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Why Having a Trusted Travel Partner is More Important Than Ever

Mike Lawson • March 2021Travel/Festivals • March 6, 2021

Universal Studios, Orlando, FL

It’s no secret that schools have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Between meeting virtually, administrations locking down on travel plans, program funds being cut, and the added hurtles of groups attempting to practice or perform together in-person, music educators have their hands full! Yet, the heartbreak of missing out on senior trips, festivals, and state competitions is palpable.

It’s not only sad for the students who’ve missed these opportunities—music programs have also suffered. The milestones that help teachers track students’ performance improvements are not available. The big trips that are planned every year to inspire new kids to join music programs and give performers a goal to work toward can’t happen. The kids who are still able to participate in music programs feel restless: the honors-level students are left wanting more and the beginners are struggling to stay motivated. This is the reality many music directors are facing.

But, there is hope. As the end of the school year is within sight and vaccine distribution continues to improve, teachers and students alike are hopeful that next school year will see a return to some sense of normalcy. Part of that for many music programs includes getting on the road to perform, so now is the time to begin planning for a successful trip next spring.

We’ve heard so many stories of canceled trips resulting in struggles with insurance providers, lost airline refunds, and vendors shutting their doors without warning—so how do you even get started? The first step is finding a trusted partner. If you were unfortunate enough to be stuck with a tour you planned on your own last spring, you understand the panic and challenges of having to work with rigid vendors and upset parents. The tour operators who have managed to survive these challenging times have become much more accommodating. From added investment protection to discounted early booking and travel insurance, planning a musical tour now for next year might be easier than you think.

“I’ve been overseeing health and safety for the organization for more than 30 years, and I’ve never experienced anything like this,” said Terri Morgoglione, chief academic, health and safety officer for WorldStrides, the largest student travel company in the United States. “But being prepared for the unexpected is what we do best. Health and safety has always been our number-one priority, and it just looks a bit different these days.”

WorldStrides implemented their Back-to-Travel Task Force almost immediately after the pandemic hit the U.S. With thousands of students overseas on their semester abroad programs, their first order of business was bringing those kids home safely. The months that followed, which were normally the busiest travel season for most schools, were unprecedented in many ways—from Broadway and Carnegie Hall to Disney, the country shut down. performing arts were silenced. Trips were delayed or canceled.

“It’s hard to believe we’ve been living through this for a year,” Terri said. “We’re heartbroken at all the lost opportunities for our travelers, but we are starting to see some positive momentum. We’re doing our very best to make returning to travel as safe as possible—from developing entirely new protocols based on guidance from our medical director with the George Washington University Department of Emergency Medicine, to preparing PPE kits for every traveler, and putting in place risk-free booking options. We’re ready to get back out there.”

Health and safety aside, there are more reasons to partner with a travel organization. For example, WorldStrides is offering flexibility options that allow groups to change their trip to a later date, if needed; giving the opportunity to cancel trips for next school year and receive a full refund if canceled by late spring; and providing recommended travel insurance options. 53 years since its founding, WorldStrides is doing business differently—and they aren’t the only ones. Most travel companies are evolving their travel policies and protocols based on the changing environment. Partnering with a travel provider that can stay on top of these changing protocols and re-openings for you is key—from restaurants that can safely support student groups, to concert halls that meet an elevated standard of cleanliness, to the ticketed-entry policies of museums you may want to visit as part of your trip.

Another big advantage of working with a reputable provider is liability protection. Simply put, administrators are nervous about moving forward with plans that may put the school or students at risk. If you do your homework and choose the right travel organization, you can provide additional assurances that every measure will be taken to mitigate risks and alleviate parents’ concerns.

Finding the right travel partner can be like finding balance in a Zoom rehearsal—you just give things a try to see what works and what doesn’t. SBO’s best advice—do your research and understand the fine print. Before you know it, you’ll all be back out there sharing music with the world, competing, and celebrating new connections.

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