Wednesday 27 Feb, 2013

Perks for Loyal Group Leaders – Teacher Convention Tours

One of the perks of being a Group Leader with EF Educational Tours is that one can earn Global Rewards Points based on the length of the tour and the number of full-paying participants that travel.  Book early, and one can earn triple or even quadruple points.  Refer a friend and earn $1000 or 300 points when he or she travels.

Back in the fall, I came to the conclusion that it was time to cash in some of my Global Rewards Points that I had accrued.  I logged on to the EF website and started perusing the various rewards available.  Since I’ve been leading tours with EF since 2001, I’ve earned some pretty cool rewards over the years.  Some of these include an eight-day trip to Mexico for two, a Mac Desktop Computer, and most recently a MacBook that I used to create a highlight video for students after our 2011 tour to Costa Rica.  This time around, I wanted something different.   I was eager to travel again and I wanted to travel to a place that would benefit me as a Spanish teacher.

EF - group leaders posing on a teacher convention tour

Group Leaders

While scrolling through the list of rewards, I came across the Teacher Convention Tours.  I knew very little about them so I decided to take a closer look.   What I learned intrigued me, to say the least.   I immediately contacted my Tour Consultant to get more information.  Shortly thereafter, I signed up to attend the New Year’s 2013 Teacher Convention Tour in Puerto Rico with my wife, nearly a dozen other Group Leaders and their guests, and three outstanding members of the EF staff.     Last month I shared some tips about traveling to Puerto Rico.  This month, I’d like to focus on the Teacher Convention Tours themselves and share with other Group Leaders exactly what they are missing out on.

Teacher Convention Tours are part convention and part tour.  Most tours last five or six days.   Like the tours I take with students, a Tour Director also guides these.   EF sends a few staff members, on my tour it was three, to run the convention.   A dozen or more Group Leaders also attend and many bring a guest.  At the start of the tour, the group gets to know each other as they are traveling and visiting new sites.  After the first few days, the EF staff holds a very informal, but informative, convention meeting with the Group Leaders.   In the meantime, the guests enjoy some free time on their own.

The convention is usually held in a conference room at the hotel and in our case, lasted just over three hours, from breakfast through lunch.   The hotel staff served drinks, snacks, and then concluded with lunch.  During this time, the EF staff begins by educating the Group Leaders on all of the different services offered by EF Tours in an effort to help everyone have a better understanding of what the company has to offer.  They also spend time speaking about changes to current policies, products, and programs as well as introduce what new ideas and concepts the company is planning to unveil.  The Group Leaders also have an opportunity to provide feedback to the EF staff.   Next, the Group Leaders brainstorm a list of hot topics that they’d like to discuss, whether it is recruiting, fundraising, or even how to get administrative support.   The remaining time is then spent sharing ideas and discussing these topics with input from both EF staff and Group Leaders.

During the convention, I was amazed to learn that EF has nearly 500 schools and offices in over 50 different countries.   EF offers educational travel for students, adults, and even for teachers wanting to complete professional development together while on tour.  Service learning tours have also become quite popular.  Additionally, EF offers a variety of language programs including international language schools, full immersion programs, and highly customized language training for businesses worldwide.  Did you know that EF provided language training for workers at the Beijing Olympics in 2008?  I also learned that EF provides opportunities for families to host international exchange students.   Most interesting though, was that EF even has Cultural Care Au Pair childcare and cultural exchange program.   An au pair lives with you as part of your family while providing up to 45 hours of customized childcare each week all while offering a unique international perspective.  Finally, EF is beginning to offer academic degrees as well.  EF has grown since is inception in 1965 in Sweden and has continued to adapt with the times.

EF group leaders - teacher convention tour, waterfall

Group Leaders pose in front of a waterfall

Some of my favorite times on tour are those that allow for thoughtful conversation with those I’m touring with. Those times include traveling on the bus and stopping to eat in restaurants.  Throughout this tour, I enjoyed spending these moments sharing teaching stories with other teachers from around the country.   We talked about different teaching strategies, curriculum, and new trends in educational programs.  We shared stories of both frustration and success and offered one another support.

Most importantly, we talked about our travel programs.  We discussed our struggles and concerns and helped one another to find solutions to our problems.  One particular teacher, Jim Carter from Kansas City, Missouri, was frustrated that he only had three students signed up for an upcoming tour.  After many discussions with other Group Leaders, he took a recruiting idea from Hudson Williams of Richmond, Virginia and tweaked it to make it is own.   Upon his return to school after the holiday break, Jim implemented the idea and within a matter of days he suddenly had 81 full-paying participants enrolled on tour.  We all swapped ideas to make our travel programs better.  Just to name a few, we shared fundraising ideas, how to search for grants, how to gain administrative support, how to promote our programs, and which tours were our favorites.  Even though we only spent three to four hours in an actual convention, the conversations continued throughout the entire trip.   What evolved was a true professional learning community that has become a valuable network of Group Leaders helping and learning from one another via the phone, email, Twitter, and even Facebook.

Another great surprise that I discovered while on tour was that the EF staff was very much interested in hearing our feedback.   We discussed concerns that we had in hopes that the people at EF could work on practical solutions.  Over the past several years, I’ve seen evidence that EF truly listens to the people it serves.   A longstanding problem for many was dealing with departure fees.  As a group leader, it was very difficult to explain to parents that these fees could change up until nearly a month before tour.  It was also a challenge to fund-raise and make payments towards a final cost that was uncertain.  Starting with 2014 tours, EF is introducing the EF Price Guarantee.   EF will guarantee the lowest price, no enrollment fees, no departure fees, and one simple price that will never change.  All of this was made possible because EF listened to what people wanted and worked to solve a complex problem.   It was a great feeling to be able to share feedback that could possibly have a positive impact on the experiences of so many others that will one day travel.

When planning a tour for my students, it takes an incredible amount of time and money.   Don’t get me wrong.  I absolutely love planning tours.  This time around, however, it was great to go on a tour that somebody else planned.  All I had to do was make a phone call and sign up.  I later submitted passport information for my wife and I and read a few emails that covered hotel, flight, and travel information leading up to departure.  That was it.  No fundraising.  No recruitment meetings.  It was a trip that required minimal planning and responsibility and offered relaxation, reinvention, and rejuvenation.

EF group leader activities

Activities

My wife and I truly enjoyed all of the beautiful places we visited in Puerto Rico.  We learned so much from our tour director Jesús, as well as the local guides, and came home with some great memories, souvenirs, photos, and videos.  Perhaps what we enjoyed most was making new friends and connections with the other dynamic Group Leaders and their guests as well as some wonderful staff members from EF.

I’m preparing to travel next month with a group of 35 to Costa Rica.  Upon my return, I will immediately begin planning a trip for 2015.  By booking almost two years early, students have longer to pay and as a Group Leader I have the opportunity to earn more reward points.  With these newly acquired points, I just might book another upcoming Teacher Convention Tour.   If so, I’d love to meet you at one!   What might interest you?  Turkey?  Tanzania?  India?  Brazil’s Amazon?  Switzerland, France, and Italy?

For more information about 2013 and 2014 Teacher Convention Tours, contact the Global Rewards department at EF or simply login to the EF website and visit the Global Rewards section.  I’d highly suggest enrolling on a Teacher Convention Tour.  It’s a great opportunity to bring home some new ideas for your travel program, renew your passion, and get re-energized and excited to plan your next tour!

Nobody does it like EF.  Check it out for yourself.

(Editor’s note: Add Scott on Google+Scott Hemker’s posts appear once a month on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our expert group leader, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can  email Scott, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)

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