FAMs: Are They Worth It?

October 17, 2012

In an age of declining budgets and continued pressure to prove return on investment, the educational or familiarization (FAM) tour has been under increased criticism by CEOs and board members of DMOs and convention bureaus around the globe.

And yet, in the recent study, “A View From Meeting Planners: Winning Strategies in Destination Marketing,” which surveyed meeting planners with global meeting planner responsibilities, 72% of respondents indicated that FAMs were “Important” in helping to shape their perception of a destination.

As meeting industry experts and meeting planners confirm, FAMs are a business essential. But why are they beneficial to buyers (meeting planners) and suppliers (DMOs, hotels, DMCs) alike?

Firstly, there’s nothing like first-hand experience. Buyers depart with authentic product knowledge which allows them to be ambassadors for the destination to their corporate and association colleagues. Suppliers are provided with an environment for marketing what makes them different from other hotels and DMCs in their competitive set, while nurturing a personal relationship with the buyer.

When implemented properly, with pre-qualified buyers who produce the type of meetings business that is being sought by the destination, FAMs are one of the most effective marketing tools at a suppliers disposal.

So what elements make a FAM effective for both buyers and suppliers?

  • An organized itinerary, with built-in downtime to allow the buyer to absorb what is being showcased and experienced;
  • A tradeshow element, that allows buyers to meet with a broad range of suppliers, which they may not encounter on the formal itinerary;
  • Dining with a purpose – such as providing one-on-one time for suppliers and buyers to connect or to showcase unique teambuilding or special event capabilities available for groups;
  • Encouraging meeting planners to invite their corporate clients to participate in the FAM with them. It not only helps justify time away from the office, but aids in converting business to the destination.

These days, we’re seeing a few trends when it comes to organizing FAMs.

  • More scrutiny is being applied in screening potential attendees, so a sound understanding of a potential buyers return on investment for the destination is essential.
  • Then there’s the rise of smaller, more specialized FAMs rather than the continuation of a large group FAM. This is essential for securing the top buyers, given that the average buyer with global      meeting planning responsibilities really only participates on one to two FAMs per year.
  • While we see individual site inspections are on the rise, its clear from the Winning Strategies research that individual FAMs are of less interest to buyers than suppliers.
  • FAMs do tend to be shorter in duration that they were even five years ago, with the average time allocation being three nights for a city or four to five nights for a country, given the constant      struggle to balance office responsibilities.
  • And then, there is the routine request from buyers for more free time to explore the destination on their own.

Yet one thing remains certain, FAMs provide buyers with the best possible opportunity to embrace the destination, which allows the meeting planner to speak passionately about what they experience.  That’s a win for any destination when it means more business and  stronger economic impact for the local community.

Pam Balakian

Written by Pam Balakian

Pam boasts almost 30 years of experience in the Hotel Sales & Marketing Industry. She joined the team 25 years ago after working for Scott Calder Intl, a hotel sales & marketing firm that specialized in marketing & sales of deluxe hotels worldwide.

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