My first visit to Germany is a bit of a blur. I traveled there on a “fam trip.” That’s a euphemism for “bribe.” A familiarization tour is a means by which the hospitality industry attempts to bribe people with the power to select meeting sites to select a specific city or venue. The all-expenses-paid trip initially was offered to my boss, who was executive director of the association for which I worked. But he was out of commission, recovering from a medical procedure; heart surgery, I think. I am embarrassed to recall that I responded on his behalf, saying I would be willing to make the trip in his stead. The association had no plans to meet in Germany, but my response suggested there was such a possibility.  So, I flew first-class from Houston to New York and from New York to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt to Berlin. I remember getting to the airport in Houston, dressed casually for travel, only to be told at the check-in counter that I could not travel as I was dressed and that I would have to change into a business suit in order to board. I think the ticket was the sort that, at the time, generally was available only to airline employees but, because the airline was a sponsor of the fam trip, it provided that class of ticket to the tour organizers. I changed into a business suit in the men’s room, checked my bags, and away I went. The group of people on the fam trip represented a broad cross-section of association executives and meeting planners. I would lay odds that the majority of us had neither any plans nor any authority to select Berlin as the site for future events. We were a bunch of freeloaders willing to bend the truth to get a free trip to Germany. I remember my rationale for accepting the offer. The association for which I worked had begun an international outreach in Europe; I reasoned that, as an outgrowth of that initiative, we might one day organize a meeting in Berlin, so it would be best for me to know something of the city in advance. I think lied to myself. I think knew better and that, if we ever were to arrange to meet in Berlin, it would be years away. But I wanted to go on that trip. Ever since then, I’ve condemned fam trips, because I proved to myself that they constitute bribery. If an organization wants to plan a meeting someplace, regardless of where, it should invest then necessary resources to send its  staff to do the groundwork; it should not rely on hospitality industry bribery. I was bribed. I accepted a bribe. The bribe didn’t do the trip organizers any good because I didn’t take business to Berlin. But, to this day, almost forty years later, I have a bad taste in my mouth about how I made my first trip to Berlin. Subsequent trips were on the up-and-up. I later attended meetings in Berlin and around Germany. But that one trip branded me as someone who would take a bribe. That blur of a trip was enjoyable, I think, but I spent the entire time feeling more than a little guilty for being there. I remember wondering whether my rationale for the trip was legitimate. I’ve long since answered with a firm “no.” And ever since, my moral indignation at fam trips, though admittedly hypocritical, has remained steadfast. My decision to take that trip has had a lifelong impact on my self-esteem; I wonder if I’ll ever get over the feeling that I am not the kind of guy I can trust.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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