Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The book on the top of our “Best Seller” list

Ok, it’s not really on the best sellers list and in fact, you can’t buy it at all. For those that are involved with delivering the People to People Ambassador Programs experience, it is most definitely on our “Must Read” list. I’m talking about the Ambassador Leader Travel Handbook that every leader who participates on our programs receives. They are now anxiously awaiting the arrival of the 2011 edition.

That's me with the Travel Handbook.

Leader Training
Each leader at People to People Ambassador Programs completes online training, similar to the ones completed by our students yet far more comprehensive. In addition, these leaders also come together in the fall to meet with their local Area Directors to receive hands-on training. Then in the spring prior to travel the leaders again come together, this time to focus on training specific to safely and effectively traveling around the world with forty eager and wonderful Student Ambassadors.

The Ambassador Leader Travel Handbook
The Ambassador Leader Travel Handbook has been around for years and is sent to every leader during the winter months. Each leader is required to read the manual from cover-to-cover prior to the in-person training so that they are fully up-to-date on any and all policy changes that may have taken place during the revision period. They then keep the Ambassador Leader Travel Handbook with them to refer to it during the actual program.

Revision Period

Immediately after the final student programs return home, The Delegate Care team lock themselves up in a room so they can review every single situation that came up during the travel season. Then they look to the Ambassador Leader Travel Handbook and determine how to edit, re-write, or in the event the issue is not already addressed, add a new policy to cover the new found situation. With over 40 years experience traveling students on these life changing adventures we have seen an incredible array of situations that can come up but we are always open for any new information that will help us be even more successful in caring for your child. We then spend the next couple of months reviewing this handbook to make sure it provides clear direction to the leaders to ensure the safest and most enjoyable travel experience for our students.

Examples of the Content

For example, on page 11, a leader can read about how to strengthen the bond and teamwork among the four leaders on the program. On page 14-18 you will find a “Checklist for Success” designed to support the leaders and outline the best methods for communicating with the Delegation Manager. On page 19 you will find the “No alcohol policy for all leaders.” All of chapter 4 is dedicated to helping the leaders deal with performance situations like what to do with a picky eater, or when can cell phones and iPods be used. Based on our many years of experience traveling students we have seen how many things students can come up with and we have a policy in this handbook for addressing the issue. Chapter 5 deals with “Safety Day-to-Day” and chapter 6 guides the leader through the process of seeking medical attention when it is called for. When a situation comes up with an ill child, we talk with the parents and when needed, take the student to a medical professional to clearly understand what the problem is.

Last year we had a few different students with more serious issue like being diagnosed with diabetes or epilepsy right on program. In these cases the leader did exactly what they are trained to do. They noticed a problem with the student and immediately contacted the program office. We then worked with the families and quickly made arrangements to have the child seen by a medical professional and the diagnosis was made. The book goes on to cover first-aid tips, accommodations, insurance information as well as pages and pages of very useful information for these leaders.

The Ambassador Leader Travel Handbook serves as our comprehensive resource for leaders to ensure that every student that travels on a People to People Ambassador program is safe and well cared for while in our care.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life.

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Monday, December 13, 2010

The 32nd Annual United States Tour Operators Association meeting (USTOA)

People to People Ambassador Programs is a proud member of the United States Tour Operators Association, (USTOA). USTOA's motto is "Integrity in Tourism." Accordingly, the association has established some of the highest standards in the industry for their members to follow. Among the USTOA's goals is to foster a high level of professionalism within the tour operator industry, a vision shared by all of us here at People to People Ambassador Programs.

We have actively supported the USTOA for severak years, and this last year we provided leadership on the board. Last week, the USTOA came together this year in New Orleans for its annual conference, and many of us from the People to People Ambassador Programs were in attendance. Here are a few highlights:

The Annual Meeting
As a student educational travel provider that sends its delegates to over 40 countries and all 7 continents, we have to keep our pulse on the state of travel around the world to provide the best experiences for our delegations. As such, we actively track political and safety issues. In years past People to People Ambassador Programs has traveled delegations to Cuba, but it looks like a dead issue for this year. USTOA is working to simplify entry into Brazil. Currently, the process is lengthy and hampers tourism. I believe the group is working towards the point when you can get a visa upon arrival—just like Egypt does.

We all know that the global economy has been troubled. So, the membership committee also surprised everyone when they reported tour operators are reporting a 15% increase in business in the coming year. This news seems to indicate the economy my truly be on the rebound with people ready to travel again in large numbers.

We also learned that USTOA membership is up. Given USTOA's rigorous membership requirements, it's a good sign that standards are being more widely adopted.

The Board Meeting
During the annual board meeting which followed the annual meeting, we were all proud to hear that our own Willy Sennott, Director of Marketing Research for People to People Ambassador Programs, was elected to a two year Board of Director term. That's Willy pictured at left in the blue shirt.

The Board meeting was also the end of an era and the start of a new one. This past year the USTOA President, Bob Whitley, passed away on May 13, 2010. Bob touched so many lives and had so much love for the tourism industry. At the Opening Luncheon on December 10, the USTOA paid tribute to Bob for his 32 years of service.

After the committee update the members were introduced to their new President of the USTOA, Terry Dale (pictured at left). I personally had an opportunity to speak with Terry and I think he will be a wonderful addition and a strong leader of this important organization. His new position takes effect in late January, 2011. You can learn more about Terry's role at USTOA in this press release and this interview.

