Familiarization Tips

In reality, a Familiarization trip is known throughout the industry as a “Fam” Trip. Fam trips are one of the best and most enjoyable ways for counsellors to continue their education. A fam trip is a training device [in fact, sponsors now frequently describe them as educational tours] that can be turned into a sales tool. It is not a reward in the sense of a holiday although some managers use them as rewards for productivity.

Most suppliers are enthusiastic about fam trips as they raise counsellor awareness and increase bookings. Successful fams accomplish two purposes; they acquaint counsellors with the product and they show the most effective way to sell it. Unless counsellors apply the knowledge gained during a tour by building sales, the experience will be worthless. Fam trips help to build a counsellor’s confidence; they permit a counsellor to say “I’ve been there” and this can have a very strong influence on clients.

  •       Visits to several hotels to inspect rooms and facilities.
  •       Visits to sightseeing attractions so that counselors can acquire first-hand information for their clients.
  •       Meeting locals to discuss culture, facilities, shopping and the like.

Bali, Indonesia

We chose Bali, Indonesia as the destination for the graduating class of 2012. The long flight time, 22 hours from Thunder Bay, was worth it! Bali is magical. Probably the most famous island in Indonesia, Bali blends spectacular mountain scenery and beautiful beaches with warm and friendly people, and a vibrant culture.

Also known as the Land of the Gods, Bali appeals through its sheer natural beauty of looming volcanoes and lush terraced rice fields that exude peace and serenity. Bali enchants with its dramatic dances and colourful ceremonies, its arts and crafts, and exciting night life. This exotic island has much to offer, from inspirational spirituality to fine dining and meeting experiences, from world class surfing and diving to exhilarating treks in the wild. And everywhere you will find intricately carved temples.

The Balinese, who embrace the Hindu religion, are a most devout people where a large part of their lives is dedicated to rites and ceremonies aimed at maintaining harmony in this world.

Morocco, Africa

This year the class visited Morocco, Africa. We completed the Imperial City Tour, which includes all of the ancient and current capitals of Morocco.

Our trip started and ended in Casablanca. In between we visited Rabat, Fez, Mekenes, Volubilis, Ifrane, and Marrakech. In between the Imperial Cities we visited many “out-of-the-way” smaller places. We saw a peaceful demonstration in Rabat and rode camels near Marrakech. Among the many highlights of the trip was Volubilis, the ruins of a Roman city dated approximately 215 AD. They even had running water there. A large arched monument there looks much like L’ Arc du Triomph in Paris, France. We wondered where the French got the idea for their arch. Since the French colonized Morocco it makes sense that they borrowed the architecture for their monument.

In each of the Imperial cities we were able to visit and explore the medina with all of the attendant souks. Souks are areas within a marketplace that sell one type of item. An area for metalworks, an area for leather, an area for groceries, etc. The medinas are crazy with activity. People everywhere, donkeys or horses pulling carts of wears, motorcycles leaving clouds of fumes, beggars asking for donations, street urchins selling anything they could, and all the while vendors yelling out what they have for sale. Medinas are also a laybrinth of alleyways, connecting tunnels, and generally speaking, easy to get lost in.

All of the students and faculty had a serious cultural awakening. No matter how much time is spent in class researching, talking about, or discussing cultural differences, the real experience was the cultural education the trip gave.

Tunisia, Africa

This year the class chose Tunisia, Africa as the destination. It is not often that travellers can say they received too much value for the money! This is what happened in Tunisia. We visited Carthage which was founded by the Phoenicians about 800 BCE. All that remains now are the Roman baths (dated about 150AD). Hannibal the Great was born in Carthage.

We also visited the Coliseum in El Jem (El Djem).This Coliseum held 35,000 spectators, which was only about 8,000 less than the coliseum in Rome. However, the El Jem Coliseum is in much better shape and tourists are allowed to walk anywhere in the ruin. Rome does not allow full access. We were able to go underground and stand where the lions and other ferocious beasts were kept, and we were allowed to stand where the Gladiators waited just before they went out to perform and die.

We also visited the Sahara Desert. We slept in Bedouin tents, rode camels, and inspected three oases. We drove across the Chott el Djerid, which is a salt lake in the desert. We were able to inspect Berber residences too. The Berbers mostly live in homes carved out of mountain sides or underground. A home in the earth is much cooler than a home on the surface. Sometimes they live on mountain tops, but usually only for defence. Apparently it often reaches 50+ degrees Celcius in the Sahara.

