We asked travel agents: How can fams be improved?
Iberostar fam-Credit Leah Janz

We asked travel agents: How can fams be improved?

TORONTO — Of the many perks associated with being a travel agent, fams have got to be among the top of the list.

Short for ‘familiarization trip,’ fams have long been offered by tour operators, cruise lines, hotels and tourism boards to give travel agents the chance to experience their products and offerings first hand, usually at a discounted rate or even at no fee at all. The idea is that these agents would then use their first-hand experience to better sell the product to their clients, a win-win situation for the agent and the supplier.

When did fams first burst onto the scene? It’s hard to say though we do know that they were already prevalent in the 1970s, following Canada’s easing of charter flight rules that allowed modern tour operators to begin offering inclusive tour charters in the late 1960s. With all this new capacity to fill, it’s safe to assume that airlines, cruise lines and tour operators needed an easy way to showcase their products to travel agents who at the time, long before the birth of the Internet and OTAs, were the best direct link to travellers. 

Since then, fams haven’t really changed all that much. They typically include some sightseeing, hotel accommodations, meals, ground transportation, excursions, and, of course, the camaraderie that comes with being with fellow agents. 

But should fams be different from those early days of travel? Is there room for improvement? We checked in with several travel agents to get their take on the value of fams and whether any changes need to be made.

We asked travel agents: How can fams be improved?

Leah Janz on an Iberostar fam

Leah Janz, Travel Agent with Fareconnect, Edmonton, AB

Number of years as a travel agent: 14

Number of fams: 8

First fam: “Costa Rica in 2015. It was an amazing experience. I actually met my husband on this fam.”

Are you going on fams again, post-pandemic? “Yes, as a matter of fact, I just finished a fam in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.”

How have fams changed over the years? “I think each brand is different and does things their way. There are definitely many more fams to choose from now, with Independants creating their own fams with varying prices.”

How can suppliers improve fams? “I would suggest more down time to experience the facilities. I find many times on fams they pack so much into the days that there is no time for agents to enjoy the brand. It’s awesome to see the hotels and amenities, room categories and venues, but our clients want to know things like what the food is like, how fast the room service is, is it easy to get a chair at the beach or the pool, and how’s the entertainment. When I have a good time at a hotel, I can pass on my experience to my clients with excitement and knowledge, therefore selling the brand more confidently.”

Carol Murray, Owner, Your Vacation Home, Concord, ON

Number of years as a travel agent: 32

Number of fams: 7

First fam: “Jamaica with Air Canada. It was good yet too short.”

Are you going on fams again, post-pandemic? “Yes, I have been on two in France and I’m willing to go on more!”

How have fams changed? “I think the cost has definitely increased and some are not worth it as they are too expensive.”

How can suppliers improve fams? “I would tell them to make fams a very reasonable price, if not close to being free. That’s the best way for the travel agent to go on the trip and then be able to sell it when they get back. We are the greatest ambassadors for all the brands so it’s imperative that we know them personally.”

Lise Archambault, Travel Agent & Cruise Specialist, Algonquin Travel & Cruise Centre, TravelPlus, Ottawa, ON

Number of years as a travel agent: 25

Number of fams: “Too many to count”

First fam: “1991 with Trafalgar, seven days, seven countries in Europe. My colleague was supposed to go but got sick and asked me to replace him. I absolutely did not want to go, I didn’t want to share a room with a stranger, and I sure as heck didn’t want to be traipsing across Europe in a bus. But I did go and I had an amazing roommate and I loved every second of the trip. I realized what a great way it was to see the sights and get immediate entry to various museums. Ever since, I’ve sold Trafalgar and its sister companies with great confidence.”

Are you going on fams again, post-pandemic? “The only fams that I would consider going on are the ‘Do It Yourself’ ones, where the tour operator gives you a really good discount to visit a specific property for a week. That’s how I experienced RIU properties in various countries and I fell in love with them.”

How have fams changed? “In earlier fams, the leader gave us enough personal time to catch our breath and wind down a bit. I find them too hectic now but then again, I’m older with less patience.”

How can suppliers improve fams? “I wish that tour operators who operate out of Ottawa would offer us fams from Ottawa. It’s always from Montreal or Toronto. If they did, I would certainly go more often.”

We asked travel agents: How can fams be improved?

Gary Rams

Gary Rams, Soft Adventure & Cultural Experiences Specialist, Crowfoot Travel Solutions, Calgary, AB

Number of years as a travel agent: 35

Number of fams: Approximately one a year

First fam: “I do not remember my first fam. I do remember the fam that I consider to be the important in my career. It was a China fam, and it was followed by a lot of China bookings and soft adventure and cultural trips for my clients.”

Are you going on fams again, post-pandemic? “I was able to go to Peru on a fam last year. It was a good time to go before tourists starting showing up again. I was looking at India but I need to wait as the airfare is very expensive. I see a lot more fams coming in the next few years.”

How have fams changed? “I’m not sure. I do believe more agents really want to use fams to learn. Maybe it has to do with more Independent agents who seem to pay for it rather than a company.”

How can suppliers improve fams? “It depends on the fam. If it’s resort/hotel heavy, one room starts to look like all the others. I believe what makes a fam great is to get the experience of the place. Sometimes less is more.”

Valerie Murphy, Travel Advisor, Direct Travel, Waterloo, ON

Number of years as a travel agent: 26

Number of fams: N/A

First fam: “A one-day trip to Nassau, Bahamas with Conquest Tours. It was a positive experience, I really enjoyed it but I don’t think I’d do a one-day mega fam now at my age!”

Are you going on fams again, post-pandemic? “Yes, I did a fam in February to Ireland with Royal Irish Tours. The fam was excellent, it was extremely busy but great.”

How have fams changed? “I can’t say that fams have really changed too much.”

How can suppliers improve fams? “I understand on fams that we have to see as much as possible, but just a little free time would be so welcome. Any fam I’ve been on, they’ll point out areas of interest and say ‘You must do that or see that,’ but we don’t have the free time to do any exploration on our own. I also don’t particularly like Caribbean fams where you have to tour 10 resorts in a day, so I don’t pick those. I don’t believe those are helpful as all the resorts tend to blend together after a while. I usually choose a fam based on whether it’s a place I sell a lot and I haven’t been, and sometimes I choose based on the supplier, if I have a good relationship with them and want to see how they work.”

Marianne Vogel, Owner, Just for you Travel & Consulting, Dundas, ON

Number of years as a travel agent: 30

Number of fams: Approximately two a year

First fam: “I recall one to Holland in 2001 where I have relatives. Having Dutch roots, it had really appealed to me so it was important that I knew as much as possible about the country. It was a 10-day fam during which I experienced a Dutch festival in my cousin’s village. After that I sold lots of tours to Holland and I still sell a number of them because of the experience I gained from that fam.”

Are you going on fams again, post-pandemic? “I am willing to go but unable to at this time due to my husband’s illness. I used to go on them regularly and learned a great deal about the suppliers and how they’re received in the country visited.”

How have fams changed? “Fams used to be free to agents or next to free because we really worked at selling the products and we had to prove that we sold the product. We did the training before we were even considered for a fam. It was a privilege, not a right, which I think some travel agents have forgotten.”

How can suppliers improve fams? “Fams have become expensive to attend so it seems like the only agents who have money from other sources than travel are able to attend. And if you’re the supplier and give a prize out, please do not give three days without airfare and then argue about which three days we can take – and charge double if we want to add a few days to work.”

Get travel news right to your inbox!