What you need to know before you plan your next trip
By Mark Harting
Download Document This Travel: Take the Show on the Road (195 kB)
Having been a teacher and a student group travel consultant the last 25 years I have seen the positive affect of group travel on both the students and music programs. One of my most memorable moments as a teacher was watching the reaction of the parents and students when I announced that we were going to Disney World! The excitement generated from that magical moment was amazing. Now with eyes wide open and boundless amounts of energy, traveling with your show choir will not only broaden your student’s experience, it will create new traditions and a reputation that will put the school’s spotlight permanently on your program.
While the thought of travel is exciting, as a director one might ask, “How can I possibly take on another time consuming responsibility?” It is now that you must decide how to go about planning your trip of a lifetime. While some may utilize the services of a professional student tour operator, others may tackle the project themselves. No matter which way you decide I want to shed light on issues that you should consider for both options.
Should you choose to create and implement your group’s travel on your own there are four items that you must seriously consider - time, budget, destination, and liability. Without enough planning time during the school day, you will be frazzled and frustrated. Creating a glamorous itinerary in a community that can only support a more modest, cost effective trip may put you in a position to answer uncomfortable questions. Choosing the wrong destination, either too exotic or too pedestrian, can leave you with low participation. Not exercising due diligence when selecting vendors and signing contracts will force you into a position of liability. Ultimately, failing to address each of those factors can lead to your trip being unsuccessful.
Once you have an organized plan in place, let the fun begin. Let your mind wander while trying to find the most fun, exotic, yet educationally based destination. That special place should allow you to accomplish the group’s performance requirements, fit into their budget, and create enthusiasm with your students. The length of the trip and the distance traveled are the driving forces behind the cost of the trip. I would suggest using the amount of $150 per day to calculate a general trip budget. For example, a 6-day trip to Orlando, Florida (depending on the mode of transportation) would normally fall in the range of $750 to $950 per person. Perhaps your group has budgeted $250 for their trip; therefore, choosing a destination more than a 5 hours away with more than 1 or 2 hotel nights would not be wise. Choosing a destination that everyone can embrace and afford will give you a higher trip success rate.
Time is a huge ingredient when planning a trip. Most hotels, coach companies, museums, and restaurants are open for business during the school day when you are teaching. Finding a teacher these days with extra planning time is as rare as a show choir without sequins! Arranging a trip will require you to spend at least a couple of hours a week making phone calls, sending emails, reading the fine print, and signing contracts in addition to collecting trip payments then disbursing deposits and final payments to vendors. While putting the pieces of the trip puzzle together can be rewarding, not having the needed time to devote to the trip’s organization can leave you reeling and not teaching.
In this era of shifting or shirking liability once the trip begins, the buck stops with you. You designed the trip, collected money for the trip, and are now executing the trip; therefore, you are the one to answer questions, address concerns and decide which way to turn when the driver is lost. In other words, you are liable. While some live for this moment, perhaps you are feeling anxiety just thinking about the possibilities. If it is the latter you are a perfect fit for passing the baton on to a professional student tour operator.
The question that I am most often asked by teachers and administrators is: Are there additional costs associated with using a student tour operator? I have heard tour operators answer this question incorrectly while others dodge the question with the ease of seasoned politician. However, the honest answer is – unless a tour operator is willing to work without a salary, money to cover general business expenses, and they are set up as a non-profit, there are indeed additional costs associated with using a professional tour operator.
The real question should be how much money is your time worth? If you are able to do what you do, TEACH, without stressing over the details and organization of your trip, your quality of life will be better. You will have the opportunity to use your valuable time for teaching and classroom planning, not trip planning – that in itself is of great benefit to you and your students. After considering those factors you can accurately consider what value your time has, then you can answer whether it is worth the cost.
Without much research it should be fairly easy to find a reputable, high quality, student minded, and affordable tour operator. Asking fellow directors or checking with SYTA (Student Youth Travel Association) is a great place to start.
Here is a list of questions to ask a travel company that will help you find a good fit:
• Can you provide a thorough trip proposal with “trip per person” prices?
• Are your prices exact, firm, and all inclusive?
• Can Individuals register directly with you or do I collect the information?
• Do you collect trip payments from individuals or do we have to pay as a group?
• Do you accept credit cards and if so, is there an additional fee for that?
• What resources are available to me to track registration?
• What standards do you use when selecting hotels for your groups?
• What kind of motorcoaches do you use and how do you know if they are safe?
• What happens if a motorcoach breaks down?
• Will you send someone from your company with us on the trip?
• Can I ask any of your clients for a reference?
• Can you provide me with your companies insurance coverage?
• Are you a member of the BBB (Better Business Bureau)?
• Are you a member of SYTA (Student Youth Travel Association) and NTA (National Tour Association)?
Above we’ve provided a list of questions to ask a potential travel provider. If the answers to these questions fit your needs you are well on your way to a well-designed trip and positive relationship with a reputable tour operator.
The thought process that goes into creating an incredible show choir production (or ensemble performance) is the same for creating a great trip for your students. If you are the designer, arranger, and choreographer then you are likely the person that will put your own trip together successfully. On the other hand, if you prefer to delegate and hire the perfect arranger and the most exciting choreographer for your competition show – using a tour operator will be the ticket to a championship experience.
With proper preparation and thoughtful planning a trip can be a manageable and rewarding experience. Bonds that are created and memories that are made while traveling are impossible to duplicate in any other way. In the end, a successful trip will be the experience of a lifetime for you and your students.
Mark Harting is in his 15th year at Music Travel Consultants in Indianapolis, IN where he currently serves as the Vice President of Sales. Prior to his career as a student travel planner Mark was the assistant band director and assistant choir director at LaPorte High School (IN), the music department chair at Frankton High School (IN), taught brass methods and marching band technique classes while working on his master’s degree at University of Louisville, and currently serves on the staff of Avon High School’s (IN) award winning Marching Black and Gold.
Thank you to Song in Motion Magazine for allowing permission to reprint this article, which appeared in the inaugural issue.
Download Document This Travel: Take the Show on the Road (195 kB)