Travel professionals, whether they’re a travel agent, meeting and event planner or travel writer, are often invited to participate in a “fam” (short for familiarization) tour. While outsiders may look on this as a junket, these are working trips with a highly defined business purpose. We can’t expect a travel writer to write about or a travel agent to book a holiday to or a meeting planner to invest hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in hosting an event in a place they don’t know. That’s unfair to the reader, traveller and business client.
The fam trip is a marketing tool. I’ve been on such trips in Europe, the Caribbean, South Africa, China, UK and Canada. In July I participated in a tour organized by Meetings and Conventions Prince Edward Island.
When fam trips go well those of us who participate become apostles for the places and events we have seen and experienced.
My fellow PEI participants, who travelled from as far away as San Francisco, were planners looking for a place to host business events for groups ranging in size from 400 to 900 people. Given that most of the delegates to these business events will stay a minimum of three nights for which they require accommodations, meals and meeting space that’s a major cash infusion to the local economy.
Then factor in entertainment and gifts (either for corporate guests and speakers, as well as personal mementos) and the value rises. Other business costs can
include transportation, décor for trade show space, audio visual support, technical services, web design, some printing (though to be green groups are moving away from much of that in favour of thumb drives and websites) and other promotional services. Sometimes unorthodox places are hired to host a networking event.
Another factor is that coastal destinations hosting business meetings see a higher-than-average turn out of delegates, which is a bonus for the organizers
and the host community. Those Canadian destinations which track these numbers see from six-to15 percent higher attendance than similar events held at inland locations. Annnnnnd, some places are seeing delegates staying longer. One coastal community has found that 48 percent of conference delegates add an additional five days on to their trip. That’s a massive injection of fresh cash to local economies.
Naturally, with this much business at stake hosts pull out all the stops to wow their guests. Meetings and Conventions PEI pulled off a brilliantly authentic
program that was both sophisticated and simple. It showed the state-of-the-art meetings space and full-service hotels mixed with the delicious backdrop of the Island geography, history, culture and cuisine. Yes, we donned straw hats and red braids and toured Green Gables, but in two-and-a-half days we also learned of group options at the national park, the Holman Grand, Rodd Charlottetown, Delta Prince Edward, PEI Convention Centre, New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, New Glasgow Hills, PEI Preserve Company, PEI Brewing Company, the gouda guy, Inn on Great George, an event barn, the ConFed Centre, Dalvay-by-the-Sea, The Dunes and introduced Island icons like COWS and Paderno to people who didn’t know about them. After the formal program, some planners toured the Rodd-managed golf resorts.
Then for a high note we had the most amazing hotel welcome at the Delta Prince Edward – our bus drove through a welcome banner like an athlete at a finish
line, to be met by dozens of Delta staff waving placards with our names and companies on them, while young step dancers tapped away to a fiddler. With hotel executives lined up outside waiting for us, one planner said, “This is like arriving at Downton Abbey.”
The Meetings and Conventions PEI and the Delta Prince Edward’s teams topped off the day with dinner on the dunes. After finding COWS beach towels and flip flops waiting for us in our rooms we were taken by coach past the Lake of Shining Waters to the beach for an evening of lobster, mussels and oysters, Island wines, beer and a moonshine shooter
served in a hollowed out potato. How Island is that!?!
For something different there was a henna tattoo artist, a masseuse, a professional sand sculptor and his crew, the nine-piece The Count and the Cuban Cocktail group and the joy of digging toes in the sand, inhaling clean, crisp air, listening to waves lap the shore and watching a magnificent, fiery sunset.
For off-Islanders, this never gets old. I think PEI will well profit from such a showcase of the Island’s best.