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The Do’s and Don’ts of Hosting a FAM Trip for Event Planners

Here’s how properties and destinations can stay top of mind for upcoming group travel, events, and meetings.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Hosting a FAM Trip for Event Planners
Hammond said that “we want to respect that planners have limited time.” That includes offering a quick 24-hour visit.
Photo: Courtesy of Experience Columbus

As the saying goes, you have to see it to believe it. And when it comes to location scouting for destination events, planners need to get the full picture firsthand before selecting a spot. Enter familiarization trips, or what’s more commonly known as FAM trips. Usually hosted by venue operators, hotel properties, and destination organizations, these types of trips allow planners to experience a potential site—from the meeting spaces to the excursions—for consideration for upcoming events.

But what do planners really want to take away from a FAM trip? And how do hosts aim to attract potential clients (and possibly new business) to their destinations and venues? We polled a few experts to find out.

In December, the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia hosted a trip for top event and wedding planners to show off the property and the city. “In the past, Philadelphia has been often overlooked as a destination for luxury, and it’s finally being recognized as a top market for hosting events, milestones, and meetings,” explained Robin Ewing, director of catering for the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia. She added that she wanted the event profs to “experience firsthand what our service standards and level of hospitality feel like.”

The Do’s and Don’ts of Hosting a FAM Trip for Event PlannersWith the support from Jeff Leatham's team, the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia turned its ballroom into a lavish reception “to reflect how drastically our ballroom spaces can be transformed,” Ewing said.Photo: Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel PhiladelphiaInstead of only inviting planners, Ewing explained that for this recent trip, a mix of luxury event professionals was included. “Our goal was to capture a broader audience and bring a different vibe to the experience, so the planners who were invited felt more special and experienced something different. We worked collaboratively with many of the city’s top vendors to give the guests a sense of what they could expect when booking their events with us.”

Tracy Taylor Ward, creative director and owner of New York-based Tracy Taylor Ward Design (TTWD), attended the Four Seasons FAM trip, and said that “we’re always keeping a pulse on new and noteworthy vendors who can offer a unique experience for our clients, while potentially also leading to future mutually beneficial relationships and collaborations that align with who we are and what we do at TTWD.” She added that the hotel “felt like such a natural fit for us, not only because we have many clients from Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, but because it’s a one-of-a-kind property.”

The Do’s and Don’ts of Hosting a FAM Trip for Event PlannersAttendees of the Four Seasons trip received monogramed bathrobes with an invite to a spa night.Photo: Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel PhiladelphiaPersonalize the Experience
When it came to the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia trip, Ewing said that the team “spent weeks getting to know each attendee prior to their arrival so that every detail could be personalized.” This included a surprise delivery of their favorite coffee and a monogrammed Four Seasons bathrobe with an invite to a spa night that featured a personal bottle of Moet, a raw bar with caviar, and sweet treats.

Of course, one of the main goals for attending planners is to gain a better understanding of the services and amenities offered by the property. Ward added that she also wants to know that her clients will be well taken care of “because ultimately when we are recommending a venue for our clients’ events, we need to know they will be in the best hands possible throughout the planning process and on their event day.”

Highlight the F&B
After scouting potential event spaces, next on the to-do list for planners is food. Ward said that she expects to learn about the various culinary experiences that are offered by the property or that are unique to the locale. “Being that food and beverages are at the heart of any celebratory event, it’s crucial to be able to speak to the types of food service, cuisines, and caliber of food and beverage a property can offer when recommending it to a client.”

Shannon Leahy, owner of Shannon Leahy Events in San Francisco, said that that also includes the banquet team and off-site options, not just the on-site restaurants. “When visiting a new destination, it’s wonderful if properties connect with locations off-site that they partner with for other events such as rehearsal dinners or welcome parties and to give us a taste of the experience off property.” For example, the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia trip included lunch at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which Leahy said provided a “great taste of the possibilities in the area.”

The Do’s and Don’ts of Hosting a FAM Trip for Event Planners“Being that food and beverages are at the heart of any celebratory event, it’s crucial to be able to speak to the types of food service, cuisines, and caliber of food and beverage a property can offer when recommending it to a client," Ward said. The Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia offered up a Philly classic—the cheesesteak.Photo: Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel PhiladelphiaShowcase the Destination
“When planning these trips, it’s important that we spotlight not just the hotel, but also the location as well,” said Jennifer Brown, director of incentive and meeting sales for the all−inclusive property collection at Hilton Hotels & Resorts. “Not all clients are familiar with Playa Del Carmen and Tulum in Mexico or Montego Bay in Jamaica, so we want to make sure that we’re educating them on the destination so that they can decide what experiences they can create to ensure an inspiring meeting or incentive travel program.” 

