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News Article

Educational travel heading for the mainstream

Learning-oriented tours becoming ever more popular

The 21st Educational Travel Conference was held last week in Maryland, USA. The first such meeting attracted only 15-20 institutions looking to organize educational trips. Last year there were 140, and this year more than 200 were expected to attend. Some 500 delegates were set to attend the meeting on development, operation and marketing of group educational and special interest travel worldwide.

The growth in this North American conference reflects an increasing market in learning-oriented travel. For universities, alumni travel programs offer a method of fundraising and a means of tightening bonds with their alumni and encouraging future donations, says USA Today. For travel companies, extra features like lectures from scholars help sign up customers for group travel, and to compete with the "do it yourself" trend of organizing individual travel over the internet.

Upmarket travel firm Abercrombie & Kent runs educational tours for Harvard and other universities, but has also seen growth in non-university sponsored tours that it markets directly to the public. It recently announced a series of educational trips done in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy.

A survey of U.S. travelers taken last year by the Travel Industry Association found that 56% said they were interested in taking an educational trip and 22% said they were more interested now compared with five years ago.

Travel programs are still a growth area for universities in the USA. Karen Anthony, director of alumni travel at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, for the past 23 years, said it's only been in more recent years that schools use the trips to showcase the expertise of their faculty. Now, about half of the trips sponsored by Notre Dame have faculty who come along and give talks, she said.

Smith and Jenner (1997) presented an analysis of the educational travel segment, highlighting three main trends: the rapid growth in the world student population, leading to a healthy expansion in the standard educational trip; the mature market for 'top up' qualifications and new skills; and a new leisure-education hybrid, for example, the Disney Institute, Florida, USA. Language learning was identified as the biggest element in educational tourism, making the UK a major destination for those wishing to learn English.

A wide range of tours can be classified as being in the broad area of educational travel and tourism, ranging from short- to long-term trips. In the UK, educational travel for school-children at one time meant a small market in educational cruises in the Mediterranean. Now a much wider range of trips are offered by many schools, and some schools now, for example, routinely take their pupils on visits to World War One sites in France and Belgium to see reconstructions of trenches from the war. Field courses and study tours are a component of many school and university courses, and in England there is a lucrative business in running "Summer Schools" for school children and others from European countries who come to learn English while seeing something of the country.

But educational tourism is not just for the young, with people of all ages spending their vacations on art tours, specialist photographic tours, exploring regional cuisines, learning about wine of a country or region, or learning new skills. Holdnak and Holland (1996) describe this trend with reference to the USA, and the opening of the Disney Institute and offerings by providers such as the Mohunk Mountain House in New York, which has been in operation since the 1870s.

The growing population of affluent 'baby boomers', and longer retirements of people still mentally and physically active enough to pursue new interests, suggests that the educational tourism in all its various guises may still have considerable potential for growth. As tour operators look for ways of enticing customers to sign up for group tours rather than independent travel, educational tourism may be one 'value added' way to do it.

External link

Educational Travel Community

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 28 February 2007
  • Subject(s)
  • Tourism