NEW YORK—Charles Mest, senior director of sales for the northeast at Travel Impressions, said he has been on “maybe 150 fam trips” but never anything like the recent American Airlines IslAAnds Experience, during which 150 agents traveled on three charter aircraft to five Caribbean islands in five days.
According to Robert Troni, American`s managing director of international sales and marketing, that`s because there never before has been such a trip.
“It came out of a conversation with Peter Dolara [American`s senior vice president for Miami, Caribbean and Latin America],” said Troni. “We were thinking about what we could do with the smaller islands that don`t get that much attention.”
The way to sell the islands, they decided, was to fall back on time-proven methods: bring top-producing agents to the islands for first-hand experiences.
American asked its top three wholesalers—Gogo Worldwide Vacations, Travel Impressions and its own vacation-packaging division, American Airlines Vacations—to each select their top 50 agents.
The airline wanted results, and fast, Troni said.
“These [agents] are the ones who can turn the switch now,” he said.
American approached the tourist bureaus and a number of hotels in Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Maarten. American Eagle, the airline`s commuter aircraft division, provided three planes for shuttling the agent groups around the islands.
Each group was assigned its own aircraft; the groups were staggered so that each island had one group at a time.
The agents all met in Puerto Rico on Oct. 29 and flew to St. Maarten on Oct. 30. From there, they split into separate itineraries to spend one day each in St. Kitts, Antigua and St. Lucia.
The trip was no mere fam but an educational crash course. There wasn`t any time for lounging on the beach; it was a full-blown itinerary, packed with activities.
“This will be a working trip,” Troni told the agents at the opening ceremony in >St. Maarten. “There will be a lot of moving around. There will be some built-in time for relaxation, but this is not a vacation.
“This isn`t a fam trip; it`s not like that anymore. With the stresses we are all under, this has to be productive time.”