According to one of our guides, most camels are owned and tagged. However when driving in the Sahara you often encounter wild camels. They just seem to walk around (see the video below – this group was wild) and eat. They take no heed of vehicles and there are many road signs warning of camels. As well, there are goatherds everywhere in the southern part of the country following their flocks. Our guide told us that the shepherds follow the flock for three months, after which another family member arrives to take over for another three months. We were told that the goats mostly eat Rosemary, which seems to grow everywhere except the pure Sahara area.

All of the students and faculty had a serious cultural awakening. No matter how much time is spent in class researching, talking about, or discussing cultural differences, the real experience was the education.

Venezuela

In 2009 the class chose Margarita Island, Venezuela as their destination trip. A highlight of the trip was a side trip to the Orinoco River delta as well as a visit to the spectacular Canaima National Park. The vast Orinoco River, which is one of the largest rivers in the world, measures 15mi/23km at its widest point. While on the Orinoco we were able to interact with the local Warao Indians. We then transferred to Canaima by aircraft (J-31) and spent a day at Canaima National Park. We toured in dugout canoes and walked behind the wall of water at Sapo Falls. Pemones Indians are indigenous to the area and are quite different from the Warao. On the return flight to Porlamar we enjoyed a fly-by of Angel Falls, the tallest waterfall in the world, measuring 1005meters/3300feet. To access the falls directly, a 3-day canoe trip is involved. This trip to South America was definitely a remote splendor, and an experience never to be forgotten. The price of gasoline was an experience too. It sells for almost 4¢ per litre!

Costa Rica, Central America

There seems to be a reoccurring theme for Central America as a destination. For the second time the class chose Costa Rica. When one considers the diversity in Central America, it makes choosing it as a destination easy!

The class of 2006 chose Costa Rica as the destination. Costa Rica is practically synonymous with ecotourism travel that incorporates education about the environment and promotes preservation of natural resources. The country has a large number of national parks and nature preserves that boast a rich array of birds, mammals, reptiles and rain-forest plants. The variety of birds, in particular, is astounding: some 850 species are packed into a relatively small area. Approximately 25% of the country’s land has been set aside as protected areas, earning Costa Rica a reputation as an environmentally sensitive country and leader in ecological conservation.

Panama, Central America

The graduating class of 2007 travelled to Panama, Central America for their familiarization trip, applying skills and concepts gained in the classroom. The students had the opportunity to acquaint themselves with travel industry products, such as tours, attractions, resorts, airlines, etc. They also participated in adventure activities such as zip lining through the jungle in the Anton Valley, scuba-diving in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, and a visit to Monkey Island via the Panama Canal.

Taking a step back in time, the students ventured by dug-out canoe via the Chagres River to the Embera Indigenous Village, where they observed and experienced the fascinating culture and people that have remained unchanged for centuries. A highlight of the trip was a visit to the Panama Canal, the 8th Wonder of the Modern World, and one of the greatest civil engineering achievements.

This was truly a National Geographic experience!

The graduating class of 2005 was able to experience Panama, Central America for their International Field Trip, which is quickly becoming one of the hottest adventure and ecotourism destinations. Panama is world-renowned for its 8th Engineering Wonder of the World, The Panama Canal. The Canal is both an engineering marvel and one of the most significant waterways on earth. As in a picture out of National Geographic, we were able to canoe on a jungle river through the rainforest in authentic dug-out canoes to the Embera Indigenous Community. Pamama is one of the few Latin American countries where indigenous populations still thrive. We were able to swim in a tiered waterfall-fed pool, feed white-faced capucin monkeys, take a snap-shot of the crocodiles on the shore and have lunch (served on banana leaves)in a thatched hut. Our adventurous students participated in horse-back riding, ATV adventures through the rainforest, canopy zipline tours and much more. A spectacular drive on the Pan American highway over the ‘Bridge of the Americas’ took us to Panama City, which is now a thriving commercial centre, as well as still having its colonial grandeur and Spanish flare.

San Andres Island, Colombia

This was the second visit to Colombia, but the first to San Andres Island. We stayed at the DeCameron Marazul and after inspections, believe it to be the best of the 5 DeCameron hotels on the island. We took part in a lot of activities and were busy all of the time. SCUBA diving, snorkelling, island tours, and deep-sea fishing were on our itinerary. The people are very friendly and there is no crime.

Cuba

The class has been to Cuba three times. In 2003 the class stayed at the RIU Turquesa in Varadaro. In 1998 we stayed in the Santiago de Cuba area and in 96 we were in the Manzanillo area. One day we went swimming with dolphins. Another day we felt adventurous and rented a four-wheel drive Jeep and tried to discover the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay. We never found the naval base but did get lost and found Guantanamo City. As we got closer to Guantanamo Bay we saw more and more road signs like the one in the picture. The translation is, “Capitalism is humiliating and degrading to the dignity of humans.”