The next USTOA Annual conference & Marketplace will be held in December 2011. You can count on us being there to share what we experience to help all travel related organizations enhance their health and safety practices, and to gain from our peers any new process that ensures the safety of every People to People Ambassador Program delegate.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bag Jet Lag with Nutrition & Activity

The following is our latest post by April Davis, our resident travel nutrition blogger. Enjoy! - Mike

Jet lag is a common problem when traveling across time zones and may potentially occur during your child’s experience traveling abroad. The great news, however, is that there are several ways to combat or lessen the effects of jet lag through diet and activity. By sharing and heeding to the following information with your child leading up to their departure, you can help prepare them for the best experience possible with People to People Student Ambassador Programs.

Jet lag results from a disruption of the body’s rhythms and sleep-wake cycle. Studies have shown that a child’s prime functioning can be lost after crossing as few as one or two time zones. Symptoms of jet lag are generally more severe when traveling from west to east rather than in the opposite direction.

Typical Symptoms of Jet Lag

  • Fatigue
  • Disturbed sleep pattern
  • Poor concentration
  • Digestive problems
  • Irritability

Both the type of food consumed and timing of meals are important considerations in helping your child adapt to time zone shifts. Although the light-dark cycle is perhaps the most important signal involved in setting the body’s internal clock, the timing of meals and exercise are also vital. The types and amount of food eaten also have some impact. High-protein foods (beans, meat, dairy, fish, nuts, eggs, tofu) stimulate the adrenaline pathway and increase alertness, while helping to stabilize blood sugar and slow down absorption. High-carbohydrate foods (pasta, rice, bread, fruit) aid in serotonin production providing a feeling of drowsiness following ingestion of meals high in carbohydrate. Thus, what and when your child eats may influence the severity and duration of jet lag symptoms.

High-protein foods should be eaten whenever possible at breakfast time and higher-carbohydrate meals at night to help avoid jet lag. Stimulants, such as caffeine in tea and coffee, may be beneficial when taken in the mornings on arrival at the new destination, but are best avoided in the later part of the day. Drinking an adequate amount of fluids is also extremely beneficial, as dehydration can aggravate the symptoms of fatigue and jet lag.

[Image credit: Olastuen via Flickr]

Timeline to Minimize Jet Lag

Months Prior to Travel: Start moving and toning-up. Active individuals usually suffer less from the effects of jet lag, so be sure your child becomes and stays physically active in the months leading up to travel.

1 Week Pre-Travel: Get extra rest. Eat well-balanced meals at times closer to the destination meal times. Have your child begin to sleep, wake, and eat at hours a bit closer to that of the People to People Student Ambassador Program destination time zone. You can help adjust your child’s sleep-wake cycle over 6 days. Make half-hour increment changes each day, for a total adjustment time of up to 2.5 to 3 hours.

1 Day Pre-Travel: Pack healthy, light snacks and exercise for 60 minutes at a moderate intensity level. Save the snacks for the airport and between meals on the plane to maintain energy levels. Good, easy choices include trail mix with dried fruit, sports bars, peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, or veggies with hummus dip. By engaging in moderate activity the day before departure, your child will be much more likely to get a good night’s sleep and feel fresh and alert for the journey ahead.

During Flight: Immediately adjust eating and sleep schedule to destination time zone. Keep hydrated and move around as much as possible. Let your child know that he/she should drink no less than 8 ounces of water every hour while flying to maintain hydration. While awake, get up and walk around at least once every 2 hours. Stretch and tap feet as frequently as possible. Set watch to destination time upon take-off. If your child consumes caffeine, only do so according to the destination time zone.

Upon Arrival: Eat high-protein meals for breakfast whenever possible and lunch and foods higher in carbohydrates and fiber for dinner. Spend time outdoors and stay active during the daylight hours. Attempt to keep the same hours as are typical of the new destination. Carry out as much of the usual home pre-bedtime routine as possible. Continue to drink lots of water and stay hydrated.

Safe travels!

By April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

We Devour Information to Insure Your Child’s Safety (and now share it on Twitter)

At People to People Ambassador Programs, the safety and health of all delegates and leader is our top priority. Knowing - and understanding - the current state of affairs in all parts of the world we travel is critical in our achieving that goal. In order to stay up to speed in this area, we use multiple resources to ensure we have the latest and most accurate intelligence.
  • Local Knowledge: People to People Ambassador Programs has more than 22 world wide partners who live and work in the locations we visit. These organizations are well connected within the local authorities and are in a unique position to pass along current and relevant information.

  • Past Experiences. We have been operating programs around the world for more the 50 years and we have many proven safety and health procedures that provide for the greatest opportunity for an event-free experience for our students.

  • Government and Private Sources: We rely heavily on docleaf, a London-based crisis response provider, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Embassies all over the world. We also work closely with the United States State Department and their available resources.
One of our primary resources is the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). OSAC has many highly skilled regional coordinators on staff who collect and analyze the most current intelligence from all corners of the world, and share safety and security information with all businesses working outside of the United States. OSAC has more than 100 Country Councils, and more than 3,500 constituent member organizations, like People to People.

Tomorrow, November 17th, 2011, OSAC will hold its 25th annual briefing (in which I will be in attendance). The title of the conference is appropriately named “Celebrating the Past - Protecting the Future." This briefing will be filled with updates on topic related to keeping people safe while traveling. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to kick off the conference and will be joined by such notable speakers as Under Secretary for Political Affairs, William Burns, and Tom Brokaw (former anchor and managing editor for NBC Nightly News).

Immediately following the OSAC conference, we'll get an update from the Domestic Security Alliance Counsel (DSAC) a group formed by the FBI to share critical news and information related to domestic conditions. With our expanding Leadership Programs held in Washington, DC and at many well known Universities, this information will be invaluable.

