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FAMs: The Magic of Collaboration

The name “Familiarization Trip” or better known as FAM absolutely cannot transmit the importance this tool has for a destination. On the contrary, it's an arid and impersonal term which perfectly describes the goal of those who organize it: take, as if shepherding a flock, as many travel agents as you can, to the most places, in the shortest possible time. Many people cringe when they hear the word FAM.

And I believe the problem stems right from the conception of the trip and its organization.  All of us who have been involved in the travel event organization know that it is mainly the ministries of tourism, either national or regional ones, the ones which organize these kind of trips. And it makes sense, these entities are the ones that have the money to finance FAMs. However, in many cases, they also design the itinerary, coordinate the logistics, they even lend the office vehicles to move the guests around.  As the trip develops one realizes that the representatives of these governmental entities who are hosting the FAM have never been in that place, haven´t engaged in any of the promoted activities nor know the guides in person. This evidently permeates through the guests ́perception making them realize that instead of being there to have a valuable experience, they are another bullet point to check off the list of an entity without name or surname. 

In addition, the tourism ministries have the commitment to help all companies equally, otherwise they can get into trouble.  Therefore the FAM becomes a non stop inspection of hotel rooms and bathrooms (which at the end it’s only a blur of beds and showers in the minds of the guests,) speedy visits to interesting places without allowing people to do any activities nor engage with the locals and experts, fast and furious meals, and unending meetings with operators who show lovely images of the places and experiences they offer…right outside the door.  At the end everyone ends up frustrated: the guest leaves without really having felt the place nor have a clear idea on how would any tour operator run a trip for his clientes. And the guests knowing that those possible partners and allies left without really having had a memorable experience. 

We understand that all destinations which host a FAM are eager to show their products and properties, especially if the guests are already in that place, however what everyone involved should understand is that the best way to convince these travel agents or buyers to sell the destination is by having them experience the place the same way their clients would.  Hence the ability of the people designing the FAM and the subtlety they use to nurture the trip with outstanding elements while at the same time allowing the guest to FEEL the place.   

And here is where the magic of collaboration kicks in as long as we abide by the saying “ let the cobbler stick to his last”- and by this I mean that when organizing a FAM all the people involved should be experts in their fields and as such need to focus on what they know and can do to create an unforgettable trip.  The tourism ministries have an incredible power of negotiation and leverage with airlines, ground transportation companies, park and natural protected areas, cultural organizations, amongst many others. This is their biggest contribution to a FAM, let’s see it as the skeleton of the trip. To the team you need to add the muscle… expert tour operators who know the destination like the palm of their hands and understand the client.  A tour operator who designs a trip including key elements that make this destination something special. The veins will be all those local suppliers who will pitch in as the trip develops and following the lead of the tour operator. Designing the ideal FAM trip demands having the skill of making the guest fall in love with the destination, not by making her visit all the existing hotels in the area or loading her with information on all the products available, but by curating a trip that allows her to enjoy and experience the place in depth…no inspection can make this possible. 

Through the years ATMEX has offered its guests and delegates amazing FAM trips which have been hosted by the state tourism boards but designed and run by professional tour operators who have created unforgettable experiences.  Furthermore, ATMEX FAMs have shed light on new and off the beaten path destinations in Mexico that today are in the radar of travel companies and travelers all over the world. ATMEX FAMs are an example of collaboration amongst the key players of Mexico´s adventure travel industry and an example of how FAMs should be done.

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