Some companies specialize in educational travel; a few arrange performance-group trips only. They plan every detail, from flights and meals to hotel rooming lists and late-night pizza parties.
Finding a Good Student Tour Operator
It’s simple to find student tour operators on Google, but just because they are on the first page doesn’t mean they’re solid.
Here are five factors to consider before you sign the contract:
- What travel associations do they belong to? The most popular are NTA (National Tour Association) and ABA (American Bus Association). An operator need not belong to both, but should belong to at least one, as the associations screen incoming members for potential problems and monitor consumer complaints.
- Do you prefer to deal locally or through an 800 number? Generally speaking, large national tour operators offer better pricing because they buy in volume, but hometown operators provide the peace of mind of dealing local.
- Get references. Have they worked with groups like yours? Ask to speak with other teachers to obtain their perspective on the company.
- Have they run this particular tour before? If you’re the guinea pig, expect problems to arise.
- What sort of financial protection do they offer? Are funds put in escrow? Can you pay by credit card? Do they belong to any consumer protection plans, like the one offered by USTOA (United States Tour Operators Association)?
After contracting with a tour provider, teacher group leaders should let the provider know their most important considerations regarding the tour. Examples include:
- Specific flight patterns (longer or shorter layovers, etc.)
- Location of hotels (within cities or outside of urban areas)
- Meal upgrades (may increase the per-person price of the tour)
- Arranging events such as cultural exchanges, religious services, private concerts or farewell dinners
- Participants traveling from gateways other than the group
Paperwork & Student/Parent Information
The most important aspect of working effectively with tour providers is regular communication, either by telephone or through e-mail. Most student tour providers offer excellent websites that allow participants to enroll and make payments online, get answers to basic questions and receive helpful downloads such as city guides.
It is important to keep up to date with all paperwork requested by the tour provider by the given deadlines. These include:
- Any liability contracts or agreements to act as a group leader
- Gathering of student information such as passport data
- Creation of an emergency calling tree
- Reminding participants and parents of payment schedules
- Providing information on trip insurance
- Enrolling participants on optional tour excursions
- Matching passport names with names on the trip roster
Group leaders will not be able to contact tour provider consultants while on tour unless there is a case of an on-tour emergency. Thus, feedback is very important:
- Complete all feedback, evaluation forms thoroughly
- Make comments when necessary
- Call the provider upon returning and summarize the experience
- Detail what was really effective
- Detail anything that was disappointing