Insider Exclusive: Travel as Inspiration, Education, and Experience

Insider Exclusive: Travel as Inspiration, Education, and Experience

What one travel industry expert has learned about travel

By Educational Tours, Inc.


Travel is known to inspire people. Shelly Cole, director of vendor partnerships and trip coordinator at Educational Tours Inc. (ETI), is no exception. After 20 years with ABA member ETI, Cole remembers one special trip that inspired her. During her second year in the student travel industry, Cole had the opportunity to travel to Niagara Falls with an inner-city middle school group. She was particularly excited to see the results of all of her planning.

“I met the group at the school and rode the motorcoach with them for five hours to their destination. As the students were disembarking from the coach, I started hearing—and seeing—their reactions to experiencing the Falls for the first time. I just stared in amazement. I must have had quite a look on my face, taking all of this in, as the director came up to me and said, ‘This will probably be the one and only time some of these kids will travel,’” recalls Cole.

That comment hit Cole like a ton of bricks.

“To this day, those words are with me when I touch each trip that our students go on. Whether it’s arranging the coach, hotel, restaurant, performance, or attraction, I think about what the students will get out of visiting these places and how it could impact their path for the future,” says Cole.


Travel is known for educating people, too. The insights Cole gained by witnessing the impact travel has on people have helped her help her groups. What are some lessons she’s learned?

“You have to work in the moment,” says Cole. “We all run into obstacles, and we do all we can to make things happen for our groups. Our reaction and quick response can make a world of difference. Take ownership of any challenges and work on solutions instead of blaming someone; that doesn’t correct the situation. For instance, if a group is scheduled to go to a Broadway show in New York City and the theater goes on strike the day before they arrive. You can react with, ‘Oh well, it’s out of our control’—or you can jump in and find other opportunities to fill that void. Take a challenge and make it right, no matter who’s at fault.”

Cole has also learned a lot about traveling with students and speaks fondly of the educators who travel with them.

“Our educators are admired on so many levels. Not only do their students look up to them, but I as a parent and tour operator, I admire how they are willing to share the world with the eyes of our future” says Cole. “We do our darndest to take the pressure off the group leader by making all of the arrangements. However, teachers have the hardest part—wearing several hats during the school year with preparing lessons, classes, theater productions, parades, etc. The list could be endless!”


Cole knows it’s important to always provide groups with the fine ETI experience that sets the company apart from others.

“If you had only one chance to give the travel experience to youth, wouldn’t you want to do it top-notch?” asks Cole. “Two items come to mind for me, starting with the customer service you give to your director/tour coordinator. Listen to them and figure out what they are after. Do they want their kids to experience theater in the Big Apple or to experience a theater workshop where they work firsthand with a professional Broadway actor? Keep the lines of communication open and consider their ideas and suggestions.”

The other item that is high on Cole’s list is the quality of the trip clients receive.

“Take the time and ask yourself, ‘Would I put my family at this hotel/restaurant? Do they know how to take care of a group?’ You wouldn’t want to stay at a property that didn’t pay attention to room blocking or room types or care about its cleanliness.”

Educational Tours, Inc. is a student group tour operator in Holt, Mich. Director of Vendor Partnerships and Trip Coordinator Shelly Cole spent a few years in the hotel industry before joining Educational Tours Inc. in 1997. As director of vendor partnerships, she’s developed strong relationships with industry partners. As a trip coordinator, she works one-on-one with group leaders, making sure their needs are met and their tours are a success. For more information visit Educational Tours Inc., News and Blog, used with permission.

About the American Bus Association

The American Bus Association (ABA) is the trade organization of the intercity bus industry, with more than 1,000 motorcoach and tour company members in the United States and Canada. Its members operate charter, tour, regular route, airport express, special operations and contract services. Another 2,800 members are travel and tourism organizations and suppliers of bus products and services who work in partnership with the North American motorcoach industry.


Melanie Hinton, Vice President, Communications & Marketing, ABA
Office: (202) 218-7220
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