After the completion of my first trip to Spain nearly 13 years ago, I recall returning home full of excitement, new ideas, and a great sense of accomplishment. I was proud of leading my first international tour, even if it was only with six students. I shared numerous success stories with my colleagues, principal, and anybody else that would listen. Feeding off this energy, I started planning my next tour within just a few days. Using the notes I took while planning the previous tour, I learned from my mistakes and worked even harder to figure out how to offer this incredible experience to as many students as possible. My efforts did lead to a slight increase in registration as nine students signed up for an amazing 15-day tour of beautiful Mexico.
Although I was excited, I still didn’t understand why it was so difficult to recruit students for such an incredible experience. After all, our recent 11-day Spanish Fiesta trip had been a huge success and was only a few weeks old. Why did I have to work so hard to beg students and persuade parents that this was the opportunity of a lifetime? Shouldn’t they be begging me to take them?
Turning Student Tours into a Student Travel Program
This experience led me to realize that I had to make wholesale changes in how I approached educational travel. I realized that I had to create a culture within my school and community that valued and appreciated travel opportunities for our youth. I decided to make it my job, my mission, my passion to educate all vested parties on the importance and value of student travel. I shifted my focus from planning the perfect tour to cultivating a highly regarded, successful, and sustainable travel program. After all, I’ve always felt that it is less about the trip and more about the journey.
I didn’t have to look far to find examples of successful programs that had established a strong tradition and healthy culture. It just so happened that these weren’t travel programs, but rather, athletic programs. These programs did not need to start over each year to establish standards.
Our school had one of the most successful volleyball programs in the state. The program had recently won two state championships and had earned numerous league, district, and regional titles. Our men’s and women’s cross-country and track teams had also sustained success over a long period.
I spent a lot of time listening to and observing the coaches of both programs. I learned a great deal from them and began to establish a similar culture for my own program. Although coaching an athletic team is quite different, I was hoping to build a student travel program that mirrored the same success and longevity. After careful planning our travel program and strategy began to take the following shape.
- Similar to the upperclassmen of an athletic team I encourage my veteran student travelers to pass on the responsibilities and expectations from group to group. I no longer have to start over each year and establish standards, expectations, and the protocol for operation.
- Upon the completion of a successful tour, a program gains steam and excitement spreads, making recruitment easier. The success of the program sells the next trip, especially when planned right away. People want to be part of tradition and before long, the program starts to become self-sufficient.
- The program establishes a positive reputation beyond students, and connects with administration and parents. The program becomes part of the culture of the school and the community. Individuals and businesses notice the success of the program and are more likely to support it financially. It becomes part of who the school is and what it does for its students. As the school and community become more vested in the program, the Group Leader is no longer the sole pillar upon which the program stands. Group Leaders may come and go, but the program can survive and thrive for years to come.
A Student Travel Program Becomes Part of a Community
A successful travel program impacts the school’s academic climate and boosts student confidence and motivation. It’s not uncommon for student participation within the classroom and across extra-curricular activities to increase, along with academic performance. Naturally, student enrollment for that Group Leader rises, and stronger teacher-student relationships develop. This is particularly important for annual teacher evaluations, as this data makes it easier for teachers to show personal and academic growth among the students who are traveling.
From what I have experienced, if you follow these above steps, then you will see these changes working towards building a sustainable student travel program. You will start to see that students meet every deadline, attend every meeting, and fulfill every requirement in order to ensure they have a place on the travel roster. As a Group Leader you will no longer have to convince parents about the benefits of travel and defend the overall cost of the tour. Parents will have seen the success of the program and the impact it has had on previous students. They will now understand that their children cannot afford to miss out on this special opportunity.
Interested in building a sustainable travel program at your school? We can help! Schedule a time to chat with an EF Tour Consultant.
It’s been over 13 years since we first started building our student travel program and we’ve thrived. We’ve experienced all of the benefits listed above. Our student enrollment on tours slowly grew to 20, and then to 30. Despite choosing a tour that was more expensive than ones we’ve done in the past, in just two weeks’ time we enrolled 44 students for our recent Spain trip. We’ve established a program in which everybody knows who we are, what we do, when we do it, and how we do it. The only thing left to decide is where we do it.
Our students choose to step out of their comfort zones and try something very different and literally, foreign to them. Our parents understand the value and importance of the experience. Our administration stands behind us 100% and assists in supplying necessary resources. Our community supports us financially in so many different ways. Together, our program has helped small town kids do big world things.
Scott is a high school Spanish teacher and basketball coach. He began traveling with EF Tours in 2001 and has led 8 student tours to various Spanish-speaking countries. Scott strongly believes that student travel builds self-confidence and inspires students to develop and work towards long-term goals.