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Virtual Familiarization Tours

“Welcome to Cantrav’s virtual familiarization tour of Vancouver.  During the next 13 minutes we will transport you to our beautiful city to gain three days’ worth of insider knowledge, all without taking the time from your busy schedule for a real FAM.  We’ll guide you through the city and give you general destination knowledge that will be helpful to you as a meeting planner.”

So begins a virtual familiarization tour found at, created by Cantrav Services Inc. for the city of Vancouver, British Columbia.  The tour is designed for event planners, but any economic development officer who views it could see how easily it could be targeted to site selectors.

There’s evidence that this idea is beginning to take hold. 

For about five years or so, virtual familiarization tours have been spreading in the tourism and event management industries.  This marks a big change in the marketing paradigm for those industries. 

Traditional familiarization tours (FAM tours) in which journalists, tour operators or travel agents experience a destination first hand for free or at reduced rates, used to be described as the most cost effective means of marketing a tourism product that existed.  That was before years of economic tumult squeezed tourism budgets and time availability.  The same trend, apparently permanent, has transformed the economic development profession.

As site selectors, developers and realtors comb markets looking for the best locations, websites are the number one channel used for research. The most recent report from DCI ( states that statistics, building data and local employers are still some of the top information sought by site selectors when looking for information about a community.  But how can one transcend such dry data to really give prospects a good idea about the community?

US authors Anatalio Ubalde and Andrew Krueger have some suggestions in their book Economic Development Online:

“You could record your live web FAM tours and create on-demand familiarization tours for corporate real estate pros in the different industries you are targeting.

“They could watch them on your website on their own schedule.  And other corporate real estate pros that you never even considered meeting with might benefit from the video and lead to additional prospects coming to town.”


Early Adopters

Some communities are beginning to get the idea.  In Webster City, Iowa, the Economic Development department enhances the extensive data on its website by offering a FAM at with the theme of “We Build Things.”

This was part of a campaign launched in January 2011 to attract businesses and jobs to the small city.  The campaign, including the feature-rich website with the FAM, has produced two new prospects in the proposal/decision stage.  Website traffic has grown, time on site has increased, and the City is receiving e-mails from entities ranging from prospects to other ED groups asking “How they are doing this?”

In Boise, Idaho, the organization that is leading the downtown revitalization is called Capital City Development Corp.  Its vision calls for downtown Boise to be “a place with a rich intellectual and cultural environment that attracts talented people and sparks creativity.”

In this spirit CCDC presents a virtual FAM,, built on Google Maps technology.  In fact there are several tours offered “for planning, design, familiarization and fun.”

Winston-Salem, North Carolina, appears to agree with Boise that using virtual web marketing techniques is a good way to attract the creative class. 

Its economic development agency, Winston-Salem Business Inc., is promoting the city as “North Carolina’s City of Arts and Innovation.”  And there on its website is a virtual FAM tour, accessible by clicking on any of a large collection of thumbnail photographs (  Accompanying the tour is a series of videos on various business-related subjects, anchored by “I Am Winston-Salem” (!).


Creative Possibilities

Such examples are beginning to demonstrate the unlimited creative potential of adding virtual technologies, including FAM tours, to economic development websites. A key benefit is that they enhance statistical information by displaying a community’s attractiveness and high quality of life in a business context.

For that reason, virtual FAM tours should be designed to offer lots of linkages to community organizations so that further understanding of the community is easily gained. Tours should offer a personal touch, through friendly content, feedback forms and easily accessibly phone numbers.

Finally, tours can be targeted to specific audiences or for certain purposes.  Once the visual images have been gathered to create a general purpose FAM, they can be customized for a targeted group, or even an individual company. 

Imagine being able to show a prospect a custom-designed virtual FAM tour, within days or even hours of receiving their expression of interest!  The technology exists, and so does the opportunity to use it as a way to differentiate your community.


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