Tune in on Twitter
Recently, I opened a Twitter account (@MikeP2Psafety) so I plan to tweet updates from the conference. I won’t be sharing important security information, but I'll share what I can. Feel free to follow my tweets at

People to People Ambassador Program’s involvement in OSAC and other organizations is just one more way we strive for safety and health excellence. Our goal is to remain the safety and health leader in the student educational travel field and continue to share what we learn with other student travel organizations.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life.

Mike Bowers,
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Travel Insurance is Recommended for Student Travel

[Image Credit: Lisa Bower]

For those parents whose students are scheduled to travel in the summer of 2011 with People to People Ambassador Programs, now is about the time that you receive your first invoice for our program. It usually includes the first payment due for the program, the zone fare (or additional fare to the departure city) and the optional Delegate Protection Plan.

What does this insurance do that other insurance doesn’t? And does that mean that I am not covered through your program already? We are frequently asked these questions.

We take safety very seriously. We will always ensure your child is supervised and taken care of during any kind of emergency. Because of that, every student traveler is automatically enrolled in a Medical Protection Plan. This is included in the cost of the program and provides medical benefits such as:
  • Accident Medical & Sickness Medical ($25,000)
  • Emergency evacuation ($25,000)
  • Accidental death and dismemberment ($5,000)
The optional Delegate Protection Plan provides greatly enhanced benefits designed to give you peace of mind for anything that may happen so that you can focus on your child’s comfort and health rather than on insurance issues.

It is more comprehensive with raised benefit levels from the basic plan. The coverage generally provides for:
  • Trip related benefits
  • Trip delay benefit up to $500
  • Trip interruption up to the total program cost
  • Delayed baggage coverage up to $500
  • Baggage and personal effects loss of $1,500
  • Emergency evacuation up to $500,000
Health related benefits:
  • Accident medical and sickness medical coverage ($100,000)
  • Accidental death and dismemberment ($25,000)
And new this year, we have expanded the program to include pre-travel protection due to today’s economic situation. It now includes job related benefits including:
  • Job loss coverage in the event of unforeseen parent or legal guardian’s involuntarily loss of employment or lay-off by their employer.
  • Cancel for Any Reason coverage in the event a student must withdraw from the program for a reason that is not covered in the Delegate Protection Plan, the student will be reimbursed for 75% of the non-refundable program costs incurred.
I am very happy to see this year’s plan included 'loss of job' and 'cancel for any reason' protection. Hopefully the economy is past the deepest slump of the recession but this provides additional peace of mind for anyone enrolled.

Because I lead the on-call team during the travel season (who are there 24/7 to support the leaders, students, and families), I see firsthand where this insurance becomes useful.

Medically-based travel becomes much more expensive than general travel very quickly. I saw several cases this year, where students with painful but relatively minor injuries that you see at home every day became very expensive.

For example, I was involved with a student who twisted her ankle. She was never in any danger, but did need medical care. She required surgery in the country, separate hotel accommodations, a personal travel nurse who arrived prior to her leaving and accompanied her door-to-door, and a business class ticket back home.

When you have tens of thousands of students around the world it is not unusual for a few students to incur these types of injuries while on program. Things like last minute international business class tickets, personal care nurses, and minor surgeries add up quickly and sometimes exceed the coverage of the basic Medical Protection Plan.

The good news is that this particular family purchased the optional Delegate Protection Plan. It turned a very complicated and expensive experience into a very manageable one. They paid nothing out of pocket.

Both the included Medical Protection Plan and the optional Delegate Protection Plan are primary insurance. That means any benefits are paid before your personal insurance kicks in (with a limited exception for delayed or damaged baggage—due to airline regulations). [Update: Please refer to your plan's description of coverage - provided to you after enrollment - or by contacting BerkelyCare at 800-332-7374 for additional information.]

My youngest boy will be traveling this next summer with People to People Ambassador Programs and we are all very excited around the Bowers house - but it is a good feeling knowing I have that optional Delegate Protection Plan insurance coverage in place. I am electing to keep it for my son because I have personally seen it pay off for many families. And for the peace of mind for my wife and I while my son is on his life-changing adventure.

Wishing you safe and happy travels, 

Mike Bowers

Senior Director of Health and Safety

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just Say “No!” to Food-Borne Illness

This is the latest post by April Davis, our resident expert on travel nutrition for our Student Ambassadors. Here she is, washing her hands, as we all should!

One of the most gratifying experiences students can partake in when traveling to foreign countries is enjoying the variety of foods and culture they offer. Eating new and different foods is an important part of the learning experience when traveling with People to People Student Ambassador Programs.

However, eating in a foreign country can lead to a very unpleasant experience if unwelcome organisms are present in the food. People to People Student Ambassador Programs take every precaution to prevent food-borne illness and rely on our worldwide partners to choose local restaurants and hotels that serve not only nutritious and authentic cultural foods, but foods that are safe to eat.

Thus, the concern of contracting a food-borne illness is minimal-to-none at these establishments. However, there are many precautions Student Ambassadors can take to reduce the risk of food-borne illness during free time. One of the best ways to prevent illness is to avoid eating foods sold by street vendors. We cannot guarantee this food is safe.

What are the causes and symptoms of food-borne illnesses?
Most illnesses come from bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals that contaminate food or water. Bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella are the main offenders of food-borne illness. Some parasites can cause acute diarrhea that may persist for weeks after returning home.

