How does a top American travel company generate a 100 percent increase in travel bookings in under one week? Well with a Live Virtual Fam Webcast, of course.
If that’s a mouthful, it’s because you’re likely seeing it for the first time. This tech-savvy approach is not one you’ll find in the travel industry’s general arsenal of ways to promote tourism. The Live Virtual Fam has only been used by Funjet Vacations, a Mark Travel corporation, and is brought to you by no other than IBCTV, a West Loop company with a small office and big, big talent for innovative and interactive video technologies. IBCTV touts the tagline, “Turning Clicks into Clients.” Telling from the success of their second Virtual Fam, it’s doing just that.
A “fam” is a discounted trip that travel agents go on to get familiar with a destination, so they can better sell it.
Working with client Funjet Vacations, IBCTV recently traveled to Cozumel to produce five live fam shows with the island’s top hoteliers, generating international publicity for the area’s recovery efforts after the devastation of Hurricane Wilma.
“Recovery” is a big word right now. IBCTV CEO Jay Jackson, and Funjet’s Chief Marketing Director Bob Kaufman cooked up the Virtual Fam idea after Hurricane Wilma blew into Mexico’s Caribbean coast in October 2005 and began to bend Funjet’s bottom line. The company depends on the Yucatan Peninsula – Cozumel and the Riviera Maya included – for at least 65% of its Mexico travel business.
Despite the extensive damage, Mexico has managed to rebuild quickly. In fact in Cozumel, all hotels have reopened – many offering new features and improvements.
But Funjet needed to get that news across to travel agents, some of whom are leery about sending clients to any storm-torn region. The plan: hire the Internet-savvy television production company, IBCTV. Send them off to these areas to make videos showing how the region looks today. Then, air the fresh clips during a live Webcast that agents could access via their computer screens.
In December 2005, about 12,000 agents logged on for the first-ever Live Virtual Fam in the Riviera Maya. As reported by Travel Weekly, IBCTV’s Jackson noted then that the project was “an idea whose time has come.”
“We’re at the right place at the right time for doing this,” Jackson said in December from the amphitheater at Xcaret, the Riviera Maya ecological park where the live shows were broadcast from. “Your computer and your TV are crashing into one another. This is an honest and exciting way to communicate. Now we want to know, will it work?”
Jackson and his team got their answer quickly.
Following the close of the Riviera Maya project, Funjet Vacations reported a steep increase in tourism in the following weeks. And while officials expected about 4,000 agents to tune in for the Cozumel Fam, they instead received over 5,000.
“The Virtual Tours are definitely working to raise awareness of Funjet Vacations and increase sales to Mexico,” said Tammy Lee, vice president of corporate affairs for Funjet Vacations. “We have seen a very positive spike in bookings to Mexico since we started the broadcasts.”
Broadcasting live from the Miguel Plaza in the heart of Cozumel, April 3-7, the daily 30- to 45-minute shows gave agents a look at the area’s hotels, restaurants, shopping, and other activities. Cozumel locals, government officials including the island’s mayor and governor, and island tourists made up the captivated crowd. With microphone in hand, Lee hosted each show from the island’s humble gazebo turned state-of-the-art broadcast area.
While IBCTV applies this revolutionary technology to other business including the medical and legal fields, even working with Google to help them perfect the video search module, this is the first time it’s been used in the travel industry.
And this is likely just the tip of the “virtual” iceberg. Possible future online fams could include Cancun, Aruba, Puerto Vallarta, and even Vegas. According to Jackson, IBCTV is primed to deliver.
A privately held company, IBCTV, LLC offers a host of products and services, in the travel, medical and legal verticals, including show production, website design, interactive video technology, search engine optimization and consulting services.