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How to Choose a Tour Operator for Student Travel

Sep 8, 2022

Picking the right tour operator for your trip is the key to travel success, especially when students are involved.

If you’re a teacher taking your class, band or choir on a school trip, you definitely don’t have time to plan the whole trip on your own. Flights, motorcoaches, laws and regulations, safety, pricing, attractions, local vendors—an incredible amount of work goes into planning student travel.

As an educator, you’re already going to have to deal with getting students to sign up, fundraising, finding chaperones, managing parents, and tying the trip back to the classroom. That means you need an expert tour operator with student travel experience who can reliably take care of everything else ahead of time, while also dealing with any situations that arise on the trip itself.

So here are a few things to look for when choosing your tour operator for student travel:

Make sure you’re the right audience. There are all kinds of tour companies that specialize in different areas, which means plenty of operators don’t even touch student travel. Be sure the operators you reach out to are proudly offering student travel experiences and have done so before—you shouldn’t be the guinea pig! Within the education niche, there even certain companies that specialize in performance travel for bands and choirs, and they should absolutely be your first pick if you’re a director of any sort.

Look for standards. The best tour operators will use their website and social media to proudly advertise their standards and protocols, whether related to safety, or education, or environmental impact, or elsewise. If not listed publicly, be sure to ask about the company’s standards when reaching out. A nice bonus is if the organization or its employees have special certifications, such as the Certified Student Travel Professional (CSTP) industry designation, which shows they’ve gone through in-depth training in the field.

Seek out experience. This point is a little harder to see at first glance, but many tour operators will use their social media and website to post about past trips and the company’s history. Hopefully, you’ll be able to get a sense of how they handle trips, challenges they’ve overcome, their relationships and more.

Relationships matter. Often, this goes hand-in-hand with experience. Tour operators that have been to a destination already will have relationships in place with the local government, motorcoaches, attractions, hotels, etc. This piece is invaluable to planning your trip, as starting from scratch means infinitely more work to be done. If you already have your destination in mind, ask prospective operators if they’ve been there before and have relationships in place.

Read the reviews. Of course, longevity isn’t all that matters. A great operator can develop a good reputation very quickly, and one way to discover that reputation is to read reviews. You can often find valuable testimonials on tour operators’ websites, but also feel free to scour the web for what may be honest, negative reviews, or even head to a forum to see if anyone else has experience with the company (though educators are notoriously shy online).

Are they keeping up with the times? To be clear, this doesn’t mean your tour company needs to be a social media superstar using advanced tech on trips. What it really means is that your operator is aware of the many issues we’re facing in both the education system and travel industry, and they’re actively working on improving. Does their website have a blog that addresses current issues? Do they fight for equity? Are they a part of an organization like Student Youth and Travel Association, which frequently offers conferences, roundtables and webinars to keep tour operators educated? These are just a few ways to make sure your operator isn’t stuck doing things “the way we always have.”

Passion is a top priority. You want an operator who doesn’t just know what they’re doing, but loves what they’re doing. A student travel tour operator should be truly passionate about not just travel, but the youth and their education.

There’s a lot to think about here, so we’ll help you out: Tour operators that are part of the Student Youth and Travel Association (SYTA) are certified experts that embody all of these qualities. Check out SYTA’s Educator’s Buyers Guide for a full list of student travel tour operators and where they’re located.