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  • Writer's pictureChris Brown

The ART of the FAM Trip

We work (sometimes it’s hard to call it that!) with a great deal of places, destinations communities and their brands. Our charge is to divine anything and everything that differentiates one from another and use these strands of DNA to build a distinct and resonant brand identity.

What separates a Newport Beach from a Santa Barbara? The granularity of the sand? Maybe, but that’s just part of the story, an ingredient in the soup, or vegan probiotic smoothie in the case of Newport Beach. Anyway, in our craft, authenticity matters a great deal—details, gestures, shades, textures, subtleties that make the visitor or residential experience feel one-of-one, are priceless observations.

So how do we gather these precious gems? Greenhaus teams embark on our proprietary version of a time-honored tradition in the travel and hospitality industry called a FAM (short for Familiarization) Trip. No amount of Googling or social media stalking can compare to the fully immersive experience of these client-led discovery trips. For us, it’s the quickest way to get from “what” to “why”.

Over 25 years of placemaking we’ve taken scores of these journeys to various leisure travel destinations around the world and residential communities throughout the country—as far away as Fiji and as close to home as our own backyard San Diego. And over that time we’ve developed a sixth sense for these trips and how best to get the most out of them.

Sure, there are comprehensive itineraries and best practices out there, but we’ve found there’s no set process or formula to this kind of vital discovery. Finding the absolute, core truth about a place or brand is intuitive, interpretive and nuanced. An alchemy we like to think of as A.R.T.

A: Absorption: From the moment we swipe our boarding passes until we’re securely back home in I-5 traffic, we have one job: to be sponges. Our heads on a swivel, all senses “go”—with every antenna at the ready to receive the signals of a place, sometimes even encrypted ones. We ravenously eat, drink and breathe the destination in. Sometimes on the menu, but mostly off. Bring your stretchy pants for sure. Beaten paths are not the objective here, and the traditional “windshield tour” just won’t cut it. On a recent FAM trip to immerse ourselves in the Colorado Springs land holdings of our client Norwood Development, there was only one true way to experience and appreciate the pre-historic canyons, wind-swept escarpments and antelope spotted meadows of their Banning Lewis Ranch parcels. And it wasn’t Google Earth. Instead, we ventured hours in muddied ATVs, deep into the back country. Allowing us to not only see the area and its wildlife, but truly put our boots into the ground to feel and appreciate the history of the land and what it could mean to future generations of Colorado Springs residents. We also got to enjoy some hilariously dusty discussions with our clients that could never have happened over a Powerpoint.

R: Relationships: A FAM trip isn’t exclusively about getting to know a place, sometimes it’s about getting to know a brand, by visiting the cultural soil and environment that one might sprout and grow from one day. Which usually centers around getting to know the people there on a deeper level. Because in our experience the people are the place, and the truth of a brand is almost always a reflection of people and their values. So exploring and building relationships is vital to familiarization and brand building. Our clients often represent a set of local stakeholders, whether in government, community or hospitality related businesses. The Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO’s) we work with are just that, communities of stakeholders deeply invested in the traveler’s experience. Our developer and builder clients are equally rooted in local communities. Relationships are their currency as well.

We bring open ears and equally open minds to every interaction, even the most incidental coffee order could be a holy grail of connection. We strive to avoid being alone for any period of time while in-market, seeking every opportunity to connect with stakeholders, hear their stories and tune our ears for the “between the lines” commentary from their experience. The more points of view, the merrier. We gain insight from their day-in-the-life perspectives. This past August we were invited to enchanting Savannah, Georgia by our clients at North Point Development, to get the lay of the Low Country land, and help them incubate a future brand. It’s a place we soon learned was all about one thing: relationships. We spent hours slurping fresh oysters with area leaders in port economics, engineering, building, hospitality, and economic development. We were welcomed into a family, a team, a club of some of the Southeast’s biggest movers, shakers and policy makers. We shared their rituals, their cultural values, their frame of reference for how and why they work. An essentially human placemaking experience no Zoom call could even come close to replicating.

T: Truth: As we mentioned earlier, our real intent with these FAM trips is to travel from the rather pedestrian “what” of a place to the thriving, buzzy, unforgettable downtown of its “why”. The immutable, visceral, core truth that connects people to place on a deeper level. This is not likely to be the Instagram selfie hotspot or anything a tour can be offered of. It’s beyond off the beaten path and can require Sherpa-level instincts to find and follow. It might be a secret season only the locals know, or an underlying cultural shift. Maybe a historic legacy or future-facing environmental vision. But in every destination and location we’ve ever had the pleasure of FAM-ing in, it’s the real deal and the key to connecting people to place and place to people.

Nowhere was this more powerful than in a recent FAM we took to Temecula Valley, California, hosted by our clients at Visit Temecula Valley. Having recently “arrived” as one of the country’s Top 10 Wine Destinations (Wine Enthusiast’s words, not ours!), the Temecula Valley has no shortage of breathtaking California wine country vibes. Beauty in every direction, epic estate wineries, an emerging and evolving culinary scene, a quaint and cool old town district, literally every tourism box emphatically checked. But as we peeked beyond the barrel rooms and tasting terraces what really caught our souls’ attention was a vibrant and maverick maker community that formed the backbone and heartbeat of the region. An enduring spirit of creativity and collaboration that broke the mold and forged the community’s personality in so many ways. A voice that must be heard to truly know this truly spirited place.

In case you can’t tell, we’re raving fans of the FAM trip. Especially when it’s done ART-fully and curiously. Because we find that in a world where big data informs so many things we do, there’s still no substitute for big experience. It may not be hack-able, and shortcuts are few, but it’s undoubtably the key to finding the true power of place and the resonant truth of a brand.


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