Educational Tours: Learning Beyond Classrooms

Where learning becomes a fun trip
/ New Delhi
Educational Tours: Learning Beyond Classrooms

In order to attract the schools and students alike, the agents try to work closely with the faculty and develop highly customised tours

For a few years before Covid-19 grounded global tourism industry, educational tours was a rapidly growing segment. Once borders open up for travellers from India, this niche segment is bound to bounce back.
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The Covid-19 wave in India has led to the closure of educational institutions. For more than a year students have been taking classes from the four walls of their homes. The only kind of tour that they can take at the moment are virtual tours.

Flash back to 2019, when students had the world at their feet. Students from dozens of colleges and schools around the country would be dashing across the globe to different destinations as part of an educational tour organised by their educational institution, with the objective of learning about their field of study, interacting with students and faculties of other countries as well as to discover foreign cultures and destinations. This segment was amongst the fastest growing niches of the Indian tourism industry, until it all came to a screeching halt in early 2020 with the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic across the world.

In many ways, the 30-odd students of Symbiosis Skills & Professional University in Pune were extremely fortunate. It was late in October 2019 that they were taken on a week-long visit to the United Arab Emirates, notably Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as part of an educational tour organised by the college in collaboration with numerous institutions overseas.

Fortunate as this may have been one of the last school trips leaving from India to an overseas destination since the first signs of the severity of the coronavirus pandemic had already begun appearing in many parts of the world and countries were slowly, but certainly closing down on international travel in order to curb the spread.

About 30 students from Symbiosis Skills & Professional University in Pune, went for a weeklong educational trip to UAE, notably Dubai and Abu Dhabi, late in October 2019

About 30 students from Symbiosis Skills & Professional University in Pune, went for a weeklong educational trip to UAE, notably Dubai and Abu Dhabi, late in October 2019

And indeed, for the students, the trip turned out to be memorable in more ways than one. Japneet Singh Anand, one of the students, has vivid memories of the trip even today, almost 20 months later, more so because of what followed barely three months later.

“I have mesmerising memories of the trip. It was a unique experience for me to travel abroad with my friends, enjoying visits to the landmarks of the country, from Ferrari World, Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa and to learn about the Middle-east culture along with them,’’ Anand tells India Outbound.

But it was not all just fun. Anand says that the group visited a number of companies as well as educational institutions in Dubai to get an insight not just into the world of education in another country, but also in the world of business and economics. He says that the learning experience of the trip has been serving him in the good stead ever since, especially since he himself began working last year.

Educational tours as a segment of India outbound market have been growing at a rapid clip, year-on-year, for over a decade, ever since the Indian economy began booming in mid-2000s

“There were many things that we got to learn during the visit. For instance, I saw how various MNCs and institutions work as well as the daily retail operations of the big brands, their handling of HR, mall management, how efficient the companies are and the processes that they adopt for efficient and cost effective operations,” says Anand.

As he had already joined his father in the family’s retail business, Anand says he has been able to apply whatever he learnt on the trip. “These learnings have helped me in bringing new ideas into our daily operations and to make business levels more efficient. I believe that it also helped me in making decisions efficiently,” he says.

A booming segment

Educational tours are becoming increasingly important for India in part thanks to the poor quality of Indian education as it is almost entirely focused on classroom teaching with little practical application. It also helps that these tours are mainly popular amongst children from well-to-do families, which anyway travel overseas at least once a year. In addition, the cost per person is easily affordable for the targeted families. For instance, the week-long Symbiosis trip cost INR 68,000 per person, just over 10 pc of the total course fee for the 3-year course.

Little wonder then that educational tours as a segment of India outbound market have been growing at a rapid clip, year on year, for over a decade, ever since the Indian economy began booming in mid-2000s.

It is not just college-going students who venture overseas for such tours. Many top-notch institutions like the Delhi Public School (DPS), a large franchise of expensive, private schools, has been organising similar trips for its students as young as from the VIII standard, whose average age is 13-14 years. One such school sent its students to the United Kingdom as well as the United States on educational tours.

Each group comprises of anywhere between 15-25 students and an average trip costs about INR 100,000 per person. “When they go, they mainly visit historical sites. For example, in the UK, they generally visit London, the Parliament House and the Westminster Abbey. In terms of educational sites, our students also visit top notch places like the NASA in the United States,” says a teacher of DPS in Kolkata who is involved in organising these trips.

The educational institutions as well as the travel agents try to add a special and memorable element in each visit. One particular batch of DPS students was especially lucky. Their trip to the United Kingdom coincided with the cricket Champions Trophy which sees top national cricket teams from across the world vie for the title. The students were treated to watching one of the matches in the stadium on their visit, recounts the teacher.

Travel professionals get into the play

Recognising the potential of the niche, several tour operators in India began offering educational tours to various schools. Take for instance, the biggest player in the market, Thomas Cook India, which offers a special programme, Travel Quest. It offers highly customised study tours across a wide range of educational institutions, including schools and colleges, as well as management and technical institutes.

“Educational tourism has gained popularity over the course of the last few years as it offers students an exciting opportunity for learning beyond the traditional classroom setting. Travel is indeed the best teacher and such study tours offer students a two pronged benefit: a practical facet to their theoretical knowledge along with valuable global exposure,” Rajeev Kale, president & country head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India), tells India Outbound.

