Organizing any residential school activity off site away from the “safe zone” of the controlled school environment is a challenge. A great way of off-setting both a lot of workload and filling the experience gap is to work with a skilled and experienced tour company. However like any competitive field of work, there are those companies who are good at tours and should be trusted and those who aren’t so good.
So how do you know who to entrust with your tour? It isn’t easy but here are some pointers that will help you to spot the good and the bad tour providers.
Be wary of choosing the “cheapest”
It will be tempting to gather multiple quotes and then choose the best offer. However beware of this approach. Whilst price must be a decision factor in any tour, it should never be the foremost. Quality has a certain price and 9 times out of 10 a more expensive but quality programme will save in peace of mind, in parental complaints and potentially in the long run in preventing add on costs. Not to mention it will be more likely to really fulfil the set educational goal of the trip. If a company over-states being the cheapest, my tip would be steer clear as at best their focus is more on sales than production and at worst they are dangerously cutting too many corners. Saying this you can find bargins but make sure to check the bargain has never come at expense of a core programme feature.
Don’t choose a “yes” company.
Whilst admitedly when going through the tiring process of organizing a trip it can be a relief to have a trip provider always telling you “yes” to your every request, this actually could be indicating something to worry about. “Yes” answers without additonal “but if” information may mean you are organzing a trip with someone very willing to promise things but perhaps not so likely to deliver. A good quality trip provider won’t just tell you “yes” (or “no”) rather what they will do is tell you honestly about the impacts of requesting additional things, be that on the programme or in adding cost. In short you shouldn’t look for the company that promises perfection, you should rather look for the one who impresses you that they know best how to protect the quality of their core tour features.
Ask “what if” questions?
“What if” questions are a great way of spotting the difference between a tour provider who knows how to sell a school tour and one who actually knows how to organize and deliver one. You should be giving importance to seeking to find the latter. “What if a child falls sick?” What if an emergency happens in the accommodation in the middle of the night?” How well the tour provider answers these questions will tell you a lot about their actual experience and even more so about the ethos of the company. You should be seeking a tour provider who has experience dealing with the unexpected and in planning how to prevent problems. These are core features of a quality tour provider.
Choose a tour provider who puts the kids first.
Whilst we teachers are no different to anyone else and love our personal perks, you should nonetheless be wary of choosing a company who sells you a tour overstressing what “extra things” teachers get. Teacher perks might be nice to receive but it shows where a company places its focus and at the end of day a poorly organized tour with great teacher perks will almost certainly cause you more stress and strain then the benefits you got from the perks. A company who puts kids first will be on top of safety, will have plans Bs in case of bad weather and will usually be run by group of educational people who know the core aspect of teaching is putting the educational and safety needs of the children first.
Judge a company on the quality of their organizational documentation, not on the gloss of their catalogue.
Whilst it is the nature of the world that all companies and people need to sell/promote themselves and their products, we should see selling catalogues for what they are which is a way to catch our attention and get us to make contact. However where we should start judging a tour provider is on quality of their programme documentation. Do they provide quality comprehensive risk assessment on request? Does a quote come accompanied by well thought out and minutely timetabled programme? Does the company have class/workshop material? It is this organizational level documentation that tells you a lot about the company and the way it operates and you should be looking to be impressed by that side more than by the initial gloss.
Ask for a recommendation from someone who has done the tour or search for quality reviews.
We live in the age of 4 stars being the min for any service we consider. However we should pay more note to the comments people write than the gradings they give. Any quality provider will be able to point your towards an impartital teacher who has done a tour with them before. Ask that person the things you need to know and check the tour is a fit for your school. Consider asking them about the staff in the company as this will tell you a lot about tour company. Also ask the teacher openly if anything went wrong and seek to judge the answer by how well (or not) the tour company dealt with the situation that came up, as in many ways how it dealt with a challenge tells you the most about quality and committment of the tour provider. You can also ask similar questions on teacher forums.
Trust is what matters most
Whatever the type of tour you do off site: an outward bounds adventure trip, a residential language tour or sports tour it is advisable to find a specialised tour provider. You need to spot the difference between those who care about your kids and you and those who just want the money. Most of all make sure you trust the company and the people who run it as no tour will be perfect but if trust them you will find they will always be there to help and sort out anything that comes up.
Douglas Haines and Inge Hol are a British/Dutch couple who run Spark Spanish a school trip provider based in Spain which offers bespoke residential primary school tours for both independent and state schools.