Leisure Group Travel marketing columnist Dave Bodle offers some tips on how DMOs and trip participants can get the most out of a familiarization tour.

Formulating thoughts for this marketing column, it just seemed natural to review our recent articles. If you missed any of the columns mentioned below, you can find them online in past issues. Each is appropriate for both buyers and sellers and no, there will not be a test.

February shared some ideas on the importance of customer retention. April focused on effective business e-mails. Strengthening our listening skills was the June subject. August looked at the importance of partnering and packaging and introduced “ink blotter” marketing. Taking a slightly different look at customer service headlined October. December looked at how tour operators approach industry shows. Let’s kick off the New Year with some thoughts on familiarization (FAM) tours.

Regular readers know that in addition to this column, I am a regular contributor to Premier Travel Media’s group travel platforms. In that position I’m fortunate to be invited to participate in numerous press trips during the year. I also have a small destination management company and think like a tour operator.

A general rule of thumb is never invite journalists and tour operators on the same FAM. I’m probably the exception to that rule. With that unique perspective here are three insights:

  • You have to see it to sell it. FAMs are planned and implemented for the sole purpose of showing off a destination. A DMO may invite a group of non-competitive tour operators who have shown a significant interest in the area’s group product. Another popular approach is to invite a tour operator to bring their key group leaders to experience the destination.

The level of success for both approaches is very high. Today, the professional tour operator does not have time for “free vacations” if they are going to continue being successful. This is business. On the other hand, the wise DMO will not call on their partners for support if they have not properly vetted the operator(s) and are assured there is a high level of interest.

As a side note, press trips have pretty much the same purpose and result. The stories I write after visiting a destination come much easier and most likely are more informative.

  • This isn’t speed dating like marketplaces where DMOs are painting broad strokes in timed formats. FAMS should be organized as a tour, but with ample opportunities to display options. DMOs should have a pretty good idea of the tour operator’s product and customer. Plan a FAM to appeal to that target, but not at the expense of failing to showcase what’s special about your destination. DMOs need to remember that operators have an interest in a destination prior to their arrival.

Here’s where there is a significant difference between press trips and FAMs. The former attracts writers and bloggers from different media outlets, each with a seemingly different interest. To accommodate these multiple interests, different daily itineraries (or tracks) are developed. The days are extremely busy in a DMO’s effort to share the entire destination.

  • Stay on target with what your participants expect. Case in point is with the growing popularity of boutique hotels. They certainly have a place in the packaged travel marketplace. Sure, the tour operator(s) certainly appreciate the boutique hotel experience, but it’s far more useful for them to feel exactly what their customer will.

The same argument can be made for restaurants. Tour operators appreciate a skillfully prepared meal with local flavor served in a special setting. However, if the restaurant isn’t group-friendly from seating to menu to rest rooms, it will never make the itinerary.

Planning and organizing a FAM is as important as the event itself. Both DMOs and tour professionals need to do their homework. Talk regularly and be certain when the time comes that you are on the same page. From my end I promise that when those press trips are taken, I’ll have my tour operator hat on,