Connect Travel’s virtual roundtable with key operators underscore value of student market segment. As a part of the ongoing “Connect with” series, two widely known experts in the U.S. student tour market fielded questions and provided their audience—it included many DMO officials and key marketing figures for a wide range of U.S. travel suppliers—with special insights on a market that provides a core segment for many in the tour and travel industry.
Taking part in the dialogue were Bryan Cole, president of Super Holiday Tours, an operator with special expertise in helping performing arts students, mostly from school bands and choirs; and Keith Snode, chief operating officer at Kaleidoscope Adventures, with programs ranging from dance to physics. Moderating the discussion was Shari Bailey, vice president, Connect Travel, general manager, Connect Travel Events.
Connect with Student Tour Operators Virtual Roundtable—Key Takeaways
1. Communication: Consistent communication is imperative. Please make sure you are communicating the same message on all levels, especially when it comes to terms and conditions, health and safety, and opening guidelines. Toolkits that keep the most up-to-date information in one place are very helpful – remember to include pieces that are ready-to-use for specific markets.
2. Approval Process: There are many steps for a student group tour to actualize—teacher, parent, principal, administrator, local and state boards. Understanding this process is important when interacting with student tour operators. They are providing trip information multiple times, at multiple levels, over an extended period of time. Consistent, current information on your destination, attractions and hotels will help operators quickly process requests.
3. Community Investment: It is important to promote that your community, attractions, restaurants and hotels are open for business. Join with your local, regional and state partners to provide safe, clean and open messaging.
4. Creativity: Find unique ways to engage clients and consumers alike. Virtual tours, videos and site visits are exceptional ways to keep your destination or business top of mind. Tour operators will use these for staff training as well as sales presentations. Please try to keep your videos to 1-2 minutes in length as there are many components to a multi-day tour. One note: keep specific contact information to a minimum. (i.e. If used for sales presentations the operator will need to list themselves as the contact.)
5. Connect: Student Tour Operators are working through a few unknowns at the moment; school openings, field trip regulations and program funding. However, they do know that student tours will be back! They need and want information about your destinations, services and activities; including updated contacts to work with.
Keith Snode (asked what was his company’s biggest challenge during the current pandemic): “Our biggest challenge has been the line of communication between the group leader and their participants—whether it‘s a line that we’re managing, or we’re managing it through them—making sure that that is consistent and making sure that the group leaders who are managing that on their own, and not allowing us to do it, are managing that communication in a way that doesn’t cause them further problems. I would say that that’s been our biggest challenge through all of this.”
Bryan Cole: “With the anticipation and the expectations that there were going back to the beginning of all this back in March, there was a lot of uncertainty, but there was a lot of positive feedback—‘Oh, we’ll re-schedule in May, we’ll re-schedule in the summertime’—it kind of fell through. Things got worse.”
Keith Snode: “The decision-making process for where a group goes is going to be much different moving forward. Groups are going to be very interested in risk. I’m not just talking about the risk from a safety and security standpoint, which is something everybody is concerned about. They’ll also be interested in destinations that are going to be a little bit more flexible in terms of … if this happens again, how are we going to cancel it? If a destination is going to have more stringent policies and hotels are going to be more stringent and things like that, then groups are not going to be as interested …”
Bryan Cole: “There is just so much that is unknown in our industry and in student group travel – How many are going to fit on a motorcoach? What’s the capacity going to be? We started seeing more of this several years ago when more student groups would travel within a six-to-eight-hour radius of where they live, and make it a shorter trip. We may see more of that. But there are still a lot of unknowns.”