If you've been in the hospitality business for any length of time, you're familiar with travel agent familiarization programs. If you're not, then here's a quick summary.
Travel agents help to direct customers to your service (airline, hotel, rental car, etc.). You as a supplier want the travel agent to refer guests more often to your service than that of your competitor. To do this you offer perks to travel agents. One of the most popular travel agent perks was the familiarization trip or FAM trip. The supplier drastically discounts the service, or comps it, when the travel agent uses the service for himself. The idea being to attract them to stay at their property. While there, some suppliers required the travel agent to take a tour and/or fill out some type of questionnaire to show that they could better sell their property. Occassionally, CVB's or clusters of hotels would arrange these tours for groups of travel agents.
Fam trips haved declined in popularity and effectiveness over time as travel agents do less research for clients and have less of an impact on the actual decision making process. Additionally, hotels and travel suppliers are looking to cut costs and reduce these marketing expenses that have no proven ROI.
Well the idea for familiarization trips may be making a come back. Actually, it may be more of a familiarization meeting. Bloggers have more influence and power than ever. As more people look the internet for recommendations, reviews and resources on booking their travel. Bloggers in the travel field are putting their mark of approval on hotels, airline seat placement and rental car programs. More importantly, Jane Q. Consumer is listening.
This post from Chris Brogan about his recent visit to St. Louis and why local tourism agencies should be building relationships with bloggers highlights a program being started by VisitPittsburgh to reach out to influential people coming in for conventions to educate them about the city. What struck me about this is that in the hotel industry, we often look at guest reviews as the holy grail of what's happening online, but we tend to lose focus on the influencers that are out there in our industry.
To that end, I am advocating that hotels start up their own "Blogger Outreach" program. Here is my formula for getting this started at your property or organization:
- Start by tracking what is being said about your hotel and your competition using tools like Google Alerts. (Let me know if you have other tools you use to track buzz on your company. I'll talk about them in future posts.)
- Participate in online forums and leave comments on web sites that mention your hotel.
- Identify the bloggers that have influence and forumulate a plan to educate them about your service.
- Reach out to the bloggers and ask for more information about their stay and for additional feedback.
- Next time the blogger is coming to town invite her to lunch. Don't expect a review from it, but you never know. Just opening up the door for conversation is what is important here.