One of the sad travel news stories to emerge in 2009 was the report in May that a New England-based educational tour operator for student groups had suddenly filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The fallout affected student groups from about 40 high schools across the country with trips planned and booked to visit Europe during the summer.
Kids, and their parents, who had conducted fundraisers for months to pay for their trip were suddenly faced with a loss of $4,000 or more per student. Although other student group tour operators admirably stepped in to offer land discounts for alternative trips, the damage was done. Most participants, unable to afford replacement airline tickets and added land costs, were forced to cut their losses and miss their trip.
As comments appeared in newspaper columns from angry parents and shocked teachers about the bankruptcy, it became apparent that a professional travel agent was not involved in many schools to help organize the student bookings. Additionally, many of the school group leaders, who were not agents, either did not insist that student participants obtain a travel insurance plan, or did not arrange a third-party insurance plan that would have protected students in the event of a tour operator bankruptcy or default
What Can Travel Agents Do?
Travel agents should be in touch with their local schools, through parents and teachers, to find out if there is an opportunity for them to get involved in helping organize the booking details of the next student group trip, even if a tour operator will escort the group. Remember that the strongest travel insurance plan teachers and parents can offer their students is one purchased through a travel agent and a third-party travel insurer because it normally will include full Trip Cancellation protection in the event of the tour operator’s financial default or bankruptcy. Additionally, students need emergency medical protection, especially for a foreign trip where more U.S. health care plans, as stated on the U.S. State Department web site (travel.state.gov), do not provide coverage. This emergency medical protection is included in a good travel insurance plan.
As travel professionals, agents should sell their financial expertise in travel to school leaders and parents, especially in helping with planning due diligence. Is the tour operator financially reputable? Are deposited payments being put into an escrow account? Are there strong testimonials from other travel professionals to recommend the chosen operator? Does the operator belong to a respected industry trade association such as SYTA, USTOA or ASTA?
We all know that high school and university teachers, especially in foreign languages and history who do a lot of personal summer travel, sometimes consider themselves experts in travel. But do not sell yourself short by failing to present your credentials as the true travel professional. Ask yourself this question: Is a classroom teacher with some experience in travel any more qualified to arrange their students’ group trip than you would be to go in to school and teach their French or History classes?
We don’t think so either.
John Stone is the Media Relations Manager at Travel Insured International, and a former News Editor at Leisure Travel News and Travel Trade Magazine. He recommends that you take a look at the Student Group Insurance plans at http://www.travelinsured.com/ for valuable information to help you sell that next student group trip.