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Past Webcast - October 16, 2007

Research Forum

Past Webcasts Home

VT Cast #10: Educational Travel & VolunTourism


Educational Travel has its roots in alumni travel programs throughout North America and around the world. In recent years, it has been viewed as an extension of Service Learning for college and university students - part of the "life-long" learning process for alumni. Can VolunTourism play a role in forging a stronger bond between these two very distinct groups conjoined under a common institutional roof? Guests will discuss this topic and more during our session.

[Listen To The Cast] (Click Here To Download)


J Mara DelliPriscoli, Educational Travel Conference [Bio]; Jim Friedlander, Academic Arrangements Abroad [Bio]; and special guest, Susan Welsh, Elderhostel.


[Why did you feel it was important to create linkages between nonprofits and the travel community?]

"The nonprofit, large organizations, such as the Smithsonian or the American Museum of Natural History, have been doing travel programs for some time, for decades. Actually in the 50's and 60's there were programs at the Smithsonian of an educational nature and that just continued to grow, but the nonprofit world was unique unto itself, it was somewhat separate from the for-profit travel industry.

And I saw a need back in the 80's to connect both the nonprofits and for-profits in creating good partnerships in business and helping develop the product evolve with the contributions of both the for-profit expertise and the nonprofit educational component. And over the years it's evolved into a great partnership and we've seen a great intermingling of the travel industry going mainstream with education on cruises, on travel programs. So the nonprofits really help incubate this concept of lifelong learning through travel for a good deal of decades. Now, of course, it's mainstream with the Boomers.

[And why educational travel for the mainstream industry, e.g. cruises?]

Definitely, to add value - because that's one of the main components - they took it; basically travelers want to learn something. But in the last five, maybe even ten years, the shift has gone beyond just adding value in an educational way, they want to add value in connecting to people. In other words, there has to be an experiential educational component now. And we're just ramping up on the educational experience now travelers are more discerning in that they want to have some sort of connection with people in the communities they visit versus just sitting passively in a lecture. They want to be actively engaged in the educational experience.


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So both the land operators and cruise organizations really have to look at connecting travelers to a more experiential component. Hence, volunteer tourism is one aspect of that that they can actually begin to develop within their programming outreach.

[And who is the typical educational traveler?]

You know I would like, David, I'd like to defer to Susan (Welsh) on that, too, because she's dealing with a great deal, a huge sector of the educated travelers. So, I can add just a few words.

From the conference point of view, I mean typically the profile was over-60 maybe over-70, educated, wanting to travel in groups - you're seeing that profile dramatically change because you have inter-generational programs now; you have the X-ers and the Millennials going on what we call 'younger alumni program;' you have the Boomers, or 40 - 60 year olds, wanting to have a very different type of maybe experiential, adventurous-type educational program, and then you have you're traditional 70-plus.

So I can't really give you the demographics; I think the psychographics is more interesting, and what's driving the educational travel industry." J Mara DelliPriscoli

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[What is the biggest challenge for your business as it relates to VolunTourism?]




"I think the biggest challenge is demand. We obviously want to create programs that people want to go on. And so you have to start with is this something that people are demanding that they want to do more of. And Voluntourism, I think, is in more of a nascent phase.

You know, philanthropy as a concept in the United States is huge. If I remember correctly, last year was about $300 billion in philanthropic gifts in the United States. But, you know, philanthropy is so out of proportion among Americans compared to any other country in the world. It's just this huge wave among Americans to do good. So I think that the impetus is there, but the demand for programs at a commercial level for which there are safe, effective and efficient, and interesting, means of carrying out those programs - those connections haven't been made yet.

So, I would say demand is the first issue and I would follow it up by going back to an earlier point you (David Clemmons, host of the show) made about the Educational Travel Conference - it's a great place to connect with reliable, reputable suppliers who can give you information about program opportunities. The tsunami relief trip that I mentioned actually came through a contact I made at the Educational Travel Conference. So that was sort of the genesis of that project that ended up taking 40 people to Thailand to do a tsunami relief trip and as a result of that the school then went on to do a hurricane relief trip in New Orleans, bringing in a domestic component. So their first experience was so good that they did a second one - - and they did it domestically. And out of that has come scholarships for students from New Orleans to attend Exeter (University).

