Student trips boost Ambassador

A travel program that sends students to the nation’s capital has turned out to be Ambassadors Group’s most successful promotion ever, the company’s president said Wednesday.

The Spokane-based company started offering a week-long trip for middle- and high school students in 2002. It drew 150 students. Last year, that same trip was taken by 1,000 students, and this year has grown to 3,000 students from across the country, said Jeff Thomas, Ambassadors’ president and CEO.

Ambassadors, a publicly traded company, has far more students taking advantage of its summer People-to-People overseas trips. But since Sept. 11, 2001, the company has diversified its offerings, trying to sign up more students for domestic trips that take place during the school year.

“Sept. 11 was a catalyst to help get us more serious about changing what we were doing,” Thomas said.

“We were twice over-concentrated — first in summer trips and then second, with overseas programs,” he said.

The D.C. program has “resonated with students, because every student (who goes) is personally nominated by a teacher,” Thomas said.

The D.C. trips are shorter — one week versus two to three weeks — and less expensive than Ambassadors’ overseas programs. The successful domestic program has boosted Ambassadors’ bottom line. Corporate gross receipts increased by about $19.1 million, or 36 percent, in the second quarter of 2004, which ended June 30. Ambassadors served about 30 percent more travelers company-wide compared with the same period a year earlier, the company’s quarterly report said.

Thomas said that the overseas student trips are also increasing, but not at the same pace as the domestic travel segment.

For its full fiscal year, Ambassadors estimates it will book trips for 30,000 travelers. In addition to student trips, it also arranges adult travel for professional groups, most of them overseas.

“We are the only student-travel program around that is doing more passengers this year than before 9/11,” Thomas claimed.

The D.C. trip’s key marketing tool, Thomas said, is a letter campaign directed first to a database of teachers who’ve worked with the company in the past. The letter asks teachers to nominate strong students who would enjoy the program.

The company then follows up with personal letters that are tailored to the strengths and interests of the students.

Thomas said the other strong draw is that Ambassadors’ D.C. trips offer academic credit for students wanting to gain more than a whirlwind tour of monuments and landmarks.

The trips include visits to elected officials, along with sessions with Congressional pages and staff aides. “Those students are getting insights behind the scenes into Washington,” Thomas said.


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