Kids and parents disagree about many things, but there’s one thing they agree on—the importance of travel, according to the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA). USTOA members specializing in student travel report the most valuable aspect is the experience itself. And most Americans agree. In a 2009 consumer survey conducted for USTOA, more than 75 percent of Americans said they believe a teacher-led educational travel experience prior to college is valuable.
USTOA members said that experience, followed by teacher suggestion, were the top motivators for students. For older students and young adults, travel represents not only a new experience, but also a rite of passage, notes one USTOA member. “Our student travel experts tell us that young people are primarily looking for a combination of fun, education, and an opportunity to learn firsthand about other cultures,” says USTOA chairman John Stachnik.
Experience, too, is the main motivator for parents, according to the student travel specialists. “Our tour operators tell us that parents want their kids to get a good education and learn about other cultures,” says Stachnik.
Understandably, safety, security, and cost efficiency are major concerns for parents, he adds. “Parents’ major concern is for their kids’ security.” In response, Stachnik says that student tours are escorted throughout by teachers, and a well-trained guide often accompanies the group.
Group size is often limited, with companies such as ACIS (American Council for International Studies) providing a high chaperone to-student ratio (one chaperone to six students). One company, Explorica, Inc., helps encourage peace of mind by providing an online TourDiary of pictures and entries created by each student so that parents can track their child’s trip, says Stachnik.
For tour operators specializing in student and young adults, the greatest challenges are matching the right tour and destination to the right teacher and group of students, the USTOA poll reported. To that end, companies such as International Expeditions thoroughly research the areas where programs are conducted in advance, and work closely with on-site partners. Helping students adapt to a new culture and new surroundings are also concerns for tour operators.
Many student tour operators provide opportunities for their participants to gain insight into and learn firsthand about other cultures. International Expeditions, for instance, has Community Service Days affording students an opportunity to work side-by-side on a project that benefits a remote village.
“The value of making a positive impact on people who have no concept of the riches we enjoy is immeasurable. Especially for teens, group tours are also a great way for students to gain exposure to different cultures, languages, food and even medicine that they may never experience otherwise. Our tour operators tell us that these trips are life-changing. Students come away with a sense of being a better world citizen, while also bonding with their classmates and with fellow travelers,” observes Stachnik.