Symptoms of food-borne illness include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
Avoid the culprits.
It is important to remind your student that food-borne illness is preventable. The risk of illness will depend on the quality and cleanliness of the food and water consumed and the use of good personal hygiene practices. Certain foods are more likely to contain undesired organisms. Therefore, they are more risky to consume.

The Good:
  • Fruits & veggies that can be peeled or have been washed with clean water.
  • Foods that are thoroughly cooked and served hot. Cold foods that are kept cold.
  • Baked goods, such as bread, muffins, and crackers.
  • Bottled water. Canned, bottled or pasteurized juice.
The Bad:
  • Unwashed, raw fruits & veggies purchased from street vendors.
  • Food from an unclean establishment or person (be sure to wash YOUR hands, too).
  • Foods not held at safe temperatures.
  • Undercooked meat, poultry, pork, or seafood.

The Ugly:
  • Raw red meat, poultry, pork, seafood, or eggs.
  • Unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Leftovers that have been sitting at room temperature.
  • Tap water in countries with unsafe drinking water.
Be smart about what you eat!
The table above indicates some of the things your children can do to reduce the risk of becoming sick while traveling. Enjoy the culture and different types of food while keeping these guidelines in mind. If your child is ever unsure about eating a food, they should use common sense and keep risks to a minimum. A wise person once said: "It is always better to throw out than to throw up!"

By April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

People to People's Care Team: The Right Thing to Do

We take our cues from industry standards even when they do not apply to us. It is important for us to use these standards to create the safest and best experience for our student delegates and their families.

A series of events led to the passage of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act (the Act) of 1996 (49 U.S.C. §§ 1136 & 41113). The intent of this legislation was for the NTSB and airlines to have plans in place to ensure, going forward, “that in the event of a major accident, the carrier is prepared to act in the best interests of survivors families; to treat survivors and families with dignity; and to respect the cultural and religious backgrounds of survivors and families.”

While People to People Ambassador Programs does not fall under the scope of this legislation, we do believe in the principles behind it, and have used it to construct our own plan for the families of our delegates.

No matter how small the event, we believe families should receive timely and accurate information, and it is our intent to make sure we fulfill those needs. Some of these needs include:

  • Timely initial notification and accurate information delivered to the families
  • Continuous updates on progress
  • Logistical support for families’ travel to site
  • Daily contact with families

A new cornerstone of the family assistance program is our CARE Team that we established last year. [UPDATE: We have a total of 28 CARE Team Members - including 11 core members, and me.] Here are three other People to People employees on our CARE Team:

Colleen Schaffer

Ben Tibbetts

Sean Yarnell

Each CARE Team member is trained to provide timely and accurate information and logistical support to families if and when they need it.

People to People Ambassador Programs has specifically trained each CARE Team member to:

  • Understand and meet the needs of delegates and family members
  • Uphold the importance of maintaining the confidential nature of information received and the family’s private information
  • Thoroughly document all commitments made to families
  • Clearly communicate our policies and practices to families
  • Understand and appreciate cultural diversity

Over the past year since we rolled out our CARE Team training and preparation, we have been approached to share this plan and training with other major travel organizations.

As an industry leader, we eagerly shared this information. It’s not just about our organization traveling students safely. Our intent is to help every student be safe no matter what organization they select. We want to remain a leader in this industry in “doing what is right” for our students and families and by being proactive and ready in advance.

"Doing what is right" applies to each delegate. Even with no serious events to deal with during the 2010 travel season, we had members of the CARE Team dispatched around the world.

  • In these few incidents, a student needed to come home for one reason or another.
  • Rather than having a delegation leader return with the student and potentially disrupt the entire delegation, a CARE Team member meets the delegation and personally escorts the student home.
  • The CARE Team members receive training to help these students during a stressful time while they maintain contact with the family to personally bring the student directly home.

At People to People Ambassador Programs, one of our core values is passion. We are passionate about our programs, our mission and our pursuit of excellence. We are passionate about safety. Being the first in the educational travel industry to develop and adopt a family assistance program (our CARE team), is just one way for our team to live that commitment.

Come back and see us next week and hear more great advice for eating and living healthy from April Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES.

Until then, I’m wishing you safe and happy travels, 

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

People to People's CPR Standards Follow the Highest Standards

[Image credit: Karen Murphy, Strollerderby]

Our delegation leaders’ primary purpose is to ensure that the delegation members learn and have a rich cultural experience. But, if something unexpected should happen to a delegation member, our leaders are also equipped to handle emergency situations. For example, beyond access to our 24 hour/day OnCall resource, each of our leaders are certified in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

We follow American Red Cross and the American Heart Association Standards.

There are many ways to be certified, but People to People Ambassador Programs has elected to follow the trusted (and highest) standards set by the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association (AHA). These organizations have a rigorous set of requirements that must be completed by any candidate seeking CPR certification (or re-certification).

Why these standards?

Why did we elect to use these standards? Because they are the most stringent. One critical difference between these standards and others is that they require actual demonstrated expertise.

What does that mean?

Our delegation leaders must prove that they are equipped to handle a CPR emergency by passing an in-person examination administered by a certified instructor. There's no room for doubt. It's not enough for someone to know - in theory - how to give CPR. They need to demonstrate that skill to a level acceptable by a certified instructor. Our leaders provide proof of CPR certification to our program office, which diligently tracks this and other important leader training info. If they do not provide proof of current certification, they do not travel. Period.

How is that different from other educational travel programs?

Some programs do not require this important training certification from all their leaders, or they allow their leaders to attend online-only classes.

A word about online-only training. [Image credit: American Red Cross Minn-Kota Chapter].

