Travel agents serve tens of thousands of students on overseas school trips each year

Passengers and public in the departure hall of the Changi Airport Terminal 1 on Sept 21 2011. More students than ever are going on overseas school trips and travel agents have leapt to serve this growing market. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSUS
Passengers and public in the departure hall of the Changi Airport Terminal 1 on Sept 21 2011. More students than ever are going on overseas school trips and travel agents have leapt to serve this growing market. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

About 90,000 students go overseas with their schools each year on 'learning journeys'

More students than ever are going on overseas school trips and travel agents have leapt to serve this growing market.

About 90,000 students go overseas with their schools each year on 3,500 "learning journeys", according to the Education Ministry.

These include exchange programmes, overseas community involvement programmes and trips related to subjects taught in school.

Some trips of over a week to more distant destinations can cost between $3,000 and $4,000 per child, but additional government funding for such trips has made all the difference in recent years,

Travel agents said demand has more than doubled from a decade ago and picked up sharply five years ago after the Education Ministry introduced the Trips for Internationalisation Experience grant for students who are Singapore citizens to go on overseas learning journeys. Schools can also tap the Opportunity Fund to subsidise those who need financial support.

More neighbourhood schools and primary schools are also organising overseas trips, and the brisk business has led some travel agents to create special departments catering to this group.

One of them, STA Travel, said it has been organising 130 trips every six months from 2011 to this year, double the number from 2005 to 2008.

CTC Travel has seen demand grow sharply every year, too. Said its senior vice-president for marketing and public relations, Ms Alicia Seah: "Five years ago, we managed about 20 groups of students. Last year, we organised almost 70 groups."

Demand from neighbourhood secondary schools has also gone up in recent years, with CTC Travel seeing business from these schools double compared to a decade ago.

The destinations vary across the school types, said travel agents.

STA Travel's group manager for educational travel Raymond Wong noted that neighbourhood schools tend to have more trips nearby with one or two trips a year to Europe or United States, whereas "well-known" schools have "almost an equal spread of regional and long-haul trips".

Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and China remain the top destinations, but a growing number of schools are going further, especially independent schools and those offering the integrated programme, said Ms Michelle Yin, marketing communications manager for Chan Brothers Travel.

"The more well-known independent schools do travel a lot and most of the time, to places further away like the United States, Europe and Australia," she said.

Chan Brothers has seen demand for school trips grow by 15 per cent to 20 per cent each year over the past five years and now has a dedicated education centre.

The travel agents said student groups are different from leisure travellers and school trips call for extra logistics, if the intinerary involves liaising with rural schools or overseas universities, said Ms Yin.

Ms Seah said with more primary school pupils travelling, it is essential to provide extra care and effort to keep them happy and occupied so that they do not miss home.

janeng@sph.com.sg

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