ConFAM 101: For those who have not heard this term before a ConFAM is business lingo for a conference and familiarization tour. These tours are a way to get the most bang for your buck. Convention and visitor bureaus invite a group of planners to their city to showcase the region as being the perfect place to host an event. These multi-day events combine a conference for event vendors to interact with planners, educational seminars, and a familiarization tour to introduce the planners to the local attractions, hotels, restaurants and transportation options.
Seattle Southside recently hosted a military reunion ConFAM in partnership with the Reunion Friendly Network (RFN). Here is an overview of how it went according to our host, Meilee:
Day 1: It is customary for a meeting/event planner to request a Pre-Con (pre-conference) meeting to review event details. After working with area businesses for months planning our second ConFAM I was eager for our Pre-Con Meeting with Reunion Friendly Network VIP’s at our host hotel, the Doubletree by Hilton Seattle Airport hotel.
During the Pre-Con meeting I learned that Charleen, the Vice President of RFN, had a distinguished career in hotel management, established a reunion market for the Chattanooga Convention & Visitor Bureau and traveled the US extensively to work with planners and destinations regarding how to successfully plan and host reunions. She’s also a Salsa dancer with a delightful sense of humor. I also learned that Gale, in addition to planning multiple reunions (his largest group is 600 people), is also a Texas rancher! Yeehaw!
Our welcome reception was held in Maxi’s at the Doubletree. Polished and refined by a recent renovation this space was a treat. We admired the view from up high when all of a sudden Mother Nature decided to put on a show! A gentle rain shower turned into a torrential downpour. The planners jokingly said things like “I heard it rained in Seattle.” It turned out to be a good thing; Mother Nature got the rain out of her system and gave us good weather the duration of the ConFAM.
After our Pre-Con RFN staff mentioned it was the best Pre-Con they’ve ever attended. We were off to a great start!
Day 2: This day was full with a tradeshow and classroom sessions on best practices for reunions. These presentations gave valuable insight for both planners and exhibitors.
Our first off-site dinner was hosted at the Seattle Airport Marriott. The group was warmly welcomed by hotel staff and management. We enjoyed a reception with appetizers and drinks followed by a tour through the atrium, hospitality suite and guest rooms. Chef and his team put on a feast for the group. The gorgeous banquet room was transformed by local vocalist Cheryl Serio who chose the perfect songs to perform for the group and had them finger snapping and booty shaking all night long.
Day 3: After a morning session speaking on a panel and having one on one appointments with planners the group and I took for off for a three hour whirlwind tour of Seattle provided by Tours Northwest complete with boxed lunches from Rainforest Café*. The tour guides were living encyclopedias filled with fun facts and blessed with a terrific sense of humor. We learned, laughed and lunched our way thru downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square, Waterfall Garden, Klondike Gold Rush Museum, Ballard Locks, floating bridge, floating homes, the infamous Freemont Troll and more.
We went to dinner hosted at the Red Lion Seattle Airport. Management greeted us on arrival with their official mascot, Red the Lion. We were whisked up to the hospitality suite for appetizers and drinks followed by a tour of the hotel and a delicious Prime Rib and Halibut dinner. The banquet room was filled with wall to wall smiles. All was well and then our beautiful banquet room was magically transformed by Jeff Evans of Amazement Productions. In no time flat the magician had the whole group enchanted and roaring with laughter. Special thanks to Matt Schmer of Seattle Express for providing transportation to and from our two off-site dinners. The planners appreciated the opportunity to see and experience a variety of transportation providers.
Day 4: Our faces hurt from smiling and we hadn’t even started our biggest day yet of tours! We started the morning by boarding a Starline Luxury Coach and heading off to the renowned Museum of Flight in comfort. We were treated to guided tours and a catered luncheon. The planners appreciated the extensive exhibits chronicling all aspects of flight. Next we were off to the observation deck at the iconic Space Needle. We were delighted to see a sneak peek at the Chihuly Glass and Gardens followed by a visit to Pike Place Market. Then we boarded an Argosy Cruise ship and headed to Blake Island for the Tillicum Village experience.
Lessons Learned: I believe as a community when we work together we can accomplish amazing things. As a direct result of hosting the ConFAM we received media attention in over 300 outlets. Great exposure for our destination! Currently hotels are in negotiations with three of the reunion planners with more proposals pending. And not only am I a better resource and consultant when working with planners but I see untapped potential for what we might be able to do in the future. What could be on the horizon next; a FAM tour for travel writers, meeting planners, or tour operators? One thing’s for sure 2013 looks bright!