So it has had other spin off effects that go way beyond the initial cup of coffee that makes that initial contact that happened at the Educational Travel Conference two years ago. So I would just say that number one is demand and number two are the connections. " Jim Friedlander

[Listen To This Quote]

[On the existence of and continued growth of experiential travel within Elderhostel]




"I would agree, David, that there has been a very important part of Elderhostel programs right from the start in 1975 was that we had an experiential portion of our programs. But that's become even more important now.

And so, I would agree also, though, with Mara (DelliPriscoli) that we have seen a wider audience seeking that and we've added more of it to our programming, probably in the last ten to fifteen years. The, I mean it's always been part of our Elderhostel programming to interact with communities, or people, or, you know, more than just a one-way learning experience. But now, not just in our service volunteer programming, but also across the board in all of our programming, I think we see people really seeking that out, really wanting, looking at programs because of that element.

[And how have you shifted what you are looking for to better serve Hostelers?]

Photo Courtesy Of Tibetan Village Project, All Rights Reserved

Well, I think, where fifteen years ago we may have looked at having small portions of programming, be it an afternoon with a community or even perhaps a homestay, something like that, now we are looking at really introducing small portions of service learning into our standard programming. So that if people, any of our Hostelers, might choose a program that goes to Argentina to learn about Patagonia and such, while they're there they also can do, say, an afternoon or perhaps two afternoons working with a local school. So, that type of interaction is what we're introducing across the board.

I find that really exciting because it allows many of our partners, who are nonprofits to begin with who work with smaller NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), or perhaps even just small service projects that otherwise might not have had that exposure and opportunity.

[And are you finding that connections are being made between your Hostelers and these communities that go beyond Elderhostel as an organization...?]

Most definitely... that's, I think, for me one of the most exciting parts is that we see many of the Hostelers coming back home, making connections either through work connections, or learning connections - educational connections - that they might have, even their local community connections, and then carrying that on and building a bridge with the project in the overseas - - building that bridge and continuing to work with them. So, I think it's great!" Susan Welsh

[Listen To This Quote]

Guest Bios

J Mara DelliPriscoli, Founder, Educational Travel Conference

J.Mara DelliPriscoli, President, Travel Learning Connections, Inc., is the founder and architect of the Educational Travel Conference (formerly Nonprofits in Travel Conference), now celebrating its twenty second year. With this conference platform she has successfully facilitated strategic business partnerships between nonprofit institutions and for-profit travel suppliers within the educational and special interest travel community. Expanding the professional development and business-to-business networking needs of those in the field of alumni, museum, conservation and affinity group travel, Mara is currently focused on launching an online trade and membership community serving the special interest travel community worldwide, and aggregating the collective buying power and des tination expertise of this market niche in support of cultural tourism and community-based sustainable tourism projects.

With over 30 years experience in the tourism industry, Ms. DelliPriscoli has directly worked within most sectors of the travel industry including tour, hotel, and transportation, trade and government research firms. For seven plus years she worked in/and directed European product development for a special interest US outbound tour operator. In addition to heading the pioneering efforts of the Educational Travel Conference and online Community, Mara lectures, writes and works with cultural, community and conservation tourism development projects in the US and abroad. She is the contributing lifelong learning editor for Transitions Abroad, and has consulted in the field of educational, community and special interest tourism development for a variety of US and foreign government tourist offices, tour operators and international organizations including the World Bank. Mara is a veteran traveler and sailor crossing many seas, with a passion for exploration, language and ethnic music and dance. Mara holds an M. Ed in Tourism Development from the George Washington University, and a B.A. from Barnard College, Columbia University.

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Jim Friedlander - President & CEO, Academic Arrangements Abroad

James Friedlander, President & CEO, oversees all aspects of the company's operations, and his nearly twenty-five years of global business experience as an international banker and management consultant has been vital to our growing diversity of clients and programs. As a lifelong advocate of private, non-profit cultural and educational institutions, Jim is delighted to advance these causes through the development of educational travel programs. A graduate of Philips Exeter Academy, Wesleyan University and the Columbia Business School, he travels frequently to explore new cultural opportunities in distant points of the globe.

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