He says that the tour itineraries are specifically designed by experts from Thomas Cook India and the faculty, to be fun and educational, while adhering to the precise requirements of the institution. With innovative activities that offer experiential hands-on learning opportunities, it aims to enhance theoretical knowledge with a practical global exposure. “With a range of experiences like behind-the-scene tours at theme parks, chocolate/cheese making lessons, interactions with rocket-scientists at a space centre in USA/Europe, and more, the Travel Quest programme has already forayed into institutes focusing on specialisation in architecture, management, food & beverage, engineering, automobiles, languages, and more,” adds Kale.

Educational institutions as well as the travel agents try to add a special and memorable element in each visit

The agents say that most of the educational tours involve Class XII and higher. The key source markets are no longer limited to the four metropolitan cities, but also include numerous Tier II or even Tier III cities. “Our key source markets include Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi and Ahmedabad. Apart from these, we have also successfully expanded our reach to Tier II cities as well, having successfully undertaken group bookings from Vijayawada, Rajkot, Shimla, Madurai, Mangalore and Guntur,” says Kale.

In order to attract the schools and students alike, the agents try to work closely with the faculty and develop highly customised tours on the basis of the specific requirements of the institution. Kale says that innovative itineraries curated by the Travel Quest team incorporate unique experiential as well as hands-on learning opportunities, coupled with fun elements.

For the agents, educational institutions and specially for the students, no destination is too far, too complicated or too expensive. Thomas Cook says it has covered destinations as diverse as South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, USA and of course Europe. “School students enjoy a fun way of learning with inclusions like behind-the-scene tours at Singapore Zoo, BMW factory in Munich, chocolate or cheese making lessons in Switzerland, learning traditional Muay Thai Boxing in Bangkok, dance session on famous K-pop music in Seoul, interactions with rocket-scientists at a space centre in USA and Europe,” says Kale.

Destinations discover demand

Most destinations, especially those with a footprint in India, have begun recognising the current demand as well as future potential of this highly lucrative segment of outbound tourism. They are now trying their best to capture this segment that is especially attractive due to the age group of the target audience. The destinations realise that if someone visits a country as a student at a very young age, she is likely to form a life-long bond with the destination and hence they are increasingly going out of their way to receive educational tours from India.

Sheetal Munshaw, director of French tourism body, Atout France, in India is frank about it. “It is not for nothing that they say ‘catch them young!’. Students are opinion makers of tomorrow. Besides their alma mater will always stay close to their heart and these very students will be future ambassadors of France and its myriad tourism offerings. They will play the role of influencers towards their own circle of friend and family and result in creating aspiration to travel to France,” Munshaw tells India Outbound.

Moreover, destinations are banking on children who have visited on an educational tour to be an influencer for their families. “Even as it stands at their young age, children especially in India are a very important criterion in the selection of holiday destinations as Indians tend to travel as families,” she says.

Travel agents say for the sector to revive it would be crucial for destinations to set out clear rules regarding quarantine and health and hygiene conditions in various countries

To promote educational tours, Atout France says it has worked with sister French organisations like the network of Alliance Françaises in India to reach out to an audience of Francophones and Francophiles who have a natural affinity for France and who would most certainly love to discover the country as students of the language.

“We also collaborate with Campus France with the objective of reaching out to students who are travelling to France for further studies. The idea here is to showcase France’s touristic assets to these students. We are also very open to collaborating with schools who plan educational trips and counsel them on itineraries that make for an educative yet entertaining discovery of France,” says Munshaw.

Besides India’s very young population as about 450 million Indians are millennials, overseas tourism bodies are also enthused by the active engagement of leading travel professionals in this segment as a there has been a surge in travel professionals dedicated to organising student travel as well as larger tour operators dedicating departments to this specific segment that they see as a testimony to the demand pre-pandemic as well as the potential that this segment represents, post-pandemic.

Munshaw also points out that during the pandemic, the only category of Indians who have been able to get visas and travel are students as this was the only non-repatriation or imperious reason mobility that was authorised.

She says that this focus on promoting educational tours and attracting students will continue long after the pandemic is gone. “France has a very diverse tourist offering and is an ideal destination to combine the aspect of exploring a country and its culture, cuisine and language and acquiring a skill given the slew of domains in which France stands out as a force to reckon with be it aviation, wine and food, art de vivre, fashion, ski, sports et al. Given that our offering is befitting and the demand has been on a gradual upswing with Indian parents eager to expose their children to international cultures and skill sets we will lay more emphasis on this segment in times to come,” she says.

Travel agents are also very enthusiastic about the future of the segment. But they add that for the segment to revive at the earliest after the pandemic is behind us, it would be crucial for destinations to set out clear rules regarding quarantine and health and hygiene conditions in various countries.

“Basic easing of travel restrictions, while health-hygiene will continue to be of paramount importance to travellers’, we look forward to corresponding direct point-to-point flights for travel in the ‘new normal’. Quarantine protocols will also have an impact on the travellers choice of destination and hence we look forward to support from the destinations in laying down a roadmap for educational tours,” says Kale.

As and when educational institutions reopen in India and other parts of the world and once travel becomes a bit more normal, with borders reopened, it would not take a bright student to guess the direction that educational tours would take and the pace with which it would return to pre-pandemic normalcy.

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