The return of the FAM trip

Want to know a creative way to spark inquiries and motivate clients to stop dreaming and lock in upcoming trips? Consider highlighting some of the special experiences and features that await on future vacations while going live on location from an idyllic Caribbean destination.

That’s exactly what Clementina Iannuzzi of Dream Adventures with TTAND did while attending Sandals Resorts’ first Canadian FAM trip this week in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and within the hour she already fielded promising requests for bookings.

“The live on my Facebook page was very successful,” Iannuzzi tells Travel Courier. “Literally within 30 minutes, I had a client reach out for further information for her family of five for the Beaches property. She has three adopted children with special needs and thought this would be a great fit for her family.”

Beaches Ocho Rios is known for its autism-friendly kids camps in partnership with The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards. Julia, the Sesame Street muppet with autism, was on hand to give a warm welcome to the agents who toured the resort on a site inspection.

“I also had a client reach out asking for feedback as she is planning her honeymoon,” Iannuzzi adds.

Similarly, Heidi Pivnick, a luxury travel and cruise specialist with Voyages Anne Travel Inc., makes it a point to connect virtually with her followers when she’s on site at resorts — with great results.

“Usually I would average about six bookings per trip,” says Pivnick, who specializes exclusively in Sandals and Beaches properties for Caribbean bookings. “Since this is a return to travel during COVID, clients are more wary, however, so far on this trip I’ve had eight inquiries to follow up on so I am thrilled at everyone’s reaction.”

Back to travel

The FAM in Jamaica represents Sandals Resorts’ first Canadian FAM since Nov. 2019. The group is staying at Sandals Ochi Beach Resort, while also experiencing Beaches Ocho Rios and Sandals Royal Plantation.

“With the Canadian market opening up, we want to share the message with advisors and their clients that it is alright to travel now — just as long as they’re comfortable to do so — and that the protocols do work,” explains Giselle Williams, Business Development Manager – Central Ontario & Ottawa for Unique Vacations Canada Inc, affiliate of Unique Travel Corp, worldwide representatives of Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts. “For Canadian advisors to gain that valuable, personal experience in seeing our resorts in real life instead of on a computer screen, it’s invaluable to us as they sell us moving forward.”

Nine travel advisors are participating in the trip, all at various stages of selling Sandals and Beaches, from newbies to rising stars to top performers, with the intention of having them feed and learn from each other. Notably, it marks the first time most of the agents in the group have left Canada since the start of the pandemic.

On the road again

After 20 months of not travelling, Caitlin Lajeunesse of Vacations by Caitlin with Independent by Flight Centre says she jumped on the opportunity to take part in the FAM.

“I was excited to experience the new world of resort travel and it was very important to me that I go and understand all the changes prior to my clients starting to travel again,” says Lajeunesse, whose last trip was to Beaches Ocho Rios in early 2020. “I am getting an exceptionally positive reaction from my clients and future clients who are following along. People are very interested to see what travel looks like now. I hope I am getting the message across that it feels just as it used to, with a few enhancements and changes here and there. I have found the entire experience seamless and stress-free.”

For Pivnick, whose last international trip was in March 2020 at Sandals Royal Bahamiam and Sandals Emerald Bay, the decision to join the FAM was twofold.

“I really feel I’m an ambassador for Sandals and my clients have the expectation that I would be here,” she says. “Two: I had to go through the process to gain credibility when I assist my clients in the process of travelling again. This has proven to be extremely important as the feedback I’m getting already is ‘if you can do it, so can we!’”

Pivnick says the experience will also go a long way to help clients feel more comfortable travelling again.

“I had some reservations about travelling. I am ecstatic that I did travel. This was very emotional for me. Sandals is what I am [all about] so I truly felt like I had reunited with family,” she says. “For obvious reasons my present experience will only add comfort to my clients as I know firsthand what to expect and guide them.”

Ready for the future

Experiencing travel during this stage is already helping drive future bookings for many of the travel advisors on location.

“This experience has given me the valuable knowledge of exactly what to expect each step of the way with travel,” says Lajeunesse, who specializes in premium beach vacations. “I will also be able to assure my clients that the protocols in the airport, on the flight, and on property make for a safe, yet still enjoyable vacation experience, both of which are very important. I truly believe I am able to sell the resorts well because I have personally experienced many of them on FAM trips and also family vacations.”

Shalene Dudley, lead travel concierge at Latitude Concierge Travels, Ltd., also believes it’s incredibly beneficial to be experiencing travel as clients are looking to explore again.

“Our clients’ confidence in travel will come with our dedication to educating ourselves and experiencing it as the advisors. While not everyone can afford to leave now, we can do our due diligence when it comes to staying up-to-date on all the rules, regulations, and innovations,” she says, noting that travel is picking up again at her agency. “A virtual bridal show in June definitely proved that Canadians were looking to the future. We have already booked quite a few people for summer, fall, the end of this year and early 2022.”

Meanwhile, Nikki Murillo of TravelOnly had never experienced a Sandals property before, so she decided to attend the FAM to experience the brand firsthand and to introduce potential clients to it while on the island.

“I think people seeing that I’m safely able to travel and to see the beauty of the location, the amazing food and service will get them off the fence and booking their vacations,” she says. “I feel like travel is very important for my mental health, and the Vitamin Sea has done wonders. I also know so many families in destination depend on the tourism dollars, so I want to do my part to help get people back to work!”

Nothing tops personal experience

Reflecting on her time in Jamaica, Brittany Rayner, also with Dream Adventures, TTAND, points out that there’s nothing like experiencing a destination firsthand, especially after taking part in a slew of virtual events over the past year.

“I learned so much more about the properties being in person than I do in virtual events. Even just small details like where to eat, what’s good to eat, that there’s like a mini town and road between the two resort sides [of Sandals Ochi], and so much more by being there in person,” she says. “I need firsthand experience to truly sell the product and my clients get real expertise, not just reviews.”

Although it’s not glamorous, experiencing all the testing protocols required for departure and arrival back into Canada are also important to the travel process in this day and age.

“I will be advising people who are travelling to countries where antigen tests are accepted to take the antigen because of costs and time. However, the PCR test to return to Canada was really not that bad. I hummed and it seemed to have worked. I also tried to be as relaxed as possible and it’s super fast, so don’t worry,” she says. “My last trip was to Cuba in February 2020 and it’s been great travelling again. You know it’s a different world now and not everyone has the same values as you in terms of vaccines and masks so you’ve just got to be flexible and patient.”

Meanwhile, Iannuzzi also says the firsthand experience gained through travelling again has been invaluable.

“Travel is picking up, so it’s very important to keep up with the requirements for entering the destination your client is travelling to,” she says. “We met someone on our flight who spent over $200 on a PCR test to enter Jamaica because she was told this is the only test they will accept, only to find out from us we had an antigen test for $40. She wasn’t happy to find out she had other options and wasn’t advised. We all need to keep current to better assist our clients.”

Along with getting a better understanding of Sandals properties, she says going through the process and requirements at the airports and resorts will also help prepare clients who are gearing up to travel.

“It was an interesting experience,” she says. “It’s not much different than before, just a few more steps that need to be taken to ensure we are all safe, and I’m good with this.”

Want to travel too?

As the agents head back to Canada, Williams encouraged them to “strike while the iron is hot” and continue to post content after they return to drive even more inquiries. 

And for any travel advisors wondering how they can take part in upcoming FAM trips with Sandals Resorts, Williams has some simple advice.

“Let me just say that advisors will have to stay tuned and stay connected with their local BDMs to find out,” she says.

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