Online training is great for many things. CPR is not one of them. It requires too critical a skill to be trusted to the thousands of online sites that offer training at different levels. Even though most claim to meet the various standards set by organizations such as the American Red Cross and the AHA, they cannot if they do not offer in-person certification—something impossible for an online site to do.

A little digging shows how serious we are to our attention to delegate safety

As it turns out, not all the standards are really the same. Many online programs lump together meeting American Red Cross, AHA, and OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards.

But I uncovered the loophole: OSHA does not completely follow the Red Cross/AHA standards as they do not require an in-person test. In reviewing their standards online, I found that the only time OSHA makes an in-person test a requirement is if you work in the logging industry. When I called the American Red Cross to ask them about the online training courses claiming to follow their standards, they seemed very concerned with the claims and promised to follow up with their legal group.

Are we proud of our attention to detail when it comes to delegate safety?

Yes. People to People Ambassador Programs is committed to the highest standards. Rather than relying on the weakest standards, we use the strongest. The fact that our delegation leaders exceed OSHA standards is one example. We will continue to monitor standards, call attention to those that do not meet our standards, and will make continuous improvement to our health and safety practices to ensure that every student receives the best care.

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Europe Travel Alert: What You Need to Know

Europe Travel Alert
On Sunday, October 3rd, the US State Department issued an alert to Americans traveling in Europe to be vigilant about possible terrorist attacks. Specifically, the decision to caution travelers comes as counterterrorism officials in Europe and the United States are assessing intelligence about possible plots originating in Pakistan and North Africa aimed at Britain, France and Germany. The alert does not discourage Americans from traveling to Europe. Rather, it emphasizes the ongoing mindset of awareness that has been advised for the past several years.

Should you be concerned about the Travel Alert to Europe?
Concerned? No. Aware that our world is home to people with varying political and religious beliefs? Yes.

Based on current information, we have not altered any of our program itineraries at this time. We are following events closely, and firmly believe that Europe will continue to be a safe destination for our students.

No student programs are scheduled in the near future to England, France, or Germany. The next scheduled departure is not until June of 2011, more than 8 months from now. We fully anticipate that the travel alert will be revised and the level of threat reduced as recent events have demonstrated and will be monitoring the situation closely until the alert is rescinded.

People to People Ambassador Programs have a long history of safely traveling over 400,000 students and leaders. Changes in the global political climate remind us why we take the responsibility of safety so seriously. You can be confident in the diligence we take when it comes to the safety and well being of our delegates, leaders, associates, and partners around the globe as we offer life changing educational travel experiences.

The safety of our delegates is my only priority.
At People to People Ambassador Programs we would not hesitate to adjust or cancel a program if we felt our delegates were going to be in harm’s way. Our safety team along with our senior leadership team monitors all situations that could pose a threat to anyone traveling on one of our programs. I am personally monitoring the situation in Europe and receive updates from many sources throughout the day. We will continue to monitor developments associated with this alert and make any necessary changes to ensure participants' safety.

We are committed to taking action if necessary.
In years past we have, at times, adjusted programs up to the point of cancellation when a travel advisory was in place. Recent examples include redirecting an Ecuador program in the summer of 2010 to mitigate the risk presented by an active volcano, along with the cancellation of a Morocco program in the summer of 2007 due to an active advisory. In 2010 we came very close to canceling a program in Russia for one of our citizen programs, but a little rain and shift in the winds made travel to the area safe - and the experience turned out to be wonderful for those delegates.

How do we prepare for these situations?
That's why I'm here, to look at possible problems or potential threats and develop plans to remove that possibility. Issues like this come up every year and we prepare for the worst and welcome the better news as it arrives.
  • In 2009, the big challenge was H1N1. We developed a plan, surveyed all families in advance of travel resulting in not one case of H1N1 in Australia, Japan, or China, the three countries with the greatest entry restrictions.
  • In 2010, as ash from Iceland began shutting down European airports, we immediately devised a plan to transport thousands of students out of Europe in the event they became stranded. Fortunately, the governments worked hard as well, and new systems were put in place to regulate air-space. We ended up having no incident involving the volcanic ash.
How do we decide whether or not to travel to a country?

In making the decision to proceed with any program, our senior leadership team relies on up-to-date intelligence gathered from a number of organizations, including the US State Department, the Overseas Security Advisory Counsel (OSAC), the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and international safety and security specialists.

Regarding the Europe Travel Alert, we receive multiple updates from these organizations on a daily basis and will stay very close to this situation until it is no longer a concern. If the current conditions continue, and in any way hinder our ability to provide safe and rewarding programs, we will not hesitate to alter itineraries, redirect programs to safer regions, or provide other alternatives including outright cancellation.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers 

Senior Director of Health and Safety

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Travel Nutrition: D-Lightful News!

Sunlight is good for your health before and during travel. That's me above, working in the sun and getting my Vitamin D.

As our days become shorter and nights longer, I am reminded about the need for vitamin D, which is lacking in many adults and youth in the United States. This sunshine vitamin is actually a hormone that regulates calcium and bone health. It has also been shown to decrease the risk of common cancers, autoimmune diseases, and heart disease. In addition, Vitamin D plays a key role in protecting your immune system and cells.

It is exceedingly beneficial to have adequate vitamin D levels prior to and during travel in order to stay healthy. The great thing about traveling abroad is that many of the countries your Student Ambassador explores allow for higher amounts of vitamin D absorption from sunlight. Furthermore, the travel itinerary involves spending vast amounts of time outdoors, so your Student Ambassador can maintain healthy vitamin D levels during travel.

