The Secret Agent: Overfamiliarity breeds… success?

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In the first of a new series, our unnamed and opinionated travel agent muses on fam trips


“Amazing! We all got a fam!” reported a colleague when we were catching up on the Clia Cruise Conference in Southampton last May.

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Despite some disbelief, every travel agent in attendance had indeed been offered a fam by the owner of the river cruise operator, AmaWaterways, Rudi Schreiner, who was a keynote speaker at the Conference. Even better, the agents could bring a partner and had up to the end of December 2018 to get on board.

This got me thinking about the pros and cons of fams.

At what stage does a ship visit become a fam? A ship visit for lunch, whether here in the UK or a short flight there and back over the Channel, clearly does not qualify – and maybe an overnight on board does not constitute a fam; but two nights, particularly if the ship actually moves, does seem to do so!

Short fams run by river cruise companies exclusively for agents (no partners), can show off the ship, the accommodation, food and above all the ability of the bar staff to serve a lot of free drinks – but maybe do not allow agents to see how the product really works for fare-paying customers.

Ocean cruise fams often involve a small number of agents joining an actual cruise for part of the itinerary – you can usually spot this group in the bar before dinner where they have reduced the average age on board as some may be up to 40 years younger than the other passengers, and raised the blood pressure of the typical passenger not used to such youth and beauty.

So to have a whole week to really experience the product does seem to mean that the fam should give the agent in-depth knowledge and confidence to create and close sales… but there are few pitfalls to be thought about.

For the employed agent, a two-nighter may be seen as working, but a week, especially with a partner, will probably be viewed as holiday – and the agent, not to mention the partner, may prefer to spend precious holiday time doing something else – perhaps some late nights at BCM in Magaluf!

For the small agency the shop still needs to be manned, so fams represent time away that has to be covered by colleagues.

The self employed, commission-only, agent has to carefully balance the cost of ‘lost or shared bookings’ when away from the phones with the possible value gained from an in-depth fam. If viewed as holiday time, again the issue of what the partner and the family may prefer is raised (a return to the villa, golf on the Algarve).

Once all the above has been sorted, the agent has to decide on how to choose a travelling companion. Presuming no Pippa rules of “no ring, no fam”, an actual partner or maybe best friend is the obvious choice, but perhaps the younger agents should look at taking a parent or grandparent whose age is nearer the passenger profile… and thus able to really make
the fam worthwhile.

How many agents were in Southampton at the Clia Conference, around 400? That is a lot of fams and, hopefully, with a little thought and planning, every agent will be selling more river cruises over the next two years after a successful week.

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