Image © Iconica
 © Iconica
AVID readers of Travel Weekly’s Mystery Shopper will know how beneficial it is for agents to experience the holidays they’re selling, as the highest scoring agents each week are often the ones with first-hand knowledge of the destinations requested.

The best way to get this experience is to join a fam trip, where you will be shown the highlights of a destination, eat in the best restaurants and stay in fabulous hotels – all at someone else’s expense.

However, agents who have sampled a fam trip will be quick to tell you these are not free holidays. You’ll have a packed itinerary, including lots of hotel inspections, and you’ll be expected to take notes and file a post-trip report to show what you’ve learned.

Kuoni takes about 2,000 agents away every year, some in small groups, others in groups of up to 100. It admits its itineraries are very structured and the operator views them business trips. “We do give agents some free time to make sure they enjoy a destination as a client would, but we also want agents to see as much of a destination as they can,” said Kuoni events and training executive Steve Jones.

He admitted too many hotel visits on one fam could be counter-productive.

“We’ve learned from experience that, if you take agents to loads of hotels, the information gets lost,” he said. “We stay in a couple and visit a few more, usually for lunch or dinner.”

Gold Medal takes about 350 to 500 agents on fam trips every year and general manager sales Jill Martin said the most successful are the ones that crammed in as much as possible without overloading the schedule.

“It’s important for agents to see a range of hotels but they also need to be able to absorb the culture of a place so they can talk to clients about things like eating out and sightseeing.”

Most fam trips will consist of a cross-section of agents, so you’ll have to get along with people of different ages and backgrounds. “This usually works well, but for room shares we always try to put agents together with people of a similar age or similar interests,” said Jones.

Agent Catherine Long from Hosking World Travel, New Milton, Hampshire has been on one or two fam trips every year for the past seven years. She feels that small fam trips work best.

“You bond better, it’s easier to move around when you are visiting hotels, and you can all hear what’s being said and get a chance to ask questions,” she said.

Long said her best fam was a Gold Medal trip to South Africa, which consisted of just seven other agents. “The small group worked really well because we all got along and we didn’t feel we were with millions of other people we didn’t know.

“The itinerary was quite tiring but I’m now more confident about selling safaris.”

Kevin Wilson from Going Places, Swindon agreed that small groups are best. “I went to Kerala with Panorama with a group of 13, which worked really well. We all got along and it was really memorable. As a result I’ve sold loads of holidays to Kerala and Goa and I’ve also helped colleagues close sales of their own.”

An important part of a fam trip should be the debrief afterwards with agency colleagues. “It’s amazing how many agency managers will send their staff on trips and won’t bother to ask them how it went,” said Gold Medal’s Jill Martin. “They should have a mini training session afterwards so the whole agency benefits.”

How to make the most of a fam trip

1. Be prepared to go with the flow, to see and experience everything. Remember this could be a once-in-a-lifetime trip so enjoy it.

2. Grab the opportunity to learn everything you can about the destination; if you go with the view this is a holiday, you will let yourself, your company and your host down.

3. Face it, you’ll be walking round lots of hotels and tourist attractions so don’t forget some comfy shoes. Pack your heels for the evenings if you want to.

4. Leave some space in your suitcase for all the brochures and other information you’ll be bringing back with you. Or even better, pack an empty holdall.

5. Take the tour operator’s brochure so you can add your own thoughts and comments next to hotels/attractions – it’s better than writing in a notebook, which might get lost.

6. Take a camera to get some interesting snaps to show clients your favourite bits (of the destination).

7. Find time for a mini training session with colleagues when you return, so the whole agency can benefit from your trip. Highlight the best excursions, your favourite hotels and the best places to eat and drink.

8. Remember that fam trips require lots of stamina as agents do tend to burn the candle at both ends when they’re away. Get a few early nights before you go.

What to expect

1. You should get a detailed itinerary before your visit, including tips on what to pack.

2. You will probably have to share a room but this will always be with an agent of the same sex and you can ask to share with someone of a similar age if you prefer.

3. You will probably stay in at least two different hotels during the trip and visit many more during the day.

4. All travel, accommodation and meals are usually provided by the host, though some do ask for a contribution from agents towards the cost of the trip; you will need additional spending money for drinks, gifts, tips and personal items – don’t raid the mini-bar, or you’ll have to pay for it.

5. You should get some free time to enjoy the destination at your leisure.

6. You have to fill in a feedback report and some operators follow this up with additional training. Some even monitor your sales of their product after the fam.