Not many people would attempt to visit Gatorland, Fun Spot America and Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in one day, but that’s just an example of one day on a media trip with Experience Kissimmee.
Experience Kissimmee and Visit Orlando, the two organizations responsible for marketing Central Florida, do everything they can to attract tourists, including organizing free trips for domestic and international media, travel agents and event planners.
“They can be fun, but they can be very exhausting, too,” said Larry White, Experience Kissimmee’s vice president of communications. The bulk of the visits, called familiarization trips or FAMs, take place in the fall — after the busy summer season, but before tourists start planning next year’s vacation. They are used to educate travel influencers about each destination in an effort to drive business. Each group carries a different importance, but all are necessary in bringing tourists to the region.
Journalists, for example, are likely to produce stories from their trip or take to social media to share their experiences as they happen. Each FAM attendee will have a specific hashtag they’re asked to use when posting on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, said Rochelle Siegel, who handles communications for Experience Kissimmee. This allows Kissimmee officials to track the number of impressions from each post and see the social reach from the trip.
“They can’t write about the destination until they’ve experienced it,” Siegel said. Depending on the type of group visiting, trips can last between three and five days.
Alan Fyall, professor at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, said FAM trips are an important investment for marketing organizations because their reach can be so great. “There’s a whole range of information out there that people tap into,” said Fyall.
Fyall said tourists looking to make such a big trip, such as a first visit to Central Florida and the theme parks, don’t only rely on websites and online travel reviews. As old-school as it can sound, they heavily rely on recommendations from travel agents, too, said Fyall.
Experience Kissimmee’s familiarization trips include a variety of activities, including taking this group from Denmark out for some kayaking in Osceola County. (Contributed photo)
“It seems so 1970s, but it is still very, very relevant,” he said. Fyall gives another example of the reach of a FAM trip-generated story. When he was moving to Central Florida from England three years ago, Fyall and his wife picked Winter Park as their new home after reading a story in an airline magazine, just the kind of coverage often generated from such trips.
George Aguel, Visit Orlando’s president and chief executive officer, said his organization has hosted several in the last few weeks. Most recently, Visit Orlando officials hosted groups from Brazil, Germany, the United Kingdom and Denmark. Two more, in partnership with Emirates Airlines, which started service between Dubai and Orlando last month, are planned. Aguel’s organization averages between two and three trips a month during the year.
“We recognize there’s a point you can only do so many of these,” he said, adding they take extensive time to coordinate and host.
Not only do these trips take time to plan — sometimes weeks, sometimes months — but they require participation from businesses and attractions in the area.
Experience Kissimmee and Visit Orlando work directly with airlines, hotels and transportation companies, among other businesses, to ensure each FAM trip is fully booked with a detailed itinerary without footing the entire bill.
“In all cases it’s a co-op,” said White. “There’s got to be a cooperative spirit from top to bottom throughout all of this to work.” Each organization notifies business partners about planned trips and wait for offers and deals to pour in. Officials then review offers and decide what is the best fit for each respective FAM. As each trip offers a chance for businesses to hit a new level of exposure, one beyond what they could pay for with standard marketing, it can be a competitive process.
“We have to be fair,” said Ana Gonzalez, Experience Kissimmee’s director of international sales & marketing. “Our partners really love FAMs. The industry likes the opportunity to be showcased.” Paul Phipps, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism arm, said it’s crucial for individual destination marketing organizations to promote themselves because that helps promote the state as a whole.
“To do international, you’ve got to be able to tell your story,” he said. “We have to be at the table. We have to be telling that story.”
Source: Orlando Sentinel