The Benefits of Using a Reputable Tour Operator to book your school trip
Some teachers believe that if they make all the arrangements for a school tour themselves it will be cheaper, they will have more control over their own arrangements & get the itinerary that they want.
There are, however, serious downsides to the DIY approach that are often overlooked. For instance, who picks up the tab if the coach company or hotel you want to use goes out of business after you have paid them? Who is liable if anything goes wrong? Who can help in an emergency? Whose reputation is on the line? Is the perceived “saving” worth the risk, not to mention the hours of extra work you have to add to your busy schedule?
Here are seven reasons why it makes sense to use a tour operator:
1. Is It Really Cheaper to Organise Your Own Tour?
The obvious answer may appear to be “yes”. Tour operators have a living to make so don’t work free of charge & this is a cost it would seem that you can save if you make your own arrangements. Tour operators have, however, built up good relationships with suppliers over many years so invariably get better rates than someone who makes a booking once or twice a year. In the same way that you may get a lower group price for your hotel than an individual can obtain, a tour operator will almost certainly get a significant discount on the rate you will be charged because they will bring the hotel more income with multiple group bookings during the year. When all the other savings they make are taken into account are you really saving that much – if anything - for all your extra work? This is particularly the case the longer the duration of your tour.
2. The Exchange Rate
Another factor to consider is the current volatility of the exchange rate. Tour operators can buy foreign currency in advance (forward buying) which fixes the price you pay rather than leaving you in a position where meals, venues & overseas hotel bills turn out to cost much more than you anticipated if you pay just before your departure date or on the day of your visit.
3. Legal Protection
In the event that something goes wrong, reputable tour operators are covered by public liability insurance of up to £10 million as a condition of trading legally. The responsibility is shifted from yourself & the school to the operator. Not something teachers often think about when organising their own tour in a litigious environment. This is a point worth remembering when persuading the Head or Leadership Team about the value of allowing you to take a group out of school in the first place.
4. Financial Protection
Tour Operators are subject to the Package Travel Regulations which make it a legal requirement for them to offer guarantees with regard to any monies paid to them. In the unlikely event that they or any supplier involved goes out of business your money is protected. This kind of security is not available if you organise the tour yourself. Book with companies that are members of trade associations such as ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) or AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators) both of which insist that their members provide financial protection either by way of a Bond or through a Financial Failure Insurance Scheme. Some companies operate a trust account to protect your money. This method is still legal but not favoured as a protection option where trade associations are concerned.
5. Save Valuable Time
You could spend your lunch hours, evenings & weekends arranging your own tour but do you really want the planning to consume all your spare time & dominate your thoughts? Why not delegate some of the tasks to people who do this full-time? Using a tour operator will significantly reduce your workload especially when it comes to safety & risk assessment as well as promoting your tour.
Companies which are members of the School Travel Forum (STF) have very detailed Safety Management Systems in place which are externally audited by Health & Safety specialists on an annual basis. They can provide you with the information you will need to complete risk assessments on accommodation & ferries without you having to source the information yourself. If you need any assistance with an emergency when on tour they can also provide 24-hour support to help resolve problems as quickly as possible.
They can also price the tour up for you rather than you have to do it yourself & handle all the correspondence with suppliers that you would otherwise have to do as well.
They can also offer you some tried & tested tips on promoting your tour, provide ready-made posters to raise awareness of the trip around the school & even provide a PowerPoint presentation for your Parents’ Evening.
6. Access to Tour Guides & Additional Learning Materials
Some teachers who know the locations they wish to visit quite well may be able to act as their own guide but for those who are unfamiliar with their destination, using a tour operator who can supply a specialist guide will really help staff & pupils get the most from their visit especially if the guide has a background in teaching.
It’s always worth reading the “About Us” section on a tour operator’s website to see if the owner(s) have teaching experience. This can be a good indicator of the relevance & quality of their study materials. You may not use everything they can supply but you might want to incorporate some of their ideas or worksheets into your own work books.
Always look for operators who hold the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge which is awarded to those companies that meet Quality Standards as far as their study materials & commitment to achieving learning objectives are concerned
7. Stay in Control
Good companies pride themselves on good customer service. Often, this is part of what makes them good in the first place. A big part of the process is about meeting your wishes & fulfilling your requirements as far as the tour is concerned. The tour operator may make suggestions for your consideration but you should always have the last word whether that is about what you want to include in the itinerary, using your preferred coach operator or staying at your favourite hotel or youth hostel – provided, of course, that the coach company hasn’t gone out of business & the hotel meets the required safety standards!
You could check yourself or we could do that for you. It’s your choice.
For further information on all our school trips visit http://www.schooltours.co.uk/ or contact our friendly team on 0800 801 560.
Author: Ian Matthews, Managing Director of Galina International Study Tours Ltd & a former Head of History.