A change from traditional field trips to the local museum or nearby nature reserve, international schools in Egypt have started sending their classes across the continent and around the world, joining a worldwide tourism trend.
The trend has given some parents concern over the affordability of these trips, and also has them wondering if leaving Egypt is really necessary to gain these experiences.
Manal Saad Kelig, owner of the travel marketing company Gateway to Egypt and its operational arm, the tourist agency Great Wonders of Egypt, is a mother of two. Her 11-year-old daughter was given a choice of several national and international trips.
“It was at the point where the cool kids were going international and the ‘uncool’ ones were staying,” says Kelig. “As a parent I had to make the decision based on more than popularity.” After looking at the models of the international trips, Kelig opted for her daughter to remain in Egypt.
But Kelig says that at schools abroad, international field trips are more than just the average site-seeing and shopping trips.
“A trip should have a long-term impact on the students, lasting from the first year the students start going on trips with the school, to the end of their academic careers,” Kelig says.
According to Malak Fateen, marketing head of Alsson British and American International School, international field trips are mainly curriculum-based. Teachers chose these excursions as an enhancement to their classes, such as providing language immersion for students in a French class by traveling to Paris.
Seif Ramadan, CEO of Blooms, a youth development agency which plans and organizes excursions for schools, among other services, says they try to provide a learning experience for groups of students that they would not otherwise gain from traveling with their parents. Ramadan refuses to work with schools who ask for a simple site-seeing trip.
According to Ramadan, Arab students' standards for things like accommodation are generally much higher than European students, causing prices to go up on a trip. Although they do not plan accommodation in 5 star hotels, students will almost always complain about the 2 to 3 star hotels or hostels they stay at. But Ramadan says that later on they forget about it, because the trip has a greater goal. “It is a leader’s role to instill the educational value of a learning experience on a trip,” he says.
Ramadan believes international travel allows students to step out of their comfort zones and see things in other countries that they would not normally encounter.
He recalls an experience in which students in Paris watched a street busker playing music. Ramadan says the students had a group discussion on their different perceptions of the situation, with some students comparing the musician to street performers in their own country.
Kelig is concerned that the Egyptian tourism industry lacks good understanding of the growing niche of educational tourism. The student travel industry has been developing worldwide for the past 60 years, according to the World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation (WYSE), a UN-branched organization aiming to promote student tourism.
Although some companies have been addressing this market, they are not official tourism companies, but rather educational companies which translate the needs of educators to the tourism industry. However, these companies have their hands tied with regard to making student trips more affordable.
Mohamed Abdel Aziz and Mohamed al-Farnawany, co-owners of Agaza youth camps and organizers of international field trips, say they currently only work with international schools, but hope in the future to work with national schools as well. They describe their trips as experiential learning opportunities. Their choice of destinations is based on the landscape and how the country will add to the cultural horizons and learning experiences of the students. But the trips are costly, making it difficult to enter other markets.
Abroad, students regularly get discounts on air fare, accommodation and other expenses, but in Egypt, most travel agencies offer only regularly priced brochure packages to students. Egyptian Student Travel Services, for instance, offers only one service to Egyptian students — the International Student Identity card, which is issued for LE100. The card gives students discounts on Egypt Air flights as well as specific hostels and hotels internationally, but according to a tourist agency owner who wished to remain anonymous, it typically is of little help because of the many restrictions that are placed on using the card.
Kelig believes that, “Travel is one of the vehicles of peace through interaction between [different cultures].” Students who travel are ambassadors of their countries, and she believes they should be catered to accordingly.