Operators expect fewer overseas school trips

After Mt Kinabalu tragedy, schools and parents likely to opt for local holiday camps

With last month's tragedy in Sabah still weighing on people's minds, more schools are likely to favour camps at home instead of overseas trips this year.

It is still a little early for end-of- year school trips to be planned but some adventure group firms are expecting a drop of at least 10 per cent in schools wanting such trips.

All school trips to Mount Kinabalu have been suspended for the time being, as a safety precaution. The mountain has been closed by the Malaysian authorities to allow the damaged trail to be repaired.

Ten Singaporeans died in the 6.0-magnitude quake in Sabah on June 5 - nine from Tanjong Katong Primary School on an annual school trip, and an adventure camp guide from local company Camp Challenge.

On Monday, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament that schools can still provide outdoor adventure learning trips to other overseas locations.

SWITCH TO LOCAL FOCUS

We expect schools to be more careful with their destinations. Parents are also more cautious. Our secondary school trips are going as per planned, but for primary schools, especially lower primary, we have been getting more inquiries for local programmes instead.

MR RAJ KUMAR, director of IPC Tours, which conducts around 500 overseas school trips every year

An average of 100,000 students - primary, secondary and junior college - take part in overseas learning programmes every year, said Mr Heng last year.

These trips have various aims, including enrichment, performance and service learning.

But operators running programmes said some schools and parents are likely to be cautious and avoid these trips, at least for the second half of the year.

Around 10 per cent of school groups which used to go on overseas trips might choose to stay home this year, said Mr Raj Kumar, director of IPC Tours, which conducts around 500 such trips every year. He added: "We expect schools to be more careful with their destinations. Parents are also more cautious. Our secondary school trips are going as per planned, but for primary schools, especially lower primary, we have been getting more inquiries for local programmes instead."

X-Trekkers, which runs about 10 adventure trips for schools a year, said it will focus on offering more overseas trips for families.

At youth leadership training company Agape Group, chief executive Delane Lim expects overseas expeditions to make up 15 per cent of trips, down from 30 per cent now.

It usually leads about 15 overseas trips each year for schools and it also runs camps locally at venues such as Pulau Ubin.

Camp Challenge chief executive Joey Ng agreed that demand for school trips could shift towards local camps. "Not many trips are organised during the September holidays, because of upcoming exams, and it's still a bit early for schools to request trips in December, but parents could also be reluctant about sending their children for overseas trips," he said.

Operators are unsure how long the reluctance to travel overseas would last but Agape and Camp Challenge are not unduly worried as these trips cost more and require more time for training and preparation.

At Camp Challenge, only about 5 per cent of its programmes are held overseas.

Mr Lim said: "With or without overseas trips, we will have to innovate and tweak our programmes to meet the market demand."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'Operators expect fewer overseas school trips'. Print Edition | Subscribe