When international borders were closed in March 2020 thanks to the growing COVID-19 outbreak, many thousands of Australian students saw the cancellation of their traditional overseas trips – perhaps years in the planning – music tours, sports matches, international science or maths competitions, student exchange, language programs and more.
In addition, some state education departments placed explicit bans on student travel which are only now being lifted or exemptions being considered. Schools are now resuming pre-pandemic plans for international travel, with some important changes.
One of the major changes Kendle says is the growing significance of having “good local contacts in the destinations.”
She adds that “having local contacts is more important than ever, as is making sure a teacher is either fluent in the local language or there is identified local support to reassure families and schools that there’s someone who can deal with all the unexpected ‘surprises’ of Covid-era school trips. This includes students or staff falling ill while on the trip as well as interpreting local requirements and keeping schools up-to-date prior to, and during, the trip.”
Kendle also says that the previous two years have given travellers a chance to re-evaluate what ethical travel looks like and consider the impact they make on local communities when travelling abroad.
That it is a good time to re-evaluate and review school travel is also echoed by Jenny Murphy, Founder of Latitude Group Travel who has a column in the latest School News print magazine. She speaks of the importance of having a strategic partner to plan effectively, and of carrying out an audit: “We are encouraging school leaders to undertake a thorough strategic review and risk management audit of their school touring program,” she writes.
Travelling in the COVID-Era
As travel slowly resumes, schools are being asked to explicitly include strategies that minimise COVID-related concerns when completing risk assessments in the planning of any travel.
A Department of Education (NSW) Spokesperson said “The NSW Department of Education is working to update its excursions policy to ensure adequate risk mitigation before recommending international excursions.”
In Western Australia, the Education Department has said that “support will be provided to schools around mitigation strategies relating to the COVID-19 pandemic if required.”
In addition to the assistance provided by state Education Departments, schools can partner with local operators to ensure that all contingencies are considered, and maximum support is provided.
Some advice Kendle offers for schools when planning COVID-era travel:
- Maximum flexibility is required. The travel industry is still rebuilding after losing both revenue and staff, so some travellers may not get their ‘ideal’ travel experience.
- Set clear expectations about things going wrong and how plans might change at the last minute. Travel everywhere is in upheaval with cancelled flights and lost luggage; staff and students need to be prepared for possible last-minute changes.
- More than ever we need to read the fine print on travel insurance.
- Have clear plans in place for what would happen if a student tests positive for COVID while on a trip, not just in terms of health insurance but also the logistics of where they can stay and how they will receive food etc.
- Consider altering policies to allow more parents to join or travel nearby.
Mitigating COVID-related travel anxiety
No matter how well prepared and organised a trip may be, students (and staff) may still experience anxiety at the idea of travelling, so communication must be prioritised at all stages of planning, travelling, and in the case that any ‘Plan B’ must be enacted.
Another tip Kendle offers is to show students and families photos from previous trips and provide contingencies for worst-case scenarios—paint as full a picture as possible to foster confidence and trust.
See more on this topic: in our latest issue of School News, including “How Travel Connects to the Classroom” by Walter Doyle from WorldStrides Australia and “Why Strategy and risk management matter for school touring programs” by Jenny Murphy from Latitude Group Travel.
Resources: Thoughtful Travel podcast by Amanda Kendle