Hosted Buyer Programmes and Fam Trips are well established in the events industry. Nearly every event professional has encounter them in one form or another. With not just technology changing at a fast pace in the industry the question is if they are still the right model in the marketing mix – what does the current business environment look like, how effective and easy is it to attract the right audience, do they deliver ROI? These questions got raised after an anonymous blacklist was published in July and discussed at the latest #EventPlannersTalk Live event on 26th September at the Caledonian Club in London.
The MICE Blog had invited for a Breakfast session to talk about ‘Hosted Buyer Programmes and Fam Trips – is it time for a change?’ in partnership with the AIEA (Alliance of Independent Event Agencies), the Caledonian Club, Splento and Sli.do.
Attendees of the sold-out event were greeted with a delicious breakfast in The Selkirk Room to network before moving over to The Stuart Room of the in 1891 founded Club’s facilities to start the dialogue using Sli.do to submit their questions.
The room was filled with a mix of suppliers and buyers with Martin Ellies from the AIEA and MD at Team Umbrella moderating the session being joined by Chaya McLaren, Freelancer and Rebecca Duncan, Manager Partnership Development at Virgin Atlantic Airways. After a brief introduction by Kim Goetze from The MICE Blog and a greeting from the sponsors, Abi Cannons from Sli.do conducted a few poll questions to be used later in the session.
The list which had started this discussion had just been read by 23% of the audience and it was later stated that naming and shaming isn’t the way forwards as every business has their own selection process and not all client lists look the same. 58% were however still interested in reading the list, but suppliers were split weather a publication of a list would change their decision-making process regarding attendee vetting.
Invitation lists for Fam Trips are usually a combination of lists from hotels, DMC’s, convention bureaus and airlines and use various criteria to qualify buyers. The aim is to meet new people and that sometimes means taking a risk by inviting someone who could not come back with business, they do however should always be personal invitation only. Even with those filters in place it does happen that the wrong people join an event as 86% of the audience have come across someone on a trip who didn’t warrant their place. Suppliers are aware of this and prefer taking the risk and maybe also have someone on the trip they have just briefly met at a trade show but who has the one perfect client.
Then there is also people abusing the system, friends applying for the same fam trip to Hong Kong, the “fam scammers”, who then maybe go on blacklists of certain companies. As the events industry is ever changing an old list from 15 years ago is worth nothing as most people will have changed jobs. It got pointed out to remember that my blacklist is not yours, know your customers.
The audience quickly agreed that although Fam trips can have a sour taste to given those reasons as well as a negative view from the “outside world” because of their jolly parts they are essential for the industry as they give the grounds to build long term relationships between suppliers and buyers. Attendees gain knowledge of the destination, experience flights, hotels, the different time zones and get an overall feeling for the location, from a business point of view it means an investment into an employee. It was then highlighted that some event planners get invited on fam trips although the strong relationship has already been established and it is more a ‘thank you’ for repeated business. This could shine a bad light on fam trips and those “thank you’s” should be handled differently. This also showed in one of the polls which stated that 82% of attendees believe Hosted Buyer Programmes and Fam Trips in their current state need to change. One other way of using Fam Trips however is accepted by suppliers and buyers, which is using it as a press trip as well. Having press present changes the dynamic positively as they are always on the lookout for the story and discovering the new.
The same troubles suppliers are having inviting the right attendees to their trips and programmes the same dilemma can be seen from buyers’ side, having to choose their time well spent. Accepting invitations is based mainly on the programme, this is key to get the most out of the trip and away from the desk. Timings of course play a huge role, as well as the interest in the destination for the company and their clients.
A concern raised by the audience was that junior employees would like to attend more but don’t get the time off work so must take annual leave to take part. This can cause issues on the trip as participants feel like they can let loose even though they are on a business trip. Misbehavior like having one too many drinks can easy be forgiven say suppliers as they acknowledge they are the ones providing alcoholic drinks at any possible occasion. As long as none of the programme is missed and the effort that went into executing the trip isn’t disrespected the jolly parts can be seen as part of Hosted Buyer Programmes and Fam Trips in a decade.
A lot has changed in the last 10 years and more will change in the ones to come. Social Media is a part of concepts now, using it before, during and after with specific hashtags to create excitement, jealousy and a group feeling. You want other buyers to get jealous that they are not part of it which creates interest. Over use of it comes with cons too though as the control of which content is shared is lost and social media should never be used to advertise free spots for Hosted Buyer Programmes or Fam Trips.
Another change that can be seen is the use of VR, which the audience agreed will become more and more part of Fam Trips but will never replace them. A hybrid model where VR is complimenting the face to face experience was suggested to guarantee the aim of building real life relationships.
Hosted Buyer Programmes on the other hand should be used more to strengthen and continuing those relationships. They are also a way to generate a revenue for some suppliers compared to Fam Trips. Trade shows and Hosted Buyer Programmes are very much a numbers game and don’t concentrate too much on the quality which good criticized by attendees. Where Fam Trips have to be meticulously planned little errors are excused and no-shows won’t get checked.
One of the solutions suggested was a contributing fee for attendees, which in some cases could be refundable when placing business. It was mentioned that working with some industries, like the pharmaceutical, who isn’t allowed to accept free trips other ways of showing services are in place. Cultural expectations to pay for parts, like the air fare, could get implemented and change the view of future generations. As well as having to structure trips differently for agencies or corporates, where it has to be more educational, some of the bigger agencies think they should be hosted because of their status and wouldn’t agree paying a fee.
Another solution raised by the audience is to use other tools like social media influencer and push the importance of the source the information is coming from. As people get bombarded with offers and data daily they single out trustworthy streams which plays in favor for the new format.
The session ended with attendees enjoying a tour of the marvelous venue by Lyndsey Taylor before ending the morning by continuing to talk about open questions and asking for a follow up session putting the focus on Hosted Buyer Programmes.
Photos by Splento