FAM ETIQUETTE 101
By Sherryll Sobie
Speedos and string bikinis, FAM scams, furtive BlackBerry fiddling, tardiness, uninvited guests, drunkenness, hooking up, talking down.
You name it; FAM Trips got it.
There is a right way and a wrong way of conducting oneself when you're on a FAM. Right: Tankini. Wrong: Thong. What you choose to wear – and how much you bare - reveals more than just your fashion style. It's about common sense (or lack thereof).
"Just because you're surrounded by palm trees, doesn't mean skimpy bathing suits are okay," says Heather Payne, CMP, senior conference planner, RBC Capital Markets, Toronto. "I don't consider myself a prude, but you're working, dress accordingly."
Of course appropriate attire goes beyond the beach. It's equally important to select business casual daywear when touring properties or attending presentations, as it is to don a cocktail dress or pant suit for dinner functions and evening receptions. And while sore feet might tempt you to dress down - just a little - be sure to understand the cultural norms.
Katie Carroll, Tourism Ireland's trade and online promotion executive, says, "The dress code in North America is more causal than in Ireland. Business attire to Americans is business causal to the Irish. "As the host," Carroll continues, "it's our responsibility to highlight those differences so our guests can come prepared."
Don't rely solely on your host to offer up answers to unasked questions. If you've received a FAM invite to a destination that's new to you, read up on it. Google Maldives. Scrutinize the itinerary. Talk to other planners. And then direct what should be the first question, at yourself: Are the Maldive Islands a legitimate destination for my client?
If the answer is no, but you still go, you've committed a FAM Scam. According to event planning expert Judy Allen, author of Event Planning, Ethics and Etiquette, allowing your personal motives to trump professional purpose is a violation of the highest order. Allen writes, "It is unethical to take freebies under false circumstances… The cost to put on a trip can be considerable, and the suppliers come away feeling used and abused."
If, however, the destination is a perfect fit, then continue asking questions. Payne, a 15 year planning veteran, suggests inquiring about agenda specifics:
- How many properties will be featured?
- How many planners are confirmed to attend?
- The class of hotels
- Ratio of business to social events
- Types of activities (Will they be useable with clients?)
- Types of networking events
- Need for special attire
- Flexibility to explore an area or venue in depth
The last point can be a deal breaker. "For a Hawaii FAM, I wanted to see certain hotels that weren't on the agenda," recalls Payne. "I politely said to the host, 'I'd love to come, but I really need to tour these five-star properties.' The hosts were gracious about it. They provided a driver and it turned out another planner joined me. It worked out really well, we saw the properties we needed to see and then rejoined our group."
Communicating your needs ahead of time, as Payne did, is not only polite, it creates a win-win situation. The guest is triumphant because she gets what she needs for her client, and the host looks like a hero for making it happen. The same holds true for answering high-priority emails on your PDA mid-presentation, or showing up late for an activity because you had to put out a fire back home. "If you're expecting an urgent email, give your host a heads up that you may have to leave the room to attend to it," Payne says. "Otherwise, turn your BlackBerry off."
Another faux pas is bringing a loved one along for the ride, unless the FAM is specifically defined as a spousal program and guests are initially invited and encouraged. If it's not addressed in the invitation, assume you're going alone. "Our policy is no friends or family," says Carroll. "We are so busy that it just doesn't make sense for someone other than FAM members to be there." Like most etiquette issues, though, there is a time and a place for everything. Many hosts are quite agreeable if an attendee wants to meet up with a friend post-FAM, provided the host is not inconvenienced, or subjected to extra fees for changing the plan.
Other than FAM scams, perhaps two of the worst transgressions are drinking too much and becoming romantically involved. "We want our guests to enjoy alcoholic beverages if they choose, but not to excess. We provide alcohol in a way that showcases Irish culture like at a Ceili dance and dinner," says Carroll. The problem is some people enjoy it too much. "Have a beverage, sure, but you don't want to be the one people are talking about the next day," says Payne.
In her book, Allen recounts a scenario where it befell one planner, who was sharing a room with another, to act as a babysitter each night to ensure that the drunken friend returned safely to their room. In another cautionary tale Allen writes, "One supplier, driven to exasperation by the antics of one 'couple' on their trip, drove off and left them behind at an out-of-the-way tourist spot. Their goings-on had gone too far and the rest of the group was uncomfortable. They were both sent home and a bill for full charges was sent to each of their respective offices."
Do the Right Thing
Sending thank-you' notes, is the single most important obligation a guest has after a FAM experience. Although an e-card may suffice, a hand-written note sent immediately upon your return goes a long way to demonstrate your genuine appreciation for your hosts' efforts, and sets the tone for future interactions with your growing network. Just add it to your 'To Do List' as you would any other task. A well-organized FAM host will provide you with a complete contact list of all associated service providers. Bring your thank-you cards with you and write them before you turn in each night, or use your return travel time to complete them. Don't forget to include your business card. Showing appreciation is a small courtesy that makes a big impact.
Another etiquette protocol, sometimes not as clearly defined, is tipping. In a causal survey of planners and industry experts, the vast majority agreed that tipping for good service is proper decorum, particularly for frontline staff like housekeeping, bellhops and drivers; however, ask your host up front, as several FAMs include gratuities.
The next time you're invited on a FAM, use common courtesy and sense. Consider the rules of conduct and behave accordingly. Remember: a good guest is one who gets invited back.