and just plain fun,” said Pat Gill, public relations manger for the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau. “Participants get up close and personal at Mardi Gras parades and load up on beads, trinkets, doubloons and more. It just a big party; we all have a blast.”

Those goodies don’t last long, as participants get to ride on a Mardi Gras float and toss them to spectators along the parade route.

There are two weekend fams next year, Feb. 24-27 and March 4-7.

“On tour No. 1, we’ll have a blast at the Krewe of Centaur’s float-loading party and at their parade, one of the largest in the state,” said Gill. “On tour No. 2, you’ll dance the night away at the Krewe of Highlands’ Mardi Gras ball and rake in the loot at the Krewe of Gemini parade. On Sunday, you’ll get to toss trinkets from a float in the Krewe of Highlands parade.

“Both weekends will include lots of delicious traditional Louisiana foods, including king cake and a variety of Cajun dishes,” she said. “We’ll cruise the Red River while you learn about the river’s history and wildlife and soak up the beauty of the river.”

The fam also showcases local attractions such as the Robinson Film Center, the Multicultural Center of the South, and Artspace at the West Edge, and shopping at the Louisiana Boardwalk and the Main Street Shops at Villaggio.

Yuma gives a yell back
YUMA, Ariz. — Sometimes the idea for a distinctive fam tour can come from unexpected sources, such as a nationwide query by The Group Travel Leader through the United States Travel Association for recommendations of such tours.

“Your inquiry sparked our thinking about creative ways to jazz up our fam tours for travel group leaders and tour operators,” said Ann Walker, media relations specialist with the Yuma Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Here’s a great opportunity. What should we be doing that is fun and exciting, partly to catch attention and partly to have some legs to it?”

Because the Arizona city has been a favorite film location since the days of Rudolph Valentino, the bureau came up with an idea. “We want to make you a star,” said Walker.

“Our talented videographer, Wes Williamson of Fourth Dimension Productions, will accompany your group as you explore the many attractions of our area, then create a movie detailing your visit to share with your group or potential customers.

“We think that Yuma’s affordable and authentic attractions sell themselves, but just imagine how much easier it will be with a full-color movie starring you,” she said.

“And instead of some standard DVD, if the folks on the fam are also in the movie, they are not going to take it home and throw it in a desk drawer and never look at it again.

“We haven’t actually done this yet, but we are rarin’ to go — maybe some of your readers could be our first stars,” she said.

In a tongue-in-cheek e-mail reply, Walker also put on her best movie-promoter tone: “Have your people call our people, and we’’ll talk. BTW, we promise to do our best to keep the paparazzi away during your visit, but you’re on your own with the autograph-seekers once you get home.”

Customize me!

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Although fams are supposed to be informative, they should also be enjoyable to be most effective.

“Fam tours are supposed to be informative, but another important purpose is to show the travel professional as good a time as their clients will have at a destination,” Jeanette Anderson Moores, vice president of communications for the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in an e-mail.

“The best sales pitch comes from genuine enthusiasm generated through personal experience. Excellent fam hosting, diverse and unique itineraries and a custom fit are all important factors to achieving this end.

“Accordingly, Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Tourism Development and Sales (TDS) Department strives to deliver a customized fam experience to visiting travel trade by taking into account the client’s business type and time availability, as well as personal attributes such as culture, fitness and special interests.

TDS delivers several different styles of fams developed with this criteria in mind: group tours with unique experiences such as behind-the-scenes tours at major attractions, one-on-one fam tours for VIP clients, and self-fam tours, for which TDS provides clients with passes and information to new attractions of interest.

“This method is particularly helpful for tour operators who already have their own product and are limited on time, but are still interested in checking out possible new additions to their itineraries.”

“With guided fam tours, we’ve found that a warm and knowledgeable fam host is key to a memorable and therefore productive experience,” said David Kasser, TDS vice president. “Pairing the right guide to a group is as important as matching itineraries to their interests and abilities.

“In the end, the client will remember how the trip made them feel over the specific details of the attractions they visited, and a professional fam host can fill in the details later with followup or being available for support as needed.”

Fams hit the blogosphere
GALENA, Ill. — The Galena/Jo Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau found a way to combine a fam trip with innovative marketing that provided immediate exposure for the Mississippi River town.

“Earlier this year, the CVB hosted a fam tour for mom bloggers. We spent a quick yet fulfilling 36 hours with them in an effort to promote family-friendly leisure travel to our destination,” said Celestino Ruffini, director of sales and marketing.

He said the eight women on the tour are “all highly regarded in the blogospheres for their recommendations on travel, parenting tips, cooking, etc. They are savvy with technology, manage their own blogs and write reviews for large corporations.

“If you live in Chicago and are a mom and looking for parenting tips, these are the women you go to to see what they are doing.”

Although most of the participants wrote about the trip when they returned, answering questions from readers and developing Twitter streams, “while they were here, they were promoting the destination for us,” said Ruffini. “They were not only talking on blogs while here, but posting photos to Twitter and Facebook and taking videos.

“We agree that traditional advertising has its place, but as dollars are scaled back and we progress further into the 21st century, we must rethink our entire methodology of destination marketing,” he said. “Continually, we search for new, innovative ways of advertising.
“For a smaller destination like us, it is definitely stepping out of the box.”