Texas has mystique. Unlike any other U.S. state, the outline of Texas alone is recognizable by just about anyone. When people see that outline, a series of images come immediately to mind: cowboys, horses, wide-open vistas, Dallas and football top the typical lists. Movies, books, music and folklore have romanticized these and other Texas attributes, shaping perceptions about our state.

Debra Bustos encounters these Texas stereotypes daily. She handles the Canadian and U.S. group travel markets for the Office of the Governor Economic Development and Tourism Division, or simply “Travel Texas,” the department’s moniker within the new branding initiative the Governor’s Office is currently rolling out. Debra was in Denton March 25-27 with a FAM tour.

“Travel Texas uses FAMs (short for familiarization) as an important learning tool,” Debra explained. “They allow us to educate travel professionals on what Texas offers as a premier travel destination and familiarizes them with particular cities and services like hotels, venues, landmarks and surroundings.”

Dana's FAM friends snap a shot overlooking the courthouse at LSA Burger.

Travel Texas recognizes the value of stereotypical Texas perceptions as the bedrock of that special mystique that draws visitors from around the globe. They don’t shy away from or negate them. Instead, they build on them. It is strategic branding at its best.

Debra’s job is using that mystical Texas brand to introduce the real and comprehensive Texas. FAMs are a powerful tool because they are experiences that become itineraries her clients can sell with confidence.

The group Debra brought to Denton was 12 tour operators strong, 7 from Canada and 5 from the U.S. The operators represented separate large tour companies and individual travel planning agencies for FITs (Frequent Independent Travelers). FITs travel on their own but with the same amenities enjoyed by groups like prearranged, discounted lodging and customized itineraries. It was a powerhouse group of pros that collectively move and direct travel around the world for thousands every year.

Debra designed the North Texas FAM tour based on the fact that most of the group represented clients who have never visited Texas and want a “true western experience.” (There’s that stereotype again.)  Because non-Texans often don’t grasp the vast size of our state, she also wanted to focus on the close proximity between Dallas, Fort Worth, Denton and DFW Airport.

“What is a western experience without horses?” Debra reasoned. She included Denton in the FAM itinerary primarily because of the horse country, but also for all Denton has to offer at the apex of the DFW Metroplex.  How did she know? This is where the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) comes in, specifically our sales department headed by Dana Lodge.

Dana and her FAM tour at the North Texas Horse Country.

“Long before the advent of the large convention industry in Denton, motorcoach tours have been our bread and butter,” Dana said. “We’ve built relationships like that with Debra and Travel Texas for 15 years with great success, the horse country tours remaining our best and most unique draw for them. While the meetings industry is a primary focus now, we’re not trading one market for the other. We work meetings and group tours with equal diligence, because it all impacts Denton for the good. That’s our mission.”

Dana spent both full days with the Denton portion of the FAM. They visited McCutcheon’s Reining Ranch, Valor Farm and had a four-course dinner and mounted shooting demonstration at Oak Meadow Ranch. They enjoyed wine and jazz at Steve’s Wine Bar, Italian fare at Giuseppe’s, burgers and music at LSA, ice cream at Beth Marie’s, Shelly Tucker’s Ghosts of Denton tour, the Discover Denton Welcome Center and shopping in downtown and a One O’Clock Lab Band practice.

They got the cowboys and horses, but Dana made sure they got Denton, too. And throughout, the operators posted and blogged constantly about their Denton journey to their own audiences of some 40 thousand each. That’s nearly a half million people who virtually followed the tour every step of the way.

Dana says about 30 motorcoaches carrying an average 45 passengers each have made Denton a destination each of the past two years, leaving behind a conservatively estimated $100,000 in travel spending. And a coup for Denton long in the making lies with Globus Journeys based in Colorado, which already has 11 tours booked in 2019. That’s on top of the yearly average minimum 30 tours we expect.

The Texas brand and its mystique have ensured Texas’ ranking for many years as one of the three most-visited U.S. states with California and Florida. We know we’re doing our job well when Travel Texas counts Original Independent Denton among the must-sees they promote.