Venturing out in winter

There are many advantages to taking school trips during the winter months, from cheaper air fares to offering students an end of term reward. Here, members of the School Travel Forum (STF) share some ideas of what to do in the colder months, and what to bear in mind while planning.

Visiting traditional Christmas markets is a popular choice for many schools, whether these are in London, Paris, Germany or further afield. Combining activities at these centres, for instance when in London including a visit to the South Bank, ice skating by the Tower of London and a trip on the London Eye, is an inexpensive way to give pupils a real feel for the Christmas spirit in the capital. Laura Swingwood, PGL marketing executive says: “Travelling at this time of year offers some of the best value prices. For instance, three day Paris trips including return travel, full board accommodation can cost as little as £199. Many schools choose to include a trip to Disneyland, giving pupils the chance to enjoy the Winter Wonderland experience.”

Melanie Krolick, sales manager of Travelbound, says: “The great thing about Christmas market trips is that the markets are open from midday to midnight, so it’s easy to include visits to museums and make a real day of it. In Munich for instance, there are several markets with different themes, such as a craft‑based market, a food‑based market and a nativity themed market, so there is massive variety and something for everyone. Travel times are convenient too, for example Aachen is only five hours from Calais.”

Supporting the curriculum
Darren Davies, Travel Places, education product manager, agrees that combining a visit to a traditional Christmas market with a stay that supports the curriculum is a great approach to take when travelling in the festive period. “Berlin and Krakow are both popular, as not only are they great history destinations, but students can also enjoy a visit to a traditional Christmas market. In addition, all the museums are open in winter, whereas traditional holiday destinations in Spain or Italy for instance can have an out of season feel. By contrast, the cities are full of life and whilst these are still an educational trip, the fact that it is Christmas means there is more added value.”

Finland is also a popular destination at this time of year. Darren continues: “There is a lot of interest in trips to the arctic circle in Finland. There are some terrific itinerary options including the northern lights, visits to a reindeer farm and the chance to ride husky sleds. There is also the core tourist industry in Finland, which of course is all about Father Christmas.”

Educational benefits
Speaking of the benefits of travelling at this time of year, Carly Doyle, Equity, head of marketing, says: “The main benefit is the consolidation of learning. Students are a term into their new year at school and are learning new subjects. These trips help to boost self‑esteem, invigorate their passion for the subject and give confidence. From a peer and teacher bonding point of view, students get the opportunity to get to know their teacher on a different level which can improve behaviour in the classroom and give them a new level of respect for their teachers. Also, when taken at end of term, these trips are seen almost as a reward, motivating pupils to work hard.”

Speaking of inclusivity, Carly comments: “The key with this is to book in advance so that people have time to save. The pupil premium can also be used to support students where families can’t afford to fund the trip. This becomes a legitimate way to use the pupil premium. Approved providers are used to building bespoke packages that meet the needs of a group. Tailor made packages ensure that everything is as inclusive as possible.”

Tim Jenkins, marketing executive for SkiBound and Travelbound, said: “The focus for both our brands is on the experience of travelling abroad. That’s the great thing about learning outside the classroom; the benefits of outdoor learning and travelling abroad open the students up to a whole new experience that is accessible at their level. They’re not being tested on right and wrong answers featured in a book. Instead, they are developing themselves; developing life skills which they will use in daily life; developing the confidence and ability to interact with other people; and enhancing their social skills, listening and communication. The experience adds some weight to looking out for themselves; they no longer have their parents by their side. Whether it is a Christmas market or a ski trip, these are elements students will come across through both experiences.”

Ski trips
Ski trips are certainly a popular choice for schools over the festive break. According to the 2016 STF ski trip survey, the number of UK secondary schools choosing to take pupils on annual ski trips rose to 62.8 per cent, up from 43.3 per cent in 2014. Austria, Italy and France remain the most popular destinations, with the USA in fourth place. Furthermore, the proportion of schools using a specialist school ski operator to organise their skiing trip has increased, with over 90 per cent of schools choosing to make their own travel arrangements.

Speaking of the rise in the number of schools choosing to travel with STF assured operators, School Travel Forum general manager, Gill Harvey, said: “By taking care of standards of safety and quality in an easily recognisable and trusted accreditation scheme, the LOtC Quality Badge is an invaluable tool for school trip leaders, in particular those booking ski trips, and it’s great to see that the awareness of the benefits of choosing approved tour operators is increasing.”

Sports trips
Sports trips abroad are immensely popular during the winter months, with many schools taking advantage of the longer daylight hours and warmer climates in foreign countries to maximise opportunities for training and competition. Steve Ludnow, operations director of Edwin Duran Sports Tours comments: “In Europe there are lots of seasonally active sports, including rugby, hockey, football and netball. This time of year offers good opportunities to put in place a tournament, train and visit warmer climes. Short haul, short duration European trips are popular, for instance, in Portugal after the New Year, there is an excellent football tournament for schools. Obviously, the further afield, the better the weather and in the southern hemisphere it is summer. Sports that won’t be in season in the UK are in long-haul destinations, so there is lots of pre-season opportunity. A number of schools go to Dubai or South Africa in the winter months for cricket as the longer daylight hours mean there are no limited overs and players get more out of the trip in terms of training time. The Middle East is also very popular as there are lots of excellent facilities. Dubai has top class rugby, football and netball facilities.”

Top tips for winter school trips
When planning a trip in the colder months, there are a few things to bear in mind, such as clothing. Wrap up warm and prepare the children properly in terms of the kit they need to take. Comfy shoes are important as there can be lots of walking on Christmas market trips. In addition, ice skating often results in soaked clothing, so advise students to have spare clothing to hand.

When you travel, make sure you have 24‑hour support, as offered by STF providers. This is particularly important in the event of travel delays caused by weather. If skiing at this time of year, choose a snow sure resort to ensure good skiing conditions during the trip.

Schools should also consider unpredictable weather. Last year it was 16 degrees at some of the European Christmas markets. Make sure children wear layers so that they are prepared for all conditions.

If travelling to Europe, factor shorter daylight hours into the itinerary to prepare for drops in temperature and reduced visibility.

Finally, schools should consider any opportunities for cross‑subject learning. The Christmas markets are open from midday to midnight, allowing lots of scope to visit other destinations. Museums and cultural experiences add a valuable dimension to these trips for history and language students.

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