For example, in Mexico, Hilton has taken planners to the Mayan ruins or cenotes in Playa Del Carmen or Tulum, which offer ziplining, water rafting, or cave experiences. “We want our guests to fully immerse themselves so they can then recreate the experience for their own clients,” Brown said.

Anja Winikka, co-founder and CMO of Maroo, a payment processing platform for events, agreed with this, saying that “I don’t love it when the FAM trip keeps you on property the entire time,” noting that the Four Seasons trip included a city tour with the group.

It’s “helpful to get to know the culture of that destination and what makes it unique, along with the different types of potential activities and experiences that destination can offer in order to have a well-rounded understanding of what an event or weekend of events could look like,” Ward said. This also includes highlighting the local vendors and partners. “Part of working in a new location is about having connections locally in the area, and it’s always wonderful to get to know these individuals in addition to the participants on the trip,” Leahy said.

Angela Hammond, vice president of sales operations for Experience Columbus, said that in addition to spotlighting the Greater Columbus Convention Center and hotels like the Hilton Columbus Downtown and Hyatt Regency Columbus, itineraries typically also include visits to local restaurants and venues that offer unique off-site activities, such as Penn & Beech Candle Co. where groups can make their own custom candles and local distilleries that offer tours and tastings. (Columbus ​​recently hosted PCMA Convening Leaders 2023.)

Interestingly, Hammond said that part of the appeal of Columbus is that it's a one-day drive or a one-hour flight from more than half of the U.S. population, so highlighting how easy it is to get to is an important part of site visits. She added that “we want to respect that planners have limited time.” That includes offering a quick 24-hour visit.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Hosting a FAM Trip for Event PlannersThe Greater Columbus Convention Center and nearby hotels like the Hilton Columbus Downtown and Hyatt Regency Columbus are a must-see for planners visiting the city.Photo: Courtesy of Experience ColumbusShow Off the Behind the Scenes
Sarabeth Quattlebaum of Sarabeth Events in Grapevine, Texas, said that she loves “learning the unexpected about properties on a FAM trip. I want to know the history of the building, the back halls, the loading areas, and the freight elevator. ... We’re eyeing properties from a logistical perspective—that’s why we’re hired.”

Know Your Audience
“Some resorts want to tour you through every single room category—helpful for travel agents but unnecessary for event professionals—and sit you down for long meetings and presentations with in-depth discussions about the brand,” Leahy said. “These conversations should happen more organically and intimately on a trip like this instead of in a forced setting.”

On the flip side, she said that “some FAM trips are all about the fun, and I walk away really having no idea what the sales team is all about or what the event spaces even look like.” So hosts need to be able to find the balance between work and play when planning their itineraries.

Schedule Downtime
Most of the planners mentioned the need for downtime within the itinerary, so “they can recharge, check emails, or even just prepare for the next activity,” Ward said. “It’s super helpful to have these moments in order to ensure attendees feel energized and fully present for all the fun and educational activities you’ve planned for them.”

Brown agreed, saying that “downtime is a key element for any hotel stay, whether for business or leisure. We understand that, even while on property for a work-related visit, planners still have emails to respond to and families to check in with. It’s important that we allow them the flexibility to attend to those responsibilities.” 

Encourage Networking
In addition to learning about the property and destination, Leahy said that these trips also offer “unique networking opportunities with individuals I wouldn’t necessarily get to meet otherwise. The intimate and extended nature of a FAM creates a much deeper bond than a cocktail party, and I have made some of my closest friends in the industry on these trips.” She added that she’s been able to call on people she met on FAM trips for advice in different markets and that she’s given and gotten referrals from the people she’s met.

Winikka agreed, saying that “while I do love attending other industry events, they tend to result in surface chit-chat and conversation. On a FAM, we have the opportunity to spend real quality time together. The conversations tend to be deeper and more meaningful, and my hope is that we all walk away with a speed-dial type of relationship.”

The Do’s and Don’ts of Hosting a FAM Trip for Event PlannersHilton recently hosted a FAM trip in Mexico to spotlight its newest properties, the Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya (pictured) and the Hilton Cancun, an All-Inclusive Resort. "Knowing that the transfer from Cancun to Tulum is a bit longer, we provided [attendees] with information to look over on their way to the property and invited a tour guide to join them on the drive to share additional detail about the region and address any questions," Brown said.Photo: Courtesy of Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya

The Do’s and Don’ts of Hosting a FAM Trip for Event Planners“The city tour added a totally new dimension to the experience and gave us a real sense of place. It left me wanting to go back and explore more,” Winikka said about the tour that was offered during the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia trip.

The hotel partnered with local organizations, including the Philadelphia Ballet and Philadelphia Museum of Art, “to create interactive and engaging experiences that highlight the cultural, culinary, and architectural landmarks of the city," Ewing said.
Photo: Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia

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