A well-executed familiarization (FAM) trip—just like a well-planned event—belies the months of strategizing, behind-the-scenes coordination and, quite frankly, sheer fortitude that goes into its planning. But behind every flawlessly timed afternoon of venue tours or masterfully planned zip-lining adventure is a convention and visitors bureau (CVB) staff whose 24/7 smiles mask the around-the-clock effort it takes to pull it all off.

We asked representatives from two regional CVBs to share their secrets to planning a successful and productive fam trip.

How long does it take to plan a fam?

“We set our fam dates early in the year based on staff schedules and industry events. We begin planning about three months prior,” says Terry Kopp, director of sales with the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau

And when one is done, it’s likely that the planning for the next one is just beginning. 

“Our fam tours take up to a year to plan. … Visit Anchorage’s three annual fam tours are spaced three–five months apart. As soon as one fam tour ends, we begin planning for the next group,” says Visit Anchorage president and CEO Julie Saupe.

How do you choose whom to invite?

“We have a database of clients we ‘tag’ for fam. These are clients we’ve met at shows or conferences or through referrals. Sometimes we have a bid pending, and we offer the fam trip as an alternative to a site visit,” says Kopp.

“Our staff nominates meeting and event planners after considering the short- and longterm value of the relationship. We strive to curate a fam group that will learn from each other during the tour as much as they learn from our vendors and staff. We intentionally look for a blend of planners who have previously held a conference in Anchorage and those who are experiencing Alaska for the first time,” explains Saupe.

How do you choose where to go and where to stay?

“We couldn’t showcase Anchorage without the longstanding support of our four convention hotels and major ski resort. There is a long tradition of rotating the primary host hotel while including site inspections at each of these properties,” says Saupe. “If a venue or vendor deepens the meeting and event planner’s understanding of Anchorage, we will work hard to include them in the itinerary. It is our duty to put the fam guest experience first and ensure they meet the right local vendors while being respectful of both party’s time.”

“We try to include major venues that will fit a variety of needs, and in some cases we solicit [their] participation,” says Kopp. “Early in the year we will offer a menu of opportunities to our hotels, including the host hotel. We also ask hotels to host a meal: breakfast, lunch or dinner.” 

How do you decide which activities the groups will enjoy?

“This is where Anchorage really comes alive for our fam guests. Anchorage is a hub for the Alaska Railroad, so every fam itinerary includes an evening trip through the Alaska wilderness aboard a private rail tour. We also offer seasonally appropriate excursions throughout the region. Past activities have included driving a dog team with a champion musher from the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and getting close to some of our 50 nearby glaciers by small boat,” says Saupe.

Kopp says her team likes to plan activities that “are a surprise and delight to our clients: winery tour, unique off-site venues, fun attractions. White-water rafting is always a huge success!” 

What should planners do when attending a fam tour?

“As in life, the golden rule applies to destination marketing organization staff, local vendors and fam guests during a tour,” says Saupe.

Kopp adds, “Be on time for events. Participate in all activities. Offer constructive criticism. Don’t accept a fam invite unless you are seriously considering that city.” 

And above all, says Saupe, “come with an open mind and be prepared to push yourself while in Alaska to experience something new.”

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