Let's first pose the sub-question:
"Why use a professional travel company rather than arrange the tour myself?"
There are limitless options for student travel experiences, and there is no possible way that you can have enough knowledge of "what's out there" to create the "ultimate" experience and stay within your budget. You will also need assistance in maximizing the value of your hard-earned dollars! As you begin your planning process, your best assurance of a successful trip is to meet your goals and objectives while staying within your budget.
Consider especially the following three concerns:
Chief among the many reasons for selecting a travel company is liability protection. Reputable travel companies carry professional liability coverage that protects both the sponsor of the traveling organization, the school and the trip participants.
- This is coverage that is not available outside of the travel industry.
- Like personal insurance, this is something that can easily be viewed as "we don't need it"... until you need it!
- You need to protect the investment that the school and participants are making.
Benefits of a Professional Tour Planner
These are both tangible and intangible benefits:
- Travel companies, especially those that do a large volume of business, will generally have access to the best possible price options available in the travel industry—better than what an individual organization or the general public will be able to obtain.
- Travel companies will often have more flexible contract terms and booking deadlines with vendors (hotels, restaurants, etc.) because of their volume of business and the relationships they cultivate within the travel industry.
- Student travel companies specialize in the particular needs of educational or music groups, and work with vendors that can best serve the specific needs of those groups.
- Student travel companies also have the benefit of experience of working with large groups and the particulars of logistics when it comes to making group arrangements.
- Student travel companies have the best knowledge of what new options and experiences are available for student groups.
- Local travel agents do not generally have the depth of experience with the challenges pertaining to travel with large groups. Planning and executing a tour for a large group is very different from planning for individuals or families.
The Value of Your Time
As a teacher, your time and energies need to be focused on the educational needs of the students. With more responsibilities continually added to an already full day— especially in programs with multiple ensembles and activities from early in the morning until well into the evening—tour planning is best delegated to those who can take care of your group needs efficiently and successfully.
Now that you've made the wise choice to use a student travel company to plan your tour, whom do you choose to work on your behalf and in your group's best interests?
Conducting Your Own Research
There are dozens of companies anxious to help you plan your trip. You will need to find one that can best meet your needs. If you want your trip to reflect your unique interests and needs, then selecting the best resource is essential! The right tour company who will work with you to develop your entire itinerary can be your best resource.
- Some companies handle only specific destinations or events, and have little or no expertise beyond their "niche."
- Some offer primarily standardized "packages" and may not have the flexibility you need to meet the needs of your group.
- Festival companies are "selling" their own festivals which may limit your destination choices. They may or may not do "all inclusive planning," meaning some planning and booking responsibilities could fall on your shoulders.
- A few companies offer a full range of expertise, knowledge, and resources to help you sort through each step of your planning. Companies such as this offer the most benefit and convenience to you.
Here are a few questions to consider:
- What other music programs have traveled with this company? References are very important as they offer the perspective of experience. Call them!
- Has a trusted colleague or respected program used this company? Call them.
- How long has the company been in business?
- What are the company philosophy and core values? Do they align with yours?
- How knowledgeable are they? Ask destination, cultural, musical and educationally oriented questions.
- What is the quality of the vendors they use (and how much detail will they provide in advance)?
- Motor coach
- Event tickets
- Do they understand the particulars of logistics for a traveling music group? How much do they know about music education? Do they have staff members who have taught or been involved in music education?
- Are they willing to say they don't know an answer and do the research for you?
- Can they provide you the best possible value and maximize your dollars?
- What are standard inclusions when you purchase a tour?
- Do they include on-site Tour Directors, Trip Health and Accident Insurance for all participants, etc.?
- What other services can they provide?
- Equipment rental
- Rehearsal arrangements
- Pre-tour inspection trips
- Individual student billing
- Refund Guarantee Program or travel protection
- What professional associations or recognitions do they have?
- National Tour Association
- Student Youth Travel Association
- American Bus Association (ABA)
- Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)
- Disney Performing Arts Youth Travel Planner Advisory Board
- Are they recognized as a Preferred Travel Planner, Top Producer or award recipient from travel industry or music industry leaders?
- How is your money protected? How much liability insurance do they carry?