The table below shows current suggested adequate intake levels for various age groups.* (Please note: obesity requires 2-3 times more Vitamin D than the levels listed below.)

Child's AgeAdequate IntakeSafe Upper Limits
0-1 years
400-1,000 IU
2,000 IU
1-12 years
1,000-2,000 IU
5,000 IU
13+ years
1,500-2,000 IU 10,000 IU

Why is there a prevalence of vitamin D deficiency?

In the United States, typical diets provide about 100 IU per day. Additionally, our bodies do not make vitamin D in the winter due to a low UV index, so anyone living north of Atlanta (or 35 degrees latitude) may be deficient. Fatty fish such as salmon, catfish, and tuna - along with eggs - are a few of the rare natural food sources of vitamin D. Other good sources include milk, yogurt, and cereal because these foods are typically fortified with this vitamin. If you take supplemental vitamin D, it is important to be sure that it is in the form of vitamin D3.

Tips to assure your Student Ambassador gets enough vitamin D pre-travel:
  • Drink 3 glasses of milk per day
  • Take a daily multivitamin with 2000 IU of vitamin D3
  • Take your multivitamin with milk or yogurt for better absorption
  • Spend 10-15 minutes in the sunlight every day, with your arms and legs exposed, without sun protection
For more information on Vitamin D, visit

*Current suggested intake levels were established by Michael J. Holick, PhD, MD: Professor of Medicine, Physiology and Biophysics; Director of General Clinical Research Unit; Director of the Bone Health Care Clinic and Heliotherapy, Light and Skin Research Center at Boston University Medical Center

By April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

Friday, September 24, 2010

Navigating the Health Form, a Vital Step in Your Child's Safety

The health form is one of the most important aspects of enrolling with People to People Ambassador Programs. I asked Wendy Armes, our Supervisor of the Health and Safety Team, to shed light on the form - and our medical review process. The following is a guest blog post from Wendy (pictured at left). Enjoy!
- Mike Bowers, Senior Director of Health & Safety

The importance of a Health Form
Without question, filling out the health form is one of the most important steps in preparing your child for his/her upcoming adventure. Assessing health forms is one of several procedures we use to make sure your child is safe while on one of our life-changing travel programs. Our team requires a health form be submitted for every single student who will travel. Even our teacher leaders must submit this important form before they travel on one of our programs!

Why does this form matter? The health form provides parents or legal guardians the opportunity to disclose any medical conditions, allergies or dietary requests that affect the well-being of your child. This information is vital in preparing for your child to travel safely - and their safety is our number one priority.

[Above, a picture of the rest of our medical team members at a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: Kenna Powel, Mary Wilbur, Audra Krislock, Jeanne McKelvy and Viki Erdman]

In addition to past and present health conditions, we also ask for the following information:
  • Medical insurance: The insurance policy you purchase for the program is considered the primary provider while on program.

  • Emergency contact information: This is the phone number we will call (if necessary) while your student is on program.

  • Student’s cell phone number: Many of our students bring mobile phones on their travel experiences, and we keep their cell numbers on hand.

    Cell Phone Options: If you would like to rent a phone for the program - and be able to check in with your child at any time - we have a partner program that offers reasonable rates.

    Additionally, we offer phone options that allow you to track your child's adventure by a GPS device built into the phone. Alternatively, if you don't want your child to use a mobile phone during travel, you can subscribe to a service that tracks the teacher leader's phone via GPS. (Every People to People Ambassador Program delegation has a GPS phone on the program.)

  • Authorization: The form also has an authorization section that allows for People to People Ambassador Programs to seek medical treatment for your child, in the highly unlikely event it is needed during the program. This authorization also grants permission for the medical professional who treats your child, to share important information with us to help manage the situation.
What Happens After You Fill Out the Health Form?
After you submit a completed health form, your child's information is evaluated by our medical team. Based on the data provided on the form, the medical team decides whether or not a medical hold is necessary. (No one other than the medical team in the program office has access to this very private information.)

What’s a Medical Hold?
A "medical hold" means we need more information prior to clearing a student for travel. There are more than 300 medical conditions for which we diligently screen - not to deter your student from traveling, but to ensure that we clearly understand their needs before they travel.
  • If a student's form is placed on a medical hold, our medical team members contact the parents or guardians directly to collect additional information. They'll also take time to answer any questions or concerns. The medical team will work with personal physicians as needed, and ensure all leaders (and on-location site staff, if necessary) are aware of any reasonable accommodation our team has developed with the family.

  • If your child needs an accommodation: Our medical team is trained annually on Title III of the American with Disabilities Act Requirements (ADA). We will work directly with you to develop an accommodation that is unique and right for your child. The more time we have, the greater our options are for those accommodations. So we encourage you to contact us immediately if you believe your child will need a reasonable accommodation during travel.

  • Your Privacy Matters: We only share student health information on a “need to know basis,” and our staff is certified in HIPAA laws. Although our organization not required to follow HIPAA standards (we don't provide medical services like a hospital), we still uphold confidentiality standards to protect our students' privacy. We believe this is the right thing to do.
Health Form Due Dates - Beat the Rush!
Health forms are due to your primary leader no later than January 15th of each year. Keep in mind, we collect thousands of health forms every year; the sooner we get your student’s health form, the sooner we can clear him/her for travel. That's why we always tell parents to submit the health form immediately after enrolling your child.

We're Here to Answer Your Questions
Any parent or guardian considering their child's travel adventure will have questions about health and safety. We on the medical team are standing by to address those questions and provide peace of mind.

