The Must Do’s and Definite Don’ts of Familiarization TripsSeptember 1, 2015

September 1, 2015

The Must Do’s and Definite Don’ts of Familiarization Trips

Elias,Deborah-EliasEvents-110x140Deborah Elias, CSEP, CMP, CIS, is president of Houston-based Elias Events. An award-wining Special Event Production Manager and Event Planner/Coordinator, Deborah has mastered the art of unparalleled imagination with nuts and bolts project management and budgeting. Deborah has produced events from Houston to Dubai and many places in between. She gracefully blends the keen eye and imagination of an artist with the business savvy of a utilitarian project manager to orchestrate the most recognizable and highly regarded corporate events, charity fundraisers and government events. Accomplishments include Top Event Planner as named by the Houston Business Journal; Award-Winning Event Planning Company 2012/2005 ISES Esprit Award, 2011 Gala Award, 2014 Crystal Icon and 2008 Texas Star. You can contact her at 713-334-1800,,

In the meetings and events industry there are unique services offered to help professionals become familiar with a location and all it can provide, otherwise known as a familiarization trips or FAM trips. Since the nature of my business has evolved from providing services locally to locations throughout the world, I have been invited to more and more familiarization trips. I am grateful for each tourism group that sees fit to host me in their country or at their venue.

“If you showcase a product, be prepared to give it away to all attendees.”

On the other hand, I need to express my concerns and offer some pointers to the planners and others who arrange familiarization events. Because these trips are designed to encourage the meeting and event planner to subsequently return and bring their events and customers to the destination or venue, they must be conducted close to perfection from beginning to end. If a FAM is below par, the planner will likely cross the destination off her list of considerations.

Here are my must do’s and definite don’ts when planning a FAM trip.

The Do’s

  • Prepare a complete itinerary that includes detailed air and ground transportation information. This is especially important if the FAM is following a hosted buyer conference format: the details outlining airports, hotels and ground transportation companies must be clearly defined. For example, I have arrived at airports with no one to greet me, my name not on a list or the location of the hotel not clearly identified. As I am a seasoned traveler, that does not send me into a panic but I imagine a first-time FAM trip traveler would be quite unnerved. I also had an experience where my departure airport was not clearly identified and had to change my flight (at my own expense).
  • If transporting by van or bus to a location that is more than an hour away, make sure to have beverages available, especially water. And definitely let the attendee know how long the trips are going to be so they can prepare. And don’t leave out the part about traveling on unpaved roads or any other unusual situations that may occur. I spent an incredibly uncomfortable two hours in a van to a remote destination. Even though the location was extraordinary, the trip getting there was unbearable, and therefore I would not feel comfortable taking my clients on that itinerary.
  • If you showcase a product, be prepared to give it away to all attendees. For example, if you don’t have enough product to give to all guests, then give it away as part of a raffle. On a recent trip to Aspen, the local chamber of commerce really wowed the guests with a Blue Jean Bar — where they host a cocktail reception at a mobile pop-up shop and guests networked while trying on jeans and selecting the ones they would like to take home. I love ideas like this for incentives. A similar version is the sunglass setup by Maui Jim. This arrangement is particularly popular as guests have an opportunity to view the Maui Jim products at a reception and then can choose which sunglasses they would like to take home. Incentives like this go a long way.
  • Carefully map out the destinations to make the most effective use of travel time. I spent an entire trip once going from one part of an island to another in one day and spent hours in a bus wasting valuable time.
  • Community awareness and service programs are highly desirable. These types of CSR programs are very much appreciated, and I highly encourage their inclusion in the itinerary. Most guests of the FAM are delighted to take part, especially when the programs are organized well and conducted in a proper manner. It also is a good idea to make sure that the organization receiving help is a recognized non-profit either on a local or national level.
  • Assemble a brochure. Try to include all the locations, venues, etc. along with photos that can be used without copyright hassles that you can email or store on a memory disc. Email is always preferable, especially as opposed to a bunch of papers. For meeting planner attendees who have a blog and want to be able to post great photos (with full copyright use), this is a must.
  • Create very unique itineraries. Include destinations that involve locals and experiences the guests don’t have access to on their own. Private cooking lessons, art lessons germane to the locale, and the like are a must and will be talked about to potential and future clients.

The Don’ts

  • You absolutely do not need to show more than two rooms on a property. Taking the guests through seven different room types especially when they are essentially the same is a complete waste of time and not necessary. My suggestion is to show the basic run of house guest room and another suite or upgraded level.
  • Do not give out a bunch of promo items unless they are unique. I leave way too many pens, bags and other novelties for the hotel staff. I don’t wish to sound snobby but oftentimes there just isn’t enough room in the suitcase for everything.
  • Don’t overlook your unique attractions. If your location is known for a special feature such as an amazing sunset, make sure your guests are not sitting on a bus going in the opposite direction at that time. This is just an unfortunate example of something that I encountered but you get the idea.
  • Do not schedule back-to-back site visits. If programs run over due to circumstances beyond the planner’s control, the next group may have to sit around and wait. For example, I was on a tour that was supposed to last two hours and ended up being four hours in a bus going back and forth on an island. It put dinner two hours behind and neither the restaurant nor the attendees were amused.

Advice to Attendees

Always be gracious, especially if the destination has provided you with complimentary airfare, hotel and food during your stay. Even though I have been irritated at times with FAM organizers due to an apparent lack of organization, I always contact them and ask them if I can offer a little constructive criticism in order for them to improve the experience in the future.

And remember to use social media during the trip. I actively follow each of the organizations on Twitter and “like” their Facebook pages. It only takes moments to post on their social media accounts with appropriate hashtags. I find this little effort goes a long way in establishing goodwill with the destination, venue or organization.

Let me know your do’s and don’ts of FAM trips as well as your recommendations to elevate the experience. Email me at I&FMM


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