Following Conventa 2011 a number of destinations in Slovenia and Croatia offered fam trips to hosted buyers. The results were mixed but some buyers were left wondering did the destinations really want them to visit. Some of the feedback from buyers included stories of ill thought through itineraries, poor or inadequate catering and one explanation that it was not appropriate to serve hospitality! Others buyers were impressed with the destinations but some transfers were time consuming. In one instance several buyers failed to turn up for a tour which is incredibly unprofessional.

 

Why bother then with post trade show fam trips or those specially arranged by or for a destination. Well the answer is really easy and given this form of live marketing is an example of precision marketing, providing the buyer research is carried out well and by those who know the target market and the itinerary is well thought through to create a memorable experience the ROI can be huge.

 

One of the challenges for a venue, hotel, DMC or destination is to effectively research the target buyer markets. The reality is that this is a big task – within the region of 100,000 professionals in the business of planning meetings just in the UK, how do we know which buyers are interested in our part of the world. The answer is not just to accept first come first served – some destinations still do this (really stupid!) but to define what type of business you are looking for (and saying all and any is also unwise) and then set down how you will select the applicants – this applies even if you have a representational company or buyer database research company working for you. It’s vital you check the credentials of the buyer and their organisation including event history, frequency budgets and crucially, does the applicant have real decision making authority. If agents apply research who their end clients are – this is important in the case of venue finding/site selection agencies. In terms of the itinerary it’s important to remember that it’s the meetings product which is the cornerstone of the offer – its quality and how it’s serviced and its price competitiveness. A careful balance has to be struck with the duration of site inspections (and someone very senior should ALWAYS meet and greet) with the hospitality elements. Timetabling of refreshments breaks and the presentation of marketing materials and corporate gifts again needs to be balanced (always offer to send brochures after the visit and do not give corporate gifts which are really not very useful – you can’t really use dozens of soft toys in a professional environment!  And believe me; international planners really don’t need to see every local church but do want to see authentic offerings which their delegates can subsequently enjoy.

 

On the other hand if you get the itinerary correct (the easiest part by far) it is important not to get carried away with concern about having a big group – quality is key. Sarawak in Asia offers fam trips for groups of just five or six. Easy to manage, easier to plan something memorable, easier to show round a property. You are trying to impress, and not only earn their business but get them to become your ambassador. Linda’s Pereira’s highlight of her 2011 visit to Slovenia was a private tour of the Lipizzaner stud farm and  during Conventa week the tea and Almond refreshment break at the Hotel Lev – both relatively low cost but truly memorable which she still tells people about.

 

Face to face business development is the most highly effective form of business development and in our world rarely is a venue or destination chosen without some form of previous visit. Investing into fam trips as a business development activity can bring significant new and repeat business. With the supply chain working together the cost of fam trips can be spread between local partners who need to commit fully to the venture, particularly when using the services of a representation or recruiter company which although fee based ensures a significant degree of quality control. It is always a matter of choice about where a company places it marketing expenditure but in a business where destination choice is based on personal experience of a destination and its supply chain, then your marketing mix surely should be geared to meeting your clients face to face in an environment you can truly influence – your own destination. If you don’t do face to face business development you can be assured your competitors will.

 

Paul Kennedy