Please feel free to contact us at any point during this process. We have Spanish speaking staff on the team, and translators within the organization that speak most any language. You can contact our team by phone toll-free at 1-800-669-7882 ext 7555 or email us at

Our team is here to serve you, to learn, to accommodate and to assist in offering the best travel opportunity for your child!


Wendy Armes
Supervisor of Health & Safety and the Medical Team

Monday, September 13, 2010

SYTA: A time to share best practices!

2010 was a great season! However, like all responsible organizations, we must never rest on our success, but continually seek new and innovative ways to improve our safety practices.

One of the ways we accomplish that objective is to participate in industry conferences designed to share ideas and concepts with other educational travel providers.

 Last week I was able to attend the Student Youth Travel Association’s (SYTA) Annual Conference in Sacramento California. The SYTA Conference is considered the premier event for the student and youth travel industry. The event provides educational growth and information sharing to help student travel companies improve product and services, and improve student travel safety at large.

Beyond just attending, I was honored this year, being elected by the active members to serve a two year term on the Board of Directors for the SYTA Association. I am eager to use our practices and learnings from People to People Ambassador Programs across the entire student travel industry to keep all students safer for years to come. That is pretty darn exciting to me!

[Updated: Here's a photo of me giving my speech at the conference. Photo credit: John C. O'Malley]

It was great to participate and be among such great company. The conference started off with a welcome brunch that was sponsored (again) by the wonderful people at Disney Theatrical. This year they brought along a very special guest to speak with us about accomplishing the impossible: Mary Lou Retton. Mary Lou did a wonderful job of sharing the challenges a young girl from Fairmount, West Virginia, faced during her pursuit of winning an Olympic Gold medal, which she did during the Summer Game in Los Angeles in 1984.

[Mary Lou Retton promotional photo]

The balance of the conference was filled with many speakers covering updates on industry safety insurance, including Dr. Ron Fortune, CEO of By participating in this conference, we are able to learn and share best industry practices and also help shape future policies and regulations that will impact the educational travel industry.

I look forward to serving the SYTA well and continuing to learn from some of the best companies in the student travel industry.

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Duty Officers: A Key Investment in Student Safety

As I've previously discussed, People to People Ambassador Programs staffs our Delegate Care center with associates who answer the phones 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We need this coverage during the summer travel season. (The rest of the year, our call center associates stand-at-the-ready from 6:00am - 6:00pm PST to assist families interested in our enrollment process.)

We also staff a Duty Officer 24/7.
Our Duty Officers are experts in People to People travel programs, and know all the resources and tools that are at their disposal to support our delegations around the world. In other words, they understand the appropriate action and follow-up for each possible situation that can arise during the travel season.

For the 2010 season, we made the decision and investment to employ four full-time Duty Officers. (Up until this season, we had many duty officers that joined us for only a week at a time.)

Here they are, from left to right: Joy Sloane, Jodie Iverson, Holly Hanna and Carla McCaskill.

Having four intensively trained and dedicated people in place for the entire travel season, allows us to provide the best, most consistent response system. Trust me, these folks have heard it all and so when a situation arises they know how to handle it immediately.

Our Duty Officers are also trained to coach teacher leaders when dealing with everything from a minor sore throat to a more serious situation like an appendicitis attack. Fortunately, this year we have just not seen many of the more extreme incidents. We believe the decline in extreme incidents is due to the amount of dedication and work put into revising our procedures, and our investment in expanded leader training - including the training provided to our Duty officers.

Dealing with the Unexpected: Duty Officers in Action
Of course, we did have a few serious situations arise during this most recent travel season. For example:
  • On two separate occasions a student felt a little "off" during the program, so we quickly had them examined by a medical professional. Both were diagnosed as diabetics during the program. Prior to the program they had no knowledge or hint of their diabetes.
  • We also encountered another situation where a student had unusual symptoms. Again we immediately sought a medical expert’s opinion and to everyone’s surprise the student was diagnosed with epilepsy.
  • In all three cases we quickly and efficiently accompanied the student to the medical professional and the problem was discovered. None of these three students had been diagnosed with these problems prior to the program. The great news for all of us is with our skilled team of Duty officers on deck, none of these situations went unnoticed and the problems were quickly discovered and addressed.
I tell you these stories because while on program, people are still people, students are still students and life is real life. Things do come up and problems do surface. I have a 16 and 18 year old at home and I don’t think many days go by without some new adventure or challenge surfacing. What I want you to walk away with after reading this blog post is that, at People to People Ambassador Programs, we understand things come up. We also are committed to continuing to improve the support systems and tools we use to address those events to minimize any possible negative outcome. The investment in four full-time experienced Duty Officers is just one more tangible way of demonstrating that commitment.

Until next time - I’m wishing you safe and happy travels, 

Mike Bowers 

Senior Director of Health and Safety

Monday, August 16, 2010

Travel Nutrition: Remember to Hydrate!

(This post is part of a series on travel nutrition by April Davis, RD, CD, CES. That's her above, practicing what she preaches!)

Positive Food Experiences with People to People

I recently had the opportunity to travel overseas with a People to People Student Delegation. I went to Italy and the French Riviera with delegation MH 0622110 out of Philadelphia. During my observation, we traveled to Rome, Assisi, Florence, Pisa, Montecatini, and Cinque Terra, Italy; Monaco; and Cannes and Nice, France.

Yes - it was amazing! But most importantly, during this experience, I was able to observe nutrition practices, meals served, and overall acceptance by students. It's important to consider these factors in conjunction with students' daily schedule and emotional and physical states during their time away from home.

