or media trip has witnessed unprofessional behavior on the part of guests that
raises deep suspicions that the participant isn’t truly evaluating the product for
their clients or readers but is simply on a
junket. The organizer might be a perfect
host, but the invitee is a far-from-perfect
Although Travel Weekly is a trade publication and understands that most in the
industry are familiar with the concept
of fams and media trips, we recently instituted an editorial policy of disclosing
within an article whether
gathered material for the story on a hosted trip.
For consumer media, policy on hosted
or subsidized travel varies widely, and
I have been told that some social media
“influencers” are even paid by a supplier
to tweet or post favorably.
But travel agents and media actually
have a huge incentive to be professional
in their guidance, whether trips are the
result of a fam or not: Future business
is reliant on one’s ability to parse which
aspects of a travel product will appeal to
whom, then convey that information in a
meaningful fashion. To praise a product
beyond its abilities or overlook limitations constitutes a disservice to everyone,
from the client/readers to the host of the
In other words, it’s not only unprofessional; it’s a very poor way to repay hospitality.
Email Arnie Weissmann at aweiss
firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on
Twitter at twitter.com/awtravelweekly.
This is not to say there aren’t razor-sharp elbows that flash when travel companies compete — multibillion-dollar
corporations and small enterprises alike
engage in fierce struggles for market
share — but courtesy is one of the core
competencies of the travel industry, and
it’s no exaggeration to say that the ability
to attract business is dependent upon the
creative and sincere ways in which travel
companies work to make others happy
The supplier side of the industry figured out long ago that as a service industry, its products must be experienced to
be sold effectively. “Five star” can mean
many things, and photos of idyllic beaches and newly renovated rooms or descriptions of menus designed by celebrity
chefs aren’t necessarily enough.
The instrument that devel-
oped to incent and influ-
ence the industry’s retail
sales force — travel advisers
— to recommend specific
products is the familiariza-
tion trip, or fam. In these
hosted or subsidized events,
a supplier spares no effort to
demonstrate its expertise in
service, the quality of its
amenities, its skills
in the kitchen
and its ability to deliver against the high
expectations of people who have the deep
experience necessary to critically assess
Any professional who has been on a
fam knows this can be a lot less glamorous than it sounds. It often entails long
days being shuttled from hotel to hotel
and inspecting five categories of rooms
in each, but it nonetheless beats digging
ditches by a long shot.
The system is not without its critics.
Some agents consider fams a waste of
time because they may feel obligated to
inspect aspects of products they know
won’t match their clientele.
And the ethics of fams (and hosted media trips) has been called into question by
industry watchdogs from time to time.
Critics assert that they provide a distorted, VIP experience to which regular
guests aren’t privy.
Practices that are standard in the
industry can appear insidious to
some. Currently, local officials in
Bergen, Norway, are looking into
whether it was appropriate for the
to have ac-
perks — a
trip to a shipyard in
Italy and a two-day lo-
cal cruise — that came
with being named godmother of the Vi-
king Star. Questions arose because she
also has the ability to influence policy that
could impact the company.
Viking, which was drawn into the investigation, said in a statement that it
engaged in nothing outside “normal business practices” and is cooperating with
Do fams and related perks fall into an
ethically “gray” zone? Journalists are routinely brought to shipyards, and I and
hundreds of travel agents and Viking
it christened clusters of river Longships
over the past several years.
The extent to which one might be compromised by the fam experience is a fair
question to explore. Fams can certainly
be viewed as legitimate, professional
tools that offer the basis for an agent or
journalist to provide guidance. In other
industries, the equivalent of fams might
not be necessary; movie critics can easily
pay for their own cinema tickets, or a reviewer of computers can test and return
But flying halfway around the world
and spending a few nights inspecting
hotels that might become part of a wide
portfolio of hotels isn’t really economically feasible for most businesses that
provide travel guidance.
And travel products are, in a sense,
consumed when they are reviewed. Believe me, there have been fam experiences
I would have gladly returned, if only that
had been possible.
Ultimately, it comes down to professionalism. Anyone who has been on a fam
The ethics of fams
Hospitality is the common denominator of the travel indus- try, and every segment views its target market as “guests” rather than customers. This spirit of service extends to partners and, I’ve observed, even competitors who, through appenstance or invitation, are in a position to be hosted.
FROM THE WINDOW SEAT
It’s how you get there.
On our river cruises, you don’t just pass through a destination – you experience it. Our welcoming crew is dedicated to treating guests like
family so you feel at home from the moment you step on board. Because it’s not just about where you go. It’s how you get there that matters.
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