Tuesday 30 Aug, 2011

Interview With EF Tour Director Richard Polley

Richard Polley
The Tour Director community here in Europe is a diverse one, with hundreds of people who are encouraged in their unique approach to leading tours. However, some Tour Directors (TDs) have rightly achieved legendary status through their endeavours and I was ever so pleased to get a bit of Richard Polley’s time for him to share some his insight into travel and touring (and he is far too modest to use the word legendary, but it is true).

Tell us something of your EF experience

I was born and raised in London, studied French and German at Oxford University and started working as a Tour Director for EF in 1985 and have hardly looked back since! In that time I have led nearly 200 tours for EF Educational Tours, as well as its sister company Go Ahead and some of the newer products, such as College Study and College Break. I was also Regional Manager of the London office for 3 years and worked for a year each in Boston and Santa Barbara, CA, as a Tour Consultant. Not forgetting stints working for the International Language Schools division of EF, in their London, Boston, New York and Miami schools.

In recent years, I have spent several weeks each winter as Training Co-ordinator, a role which has taken me all over Europe, as well as to China, Japan and Costa Rica to help train many of the scores of new TDs we need each year to keep pace with the numbers our Sales Offices produce!

Do you have any favourite destinations?



If I had to choose a favourite country out of the 25 or so I’ve been to with high school groups, I think I’d plump for Italy, closely followed by Spain in recent years……I must be hot-blooded or it is due to having studied Latin…. but my single preferred city is Paris (next to London, of course!) for its sheer beauty and ability to excite every time I step off the Eurostar at the Gare du Nord.  I am also a big fan of Central Europe, especially the underrated city of Budapest, and am always happy to be assigned a tour that includes it and some of its neighbors.

For my own vacations, I tend to choose places that are well off the “beaten path” or at least less obvious destinations. These have included, for example, Paraguay, Mozambique, Uzbekistan (see photo) and Bhutan……now, that would make a good tour! South America is high on my “to do” list, especially Argentina, Peru, Colombia…..

How has touring changed in your time with EF?

In the quarter century since I first wore the blue-and-white TD badge, much has changed in the world of student travel. I remember clearly the days when en-suite bathroom facilities were the exception rather than guaranteed, when smoking was allowed on public transport and some included meals would, frankly, have been better to have been excluded…and all of that without the gadgets and technology that it’s become unimaginable to leave home without. Chief among the improvements I have witnessed is the ability and requirement to make extensive and personalised email contact with each and every Group Leader pre-tour, which helps enormously to set expectations, make specific arrangements and iron out any potential challenges. All of this leads to a smoother and more fruitful on-tour experience, for all involved.

What advice would you give to new Group leaders?

My top tips for a brand-new Group Leader…..make sure all your travellers bring an open-minded sense of curiosity, a positive attitude and slightly less luggage than they originally think they will need, nobody needs a complete new outfit for each day on tour. Another tip would be to encourage all tour participants to do at least a little research on each city or country being visited so that they have a basic context within which to learn, be it historical, cultural, and linguistic. I never tire of observing the broadening of horizons, it’s almost tangible!

Hope to see you somewhere in Europe very soon.

Flickr photo via whl.travel

(Editor’s note: Add Paul on Google+ If you have a question about for EF Tour Director Paul Mattesini, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)