(Above, a photo of one of our breakfast buffets at a hotel in Italy. We had ample fluid choices including water, milk, juice, hot chocolate, coffee and tea.)

During my ten-day observation, I assessed adherence to meal plans, portions, presentation, palatability, and quality of foods served, as well as student satisfaction with the food. I witnessed numerous positive experiences and reactions while observing the delegation, including: adequate portion sizes, friendly and efficient restaurant service, agreeable palatability, and several unique food presentations.

It's Not Just the Food that Makes for a Positive Experience. It's the Water, too!

Something that was regularly stressed by the Delegation Manager and Leaders - but often disregarded by Student Ambassadors - was ensuring sufficient fluid intake. Given the active daily schedule, warm climate, possible sleep deprivation, and fluid losses that occur during airline travel, an increased intake of liquids - namely water - is required of Student Ambassadors.

(A scenic photo of the water in Cannes, France - although it's not the type of water I'd recommend drinking!)

As mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, preventing dehydration during travel is the most vital factor in maintaining energy levels, overcoming jet lag, and staying healthy. Not only does dehydration have a negative impact on controlling body temperature, but it also affects heart function and transport of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. Poor fluid intake leads to fatigue and a delayed immune response, which greatly increases the chance of becoming ill while traveling.

Soda and other sugary, caffeinated beverages do not help with hydration. In fact, beverages that contain high amounts of sugar can contribute to dehydration and/or intestinal discomfort, dampening physical stamina and emotional health.

Your child can always use a loving reminder to drink lots of water while traveling. Most importantly, help him/her start hydrating at home, before boarding an airplane.

(Photo Credit: ToddMorris via Flickr)

During my time with Student Ambassadors, our Leaders reminded us to bring along our water bottles every morning. Even so, many Student Ambassadors were not proactive in filling their bottles when given the opportunity. On top of that, I saw most Student Ambassadors consuming soda at lunch and dinner. Overall, however, I witnessed a greater adherence to ample water intake toward the end of my observation period, leaving me to believe the Student Ambassadors were catching on!

For more tips on how to encourage Student Ambassadors to stay hydrated during travel, see my previous posts:

You can also visit the following links for further information on hydration for parents and teens:
- April Davis, RD, CD, CES

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What does our Health and Safety Team Do?

That is an interesting question and one that I receive more often then not. I think the fact that People to People Ambassador Programs is the only educational student travel organization to employ a full-time senior director of safety and health is at the root of the issue.

Does safety matter to other student travel organizations? Obviously the answer is yes. What I have found is that many of these organizations place the health and safety responsibilities with the operations director who clearly has many additional duties.

Here at People to People Ambassador Program, Our CEO and President both had the foresight to envision a department that focuses solely on developing and implementing policies and procedures designed to ensure every student and leader is safe while traveling with our organization. We do also have the Senior Director of Ground Operations but have split out the responsibilities related to the safety of the students into a separate department. I am blessed with the privilege of leading this fantastic group of overachieving individuals.

Let me give you a little closer glimpse of a couple people who are on my team (above, in action at an on-call meeting) and their responsibilities to help to better understand what we do and how we do it.

First off I would like to start with Wendy Armes (above). Wendy is currently the Supervisor of the Medical team and has three travel seasons under her belt. Wendy’s team is responsible for collecting a health form for every student prior to travel. We have learned over the years that the best way to prevent an unforeseen problem is to make sure everyone who needs to know of a medical condition knows it in advance of travel.

Once the health form is received, Wendy’s team then determines for which students we need additional information on to assure their safety. We currently screen for over 300 medical conditions like visual or hearing impairment, mobility limitation, diabetes, and life threatening allergies (just to name a few). This process is called a medical hold in which case we work with the family and parents to make sure we have a solid understanding of any limitations a student may have. Once we have this additional information, we can then start working on a reasonable accommodation to make sure that student has the same great experience any other student would expect to have.

Next I would like to introduce you to Bethany Cress (pictured above). Bethany spends her entire year developing procedures and processes to reduce the chance of any incident happening on a program. She develops and delivers the training to every single associate who answers a phone during the on-call season. By providing this extensive level of training the associates dealing directly with the leaders and parents are better positioned to respond quickly and consistently to all incidents. These incidents can range from the milder request to have a student call home to the more severe situation that calls for medical attention. (As mentioned in my last post, our current travel season is yielding more mild incidents, which is a good thing.)

During the summer travel season Bethany personally leads the on-call briefing every morning and every evening. Her obsession is to make sure that every single incident is followed up with timely and professionally to everyone’s satisfaction.

After the season comes to a close, Bethany then re-reviews every incident and looks for gaps in what transpired. Basically asking the question, "What did we want to happen?" "What did happen?" And was there a gap between those two results? If the answer is yes, she then goes to work to craft a better process and procedure to be implemented the following season to reduce the chance of that situation happening again. This new procedure then goes into the Leader Travel Handbook revisions and into the training curriculum for the next season and the whole process starts all over again.

This is just a small glimpse into some of what my team does here at People to People Ambassador Programs and only two of the many associates that have a singular focus. That focus is simply making sure every delegate and leader is safe on our programs. Maybe in future blogs I can expand on some of my other team members but for now, I am very proud to have these two outstanding women on my team and working to support every student.

So, what does the Senior Director of Health & Safety do? This brief article recently appeared in our 2010-2011 Ambassador Magazine and dives deeper into my role at People to People Ambassador Programs. I hope you find the information informative.

Until next time - I’m wishing you safe and happy travels.

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety