Monday, May 24, 2010

Preparations for a Fantastic 2010 Season

I can’t help but be excited about the launch of our 2010 travel season, and I’m sure you are all feeling the same way around your own homes. It all starts for us in just 8 days as our first delegations depart on June 2!

All of us here in our Spokane program offices, along with our many partners that we work closely with around the world, are very busy putting the final touches on our programs in preparation for the summer travel season. To get ready for the travel season we’ve put in hours of preseason training just to make sure we are on top of every aspect of the travel experience. We also spend a great deal of time preparing for the less–likely and unexpected events that occasionally pop up while on program so that we are ready for most anything.

Annual Leader University

A big preseason training opportunity happened just a few weeks ago when we invited all of our area directors and many teacher leaders to Spokane for our Annual Leader University. Each area director is responsible for a number of leaders within their region or home area. These people recruit, train, and manage their assigned leaders throughout the year. Twice a year, generally in the fall and spring, the area directors bring together all the leaders in their region. Normally the fall training focuses on preparation for the enrollment and interview process for the next season, but much of the training agenda is reserved for sharing best practices, updates on all policy changes, and a review of safety protocols we instill in our leaders. In the spring, the area directors bring all the leaders together for the last group training with a focus on ensuring that every leader is updated on the latest procedural information so that programs go off without a hitch!

This year we expanded our conference to three full days. The first day was dedicated to new area directors. We are pleased to say that most of our area directors have been with us for many years, so the opportunity to step into one of these roles is very limited. Each of these new area directors (ADs) has been a leader on our programs for many years and has earned the privilege of stepping into the area director position. We provide them the additional training before the veteran ADs come to town in order to bring the new area directors up to speed on information they will need to be successful.

The next two days are jampacked with information presented in a train–the–trainer format. A vast amount of information is shared for these ADs to take back to the teacher leaders in their areas. This network of training sessions ensures everyone in the organization - from the president to every single teacher leader - is on the exact same page. At the conference, every single person involved with the management or training of a teacher leader was in the same room hearing the same thing at the same time. We firmly believe that this translates into a higher degree of consistency in how each program operates no matter what part of the world the delegation travels to.

This year we had much new information to share. We conducted training sessions on everything from new changes in 2010 for the Americans with Disabilities Act to how to handle a coaching opportunity with a student who has trouble following the expectations set out prior to the program.

Leading the Way with New Tools

We also introduced new tools like the newly revised Leader Travel Handbook and our GPS–equipped cell phones. Each delegation carries no fewer than four phones on each motor coach: one with our delegation manager, one with the motor–coach driver, and two held by the leaders escorting the students on the program. This year, one of the two phones used by the leaders is equipped with GPS technology. Having this system on our phones allows us to pinpoint within feet exactly where every delegation is at any given point in time. Amazing!

We believe we are the first educational travel organization to introduce this technology on all of programs. Over time, it is our hope that other travel organizations will follow. Clearly, having the ability to know exactly where all delegations are at all times provides our students, their families, and all of us with a greater degree of security and safety for our students and leaders. If an unexpected event were to happen around the world, we could instantly check the locations of our groups and direct them out of harm’s way before a problem developed.

Be Prepared
These events rarely happen, but back in the summer of 2005 there was such an event when a bombing occurred in London. People to People Ambassador Programs had 2,500 students in the U.K. at the time, and, of those, 524 were in the London area. Working with our partners, we were able to quickly inventory every delegation to ensure their well-being and move them all out of the area very quickly. All of this happened in less than 30 minutes! During an event like that, every minute counts, and this is exactly why we have made the investment in the new GPS tracking technology. If a similar event were to happen in the future, we could simply pull up our screen and see exactly where each and every group was located.

With the software developed by Cellhire, our cell–phone–rental partner, we can literally see the road a delegation is standing on with a pin mark bearing the name of the leader who is carrying the phone. By use of phone and SMS messaging, we can then simply provide directions to exit any area that poses any type of threat. We piloted this system last season with great success on approximately 70 programs, and this year we are rolling it out to every group.

This type of phone is also available to rent for the student. Parents can even sign up with Cellhire for a minimal fee and be given access to track their child. By using the street–view option, parents can even see many of the wonderful places students will see! To find out more about phone rentals and the types of equipment available, just go to Cellhire has many other phone options, but I have to admit after working with these GPS phones - they are pretty cool!

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