On Tuesday 26 September we co-hosted a breakfast forum in London with MiceBlog, on an #EventPlannersTalk event. The discussion topic was “Hosted Buyer Programmes and Fam Trips – Is It Time For A Change?” It’s an issue that has been discussed at length recently, ever since the anonymous publication of an industry blacklist which claimed to name and shame serial freeloaders. It was a lively debate with two industry experts offering their take on a variety of questions posed by the audience. Both Chaya McLaren and Rebecca Duncan have many years of experience of Fam Trips – Chaya during her time with hotels, DMCs and Tourism Bureaus, and Rebecca as Partnership Development Manager at Virgin Atlantic.

Several polls were held during the debate with interesting results. Less than half of those present had actually seen the list in question, whilst most of those who had not still expressed an interest in seeing it. The general consensus was that there does need to be some change in the way that hosting buyers both on trips and at trade shows does need to change; the flip side is that for the larger events there is very much a “numbers game” whereby the number of attendees is seen to be more relevant than the quality of individual buyers. Possibly due to this, the vetting of Fam Trip attendees is much more rigorous than for larger events, and certainly in the experience of the two experts there is rigorous pre-qualification and selection of attendees; in spite of this, over 95% of the audience confirmed that they had experienced an attendee on a trip who did not warrant a place.

Many other related issues were also discussed – whether there should be a charge for joining trips, how to deal with unruly behaviour of individuals, and how the selection process works. It seems that smaller agencies are more willing to make a contribution if they can see a value in the trip, whereas larger agencies are completely opposed. Perhaps there is a sense of entitlement at play? Equally, larger agencies are more likely to give the place to a junior member, who will perhaps offer no benefit to the organiser. Behaviour was discussed with interest – as a rule it seems that most behaviour is tolerated as long as the individual doesn’t miss anything on their schedule. The valid point was made that the organisers tend to ply people with drink from start to finish, so should understand that misbehaviour is not unlikely; the idea was floated that perhaps there should be less alcohol offered, although it seems unlikely that this idea would ever catch on! Possibly the most interesting point of all on the subject of selection is that Virgin Atlantic are less likely to accept someone for a Fam Trip if they have been on a previous trip with them, and they are more likely to accept someone from a smaller agency – given that their product is essentially the same for any destination, this is perhaps understandable.

To finish, the overall feeling in the room was that blacklists are not needed. Hosts should – and clearly do – research as much as possible whether applicants are suitable. It’s not an exact science, but in such a close knit industry the repeat offenders will no doubt be mostly filtered out.

Special mention should go to Slido and Splento, whose services helped the event be a success. MiceBlog put on a great event which clearly created a lot of interested. Finally, the Caledonian Club – excellent hosts for the morning, with a superb venue in the heart of Belgravia, providing great facilities and delicious refreshments. Oh, and the moderator – what a handsome chap! PS. For anyone who is not aware – this was Martin Ellis from Team Umbrella…..his photo accompanies this article so you can decide!