Educational Travel: It’s not just that you do it, but how you do it.
In January of 2021 there was an article in a major American newspaper titled “That D.C. trip some of us took in high school? It needs to be mandatory.” The final paragraph summed up the article: “We need a generation of engaged and informed patriots who have a tangible experience with their nation’s birth, progress and process. And the entire capital city – our monuments, our museums, our people and our traditions – is the best classroom.”
The best classroom. We agree. And we’ve discussed the reasons for this. But there is more to say. It is not just about going to a classroom, it’s about how the classroom is done. It’s an educational trope to hear that someone did not enjoy social studies class because they did not enjoy their teacher. Mindless recitation of names, meaningless dates and factoids bored students right out of history. Contrast those with a teacher that engaged and cared, well, they inevitably enjoyed history throughout their lives, and were richer for it.
The takeaway? It’s not just that you do it, but how you do it. And this goes especially for educational travel. In other words, the company you partner with for your class trips matters, just like teachers matter. It may even be a difference maker you haven’t considered. Take a look at three basic areas to learn if you’re getting the best you could be getting in the company you’ve hired.
- The Relationship
- The Process
- The Experience
Let’s deal with these one at a time. [Warning: be prepared for questions. Because that is what you should be asking about your educational travel partner.]
- Is it a true partnership? Does your company know you and your situation and care? Having a point of contact (Education Program Specialist ‘EPS’ for us) that shows care by listening makes the difference between a transaction and a relationship. The former you are a number and treated as such; the latter, a person whose unique situation is relevant, important, and worth listening to. This is subtle, but hugely important. Many companies offer rote itineraries and cookie-cutter packages, with no regard for the nuances of your curriculum and specific situation. They may call it “customized” but basically, your situation is largely irrelevant because they have a pre-set package for you.
- Is your EPS local? If not, have they visited or willing to visit to further the relationship? A EPS that is local and/or willing to engage with you face to face makes a difference. Much can be accomplished virtually in this day and age, but your EPS should be willing and wanting to go the extra mile and meet in person at some point. Having someone local, face to face and/or a EPS who personalizes it all turns the transactional into relational, which makes the entire process not only more enjoyable, but more successful.
- Is your tour truly customized? One sign of a transactional relationship and underwhelming tour experience is that your group is automatically combined with another unknown school group and you have little say in the itinerary. Every teacher, school and circumstance is different, and it’s important that your situation is handled appropriately and individually, not just according to number crunching. Do not be fooled by the marketing rhetoric either – it’s easy for companies to talk about custom tours. You should see tangible examples of your vision on your tour.
- Is it a partnership of ease for you? In other words, are your tour related burdens relieved? The fact is, an educational travel company should do just that. Sure, you’ll need to answer questions and complete tasks along the way, but do you feel burdened? For many group leaders, they are so accustomed to working for their trips, they do not know the amount of time they spend on things their company could be doing for them. Is the company anticipating what you need, before you need it, clear and thorough in their communication? And when there is a task for you, is it laid out clearly and simply for you to deliver? The trip yoke is easy and the burden is light when you have a strong educational partner beside you. And if you’re unsure of what your company could and should be doing for you, reach out to competitors to investigate. We, for instance, will tell you exactly how we relieve the burden for our teachers.
- Does your EPS know the destination? Excellent EPS’s understand the details of a quality tour. Throughout the process they help you make informed decisions while crafting a truly custom itinerary. One strong sign of a good EPS is that they foresee issues before they happen and help you steer away from tour mediocrity, all the while working to accomplish your vision. And in the case where you’re not sure of your vision, they have the expertise to guide you.
- During your actual trip – who is responsible for all of the details? You’re the “leader,” but you should still be able to enjoy your tour by handing off the delivery details when you want to. Having a committed tour guide be responsible for all the details, including ticket hand-out, cash and voucher safe-keeping, confirming and re-confirming all of your appointments, hotel check-in, security guards, basically everything!, allows the group leader and chaperones to enjoy the tour on a level not possible if you’re hampered by unwanted logistics. Of course, as a teacher you’ll always be helping with safety and discipline if the situation calls for it. But a well delivered tour can be almost entirely entrusted to the guide and company and enjoyed by the group leader and chaperones without the hassle of all the details that make it successful. That is what the partner company is for, after all! If you find these trips burdensome while on tour (outside of the miles of walking!), you may not be getting your best experience.
- If there was an issue on a tour, would your guide, EPS and company take notice? For instance, if it is raining the entire day on a tour, is your company willing to do something extra to make certain the day is not spoiled for the students? Or would that be dismissed because it wasn’t part of ‘the package’? At the very least, you should receive prompt attention and effort towards that “extra mile”; and sometimes you should receive the unexpected bonus, even if it’s as simple as getting into an indoor museum during an all day rain. After all, a good company will not only deliver what was promised, but also the unexpected.
- Is there a thorough follow-up? Not, was there an evaluation to complete. But was there a follow-up? And did they listen and correct? Remember, excellence is not found in perfection, it’s found in the ability and willingness to improve. The answer to those questions will be found in how they serve you the next year both pre and during tour. If you are constantly running into irritable, non-student friendly guides, cheap motorcoaches, long drives to your destinations because of hotel location, blah meal choices, etc, then you are not being heard and you would benefit from a partner, not just a company.
The truth of the matter is, no company has a monopoly on the destination or the sites. The desired museums, memorials, and destination highlights are no secret. Which is why it’s about how it’s done, not what is done. Tours with identical itineraries can be completely different experiences for both students and teachers based on how it was set up and how it was delivered. So ask these tough questions about your travel partner and if you’re not satisfied with the answers, know that there are better options and better experiences for you, your students and your community.
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