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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Caldwell

Host to make a lasting impression

We all know that having agents and media experience our products is one of the best selling tools we have. But do you make the most of each of these visits?

During my years running an inbound tour operation, I was fortunate enough to be hosted on many famils around New Zealand. There was a combination of group famils with other inbound operators and individual famils where I travelled with my partner. Some were initiated by individual product suppliers, regional tourism organisations and some by me. A lot of the product I experienced made its way into our brochures and onto the desks of the reservations consultants and off-shore sales teams who were charged with helping to promote our itineraries to our travel agent partners and customers.

It’s interesting when I think back on some of my experiences and particularly those that stood out – for both good and not so good reasons.

I’ll never forget one of my managers telling me a story of a famil she had while bringing a group of travel agents from the UK through New Zealand. I may not have all the details completely correct so I apologise in advance if you’re reading this, but it was a pretty typical famil – you know, the type that you’re on the go constantly, with no real time to soak up the vibe and atmosphere of the places you’re visiting, the itinerary that includes 4 or 5 hotel site inspections a day (who can ever really recall the quilt covers of that many hotel rooms?). They got to one hotel and were being politely shown through the various room types when all of a sudden, a man got out of the bath! Yes, it was all staged (and he was clothed) but it was highly memorable and this was talked about for years (and probably still is).

I recall another time when we were travelling on a famil in a group and we were spoken to like small children for the entire weekend! Now there are always stories that travel agents are the worst people to travel with, and will never stick to time, but we were all adults, all senior product people in our organisations and pretty experienced travellers – we certainly did not need to be treated like children. In the end, we had to just laugh and make the most of the situation, but it didn’t make us want to engage too much more with that host.

One of the best experiences I ever had on a famil was after a very long day out doing activities. We were fortunate enough to have been invited with our partners on this famil for the weekend, and it was a busy itinerary. We thought we had a pretty short turnaround for dinner when we eventually got to the hotel but on arrival in our room, we were greeted with drawn baths, complete with rose petals, champagne and a selection of magazines for both men and women! What a treat!! So much so, the poor organiser of the famil had the same request made of her each time she hosted us in a different hotel!

So what does this all mean for suppliers?

Famils need to be memorable for those you are hosting. Make sure you go out of your way to make them feel welcome – my husband still tells the story about us checking in for an activity and he saw written beside my name “this is a VVIP”, and we were treated like so. Remember that the agent or media visiting you, will also be visiting a number of other hotels, attractions, restaurants and activities so you need to do what you can to make yours stand out from the crowd. How special they feel, will be a reflection of how their customers or readers will be made to feel so this is a sales opportunity.

My check list for a great famil:

  • Be in communication before the visit to ensure you have any special requirements noted and organised. Sometimes this isn’t possible if you are working through your RTO.

  • Roll out the big guns. Introduce your guest to the manager if you can, or ensure that their main point of contact (or someone suitably senior) is there to meet and greet on arrival.

  • Host – go with them to experience your product, guide them through the experience, sit and eat with them (if appropriate) and make them welcome. This is especially important if they are travelling alone.

  • Be natural. Yes it’s important to promote your product and let your guest know about everything you can offer, but don’t go into hard sales overdrive. Be natural, build a rapport and be open to listening to what they are actually looking for. They may have ideas for your product that you’ve never even considered.

  • Be memorable. You don’t always need to offer your standard tour – think outside the box and find something that is unique to your business that will make you stand out from the crowd. If you’re an established business, chances are people will know what you do, so this is an opportunity to put a different spin on it, promote a new product, test a product idea. If you’re a hotel, give them something that will make your property stand out from the many other hotels they’ve seen.

  • Share your social media pages and hashtags! Especially when you're hosting social media influencers.

  • Small gift. I think it’s always nice to offer VIP guests a small gift as a way of thanking them for taking time to visit your product. There are thousands of options out there for them to choose and you’re usually hosting very busy people so it’s nice to say thank you. BUT, I have a whole box of ‘collectibles’ – things I will probably never use - from my famil visits, so I think it’s nice if you can come up with an idea that is practical, and also helps to remind them of their visit to you.

  • Finally, FOLLOW UP! This is the big opportunity for you. Don’t forget about them once they leave your establishment. Get in contact, thank them again for coming, send them some product information via dropbox or other electronic means and ask if you can be of any further assistance.

I’d be keen to hear about any other ideas you may have!

Hosting the Auckland ITM Cup team in 2013

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