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Student Tour Operator vs. Travel Agency!!

Student tour operators have vast knowledge and extensive contacts to help provide your band with the largest range of festivals, performance tours, competitions and parades. When it comes to creating the tour and the organization of movement for instruments and uniforms with large groups, and the calculations for point-to-point distance and time, your tour planner is the key to a successful undertaking. Student tour operators have the relationships with destinations, festival operators and major parade managers, and experience with itineraries geared for student’s requirements and safety. When selecting a tour planner, it is extremely important that your selection is a specialist in the area of student tour performances. A very important question to always ask is, “how long have your been operating performance tours for students?”

When working with your tour planner, choose an itinerary that will address the student’s interests, and provide a great mix of performances, scheduled activities, unstructured and educational time. As you are planning a tour it is important to give the students enough time to make it financially attainable. Most domestic tours will require at least one year of fundraising and collection of payments, and you should allow 18 months for an international tour.

Communication with students, parents and administration is a very important aspect of the initial planning process. The tour should provide varied and /or multiple performance opportunities. Your tour operator should help in the application process, whether it is for the highly acclaimed Tournament of Roses Parade, or musical experiences at the quaint and hospitable Branson. The tour operator should be able to share many performance itineraries that will fit the needs of your performing group, whether they are a Concert, Jazz, or Marching Band. A good tour operator will have the experience and the ability to provide airline flights, motorcoach transportation (who should provide a certificate of liability), appropriate accommodations (who should also provide a certificate of liability), exciting attractions, rehearsal space, and the ability to provide meals; therefore giving you time to focus on preparations for your bands performance(s).

Your student tour operator should have established relationships with numerous properties, to include larger nationally branded hotels, and also smaller properties that will meet the groups’ needs. Your operator should utilize properties that are well suited for the requirements of young adults, to include indoor corridors, safe locales, breakfast availability, and the capability to obtain additional security. The hotel should provide bus parking or an easily accessible pick up and drop off area. The hotel should have a gathering place for group announcements and departure. Most student operators reserve large blocks of rooms in branded hotels, and have established contracts in place with those properties. This creates better pricing than with travel agents (who deal with singular bookings).

Contracts are extremely important to protect you and your group. The contract should note all inclusions of the tour, to include price, a payment schedule, attractions, included meals, hotel information, performances, airline and/or bus information, insurance, and cancellation and refund policies.

It is very important that your tour operator should carry Errors and Omissions and Professional Liability Insurance! The planner needs to have the ability to offer trip insurance to protect the student’s monetary investment. The insurance can cover incidents and occurrences, including trip interruption or delay, trip cancellation, medical emergencies, and much more. One of the most recent additions to many policies is “cancel for any reason”. This is advantageous for a student/and or parent should they decide not to go on the tour (for any reason), and allows the insured to receive a portion of their investment back.

A motor coach company can make or break your tour! The drivers must be friendly to students, helpful, courteous, and knowledgeable about the area you will be touring. The motor coaches must be clean, up-to-date, and well maintained. The motor coach company must have a USDOT current safety rating, and able to also provide proof of a mechanical inspection in the past 12 months.

Verify that your tour operator has experience with the airlines in the transferring of musical instruments and uniforms. Now that most airlines are charging for the first and second bag (the instrument is counted as your second bag) the tour operator needs to inquire about alternative methods of handling the larger instruments, such as shipping by truck and/or rental of oversized instruments. They should also provide information for students regarding packing dos and don’ts and current rules on carry-on and checked luggage. The more information that is easily accessible for parents and students (i.e. published on the tour company’s website), the fewer questions you will have to answer!

Your tour planner should be a member in good standing in professional associations, such as the Student and Youth Travel Association, American Bus Association, and/or the National Tour Association. These associations require its member to maintain all of the proper insurances needed for your tour group.

John Icabone CEO/President
Celestial Travel and Tours