A Q&A with… the Specialist Travel Consultancy

Date Posted: 28/02/2014

A student in Jordan.

We spoke to Adrian Ferraro, founder of The Specialist Travel Consultancy (STC) about his passion for pushing students’ boundaries and why the educational travel industry needs to do more to embrace responsible tourism.

Q. You say that The STC is a travel agent, not a tour operator. What do you mean by that?

A. It means we don’t run the trips ourselves. We are an independent travel agency specialising in school trips. Our expertise is knowing which tour operators do what where, how and why. We use our knowledge of the market to place a school’s business with the most appropriate tour operator for their requirements. Teachers like the service as it saves them time and hassle and the tour operators like working with us as we bring them really targeted business.

Q. Can you explain the difference between your self-titled Educational Journeys and your School Expeditions?

A. Educational Journeys are shorter subject focused adventures, usually around six to 12 days in length. Each has a subject theme – Geography, History or Biology, for instance, but we like to throw in a healthy dose of adventure as it transforms the experience the students get. Adventure helps broaden the trip and show off all a destination has to offer. This might mean including a night sleeping under desert skies as part of a Geography tour of Morocco or trekking to a hill-tribe village in Thailand on a Religious Studies trip.

The result is educationally enriching travel experiences that really stretch the students’ horizons. Rather than being subject based, the expeditions are more adventurous and all about learning through pushing boundaries and challenging the students. Most tend to be three weeks or more in length and include some form of physical challenge such as a trek and/or some project work.

Q. They sound expensive. How much do they cost?

A. It depends a lot on the destination and trip. Entry trips to Morocco start at about £700 per student, with the top end expeditions costing upward of £3,000. Students are expected to raise much of the funds for an expedition as part of the build-up programme.

Abingdon School in Egypt.

Q. Tell us about your new programme for girls’ schools?

A. The girls’ programme was launched last year. In many of the countries we arrange trips in, women have a unique and sometimes little understood role within society. It’s also a role that is often hidden away behind doors closed to men.

Knowing that girls’ schools will have all-girl groups, we set about developing itineraries that would be off limits to co-ed schools. We wanted the girls to see the world from a local woman’s perspective. We’ve got meetings with Chinese entrepreneurs, Ghanaian artisan co-operatives, Tibetan nuns and Zulu tribeswomen.  

Q. Why do you put such a focus on responsible travel?

A.  Because it makes everything better – both ethically and educationally. I’m very conscious we’re sending groups to someone else’s homeland and we need to respect that. At a basic level, if tourism is not having a positive impact then we shouldn’t be travelling.

But it’s more complex than that. With a little effort, we can do a lot in how we arrange these trips to maximise the positives – such as employing and training local tour and expedition leaders, meaning more of the money goes into the local economy. The economic ripple effect on the local economy is huge. Similarly, the aspirational impact on young people in poor communities when they see their uncle or family friend become a well-paid leader is immeasurable.

Creating such employment opportunities locally can slow rural to urban migration and keep traditional communities together. Educationally, it makes so much sense as well. Groups get led by an expert from their destination, someone who is passionate about their country. They know all the history, politics, language, the flora and fauna and can decipher menus and negotiate with locals. Local knowledge counts for a lot in the safety management of a trip. Invariably the leader is one aspect our clients always comment on as being really outstanding with many requesting the same leader again and again.

Macchu Picchu

Q. What type of project work do the expedition school groups undertake?

A. The sourcing of projects is done in conjunction with the in-country team and local communities. Most groups get involved in maintenance, construction or conservation related work. Unlike some companies, we do not offer any form of projects where groups work with local children, such as teaching or looking after orphans. It’s sadly an ‘easy option’ for many school expeditions, but it simply can’t be justified as being in the local children’s best interests. Can you imagine the uproar if a group of unqualified Brazilian teenagers came to the UK to teach and play with a group of nursery children for a week? If it’s not OK in the UK, it’s not OK in the developing world. 

Q. Which are your most popular destinations?

A. For the educational journeys, India, Nepal, Morocco, Jordan/Israel and Costa Rica are always popular choices. When it comes to expeditions, there is a huge variety – we’ve had groups climb 6,000 metre peaks in the Himalaya, embark on cultural expeditions to places like Ghana or visit remote Indian communities in Venezuela.

Q. Do you get to accompany all the groups?

A. Unfortunately not! I can’t complain, though, I’ve done a lot of travel in my time and still travel on a regular basis. I’m off to Botswana and Malawi this summer with the family, so it’s not all about arranging other people’s adventures.

For further school trip information visit www.thestc.co.uk.

Photo credit: Will Daws.

School Travel Organiser's Guide