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Passports Student Travel Company--WARNING

Passports Student Travel Company--WARNING

Old Mar 7th, 2015, 08:53 AM
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Passports Student Travel Company--WARNING

I recently accompanied my son on a trip to Italy with Passports Student Travel and it was an awful experience. The hotels we stayed in were second rate, away from the city center in both Venice and Rome, and often in bad neighborhoods (to be fair, the Florence hotel was a higher quality). In Rome, there were women "working the area" outside our hotel. Many of the boys on the trip thought this was quite funny, but I can assure you as a parent it's not. The tour guide was unprofessional, frequently making sexual jokes that just made everyone uncomfortable. The tour guide was also constantly trying to take us on side excursions because he obviously had a financial relationship with the people offering them. These were different than the paid excursion option to Pisa, but were run by locals who he knew and weren't part of the tour itinerary. The food we had was constantly the kind of chicken and pasta youwould get at Olive Garden, and no effort was made to make it authentic. When I complained about this to Passports they brushed off my concerns saying they would look into them but I have heard nothing from them since nor have I had any offer of restitution. This was supposed to be a once in a lifetime trip, and instead it was a nightmare.
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Old Mar 7th, 2015, 09:02 AM
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Well it sounds quite a bit like a tour I went on with my daughter years ago - EF tours. Yes the hotels were not great, one by Termini in Rome where we could hear bottles breaking outside all night and ladies looking for "dates". The food was sad. BUT I saw the Vatican, walked thru ancient Rome, had gelato for the first time, saw a magical city built on water and exposed my daughter to the adult Disney world that is Europe. We have returned many times on our own. I hope you saw something that inspired you, had some meals on your own and your son caught glimpses of places he would like to return to and explore in depth.
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Old Mar 7th, 2015, 09:45 AM
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Welcome to Fodors. >> The hotels we stayed in were second rate, away from the city center in both Venice and Rome, <<

Did you not check the locations re the hotels before you booked?

>>The food we had was constantly the kind of chicken and pasta youwould get at Olive Garden, and no effort was made to make it authentic.<<

As is often the case w/ student tours

>> nor have I had any offer of restitution. <<

For what -- were any days cut or did you not get things you paid for?

>>This was supposed to be a once in a lifetime trip, and instead it was a nightmare.<<

Sounds like a mid-market student tour when you were expecting more posh -- Maybe disappointing, but if those are your main/only complaints its hardly a <i>Nightmare</i>
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Old Mar 7th, 2015, 09:48 AM
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A link to the company's website would be useful, so we know who you're talking about. Although your screen name UpsetMom leads me to believe you've registered just to complain and may never come back for any meaningful discussion. Your post leads me to assume it was a cheap tour and you get what you pay for.
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Old Mar 7th, 2015, 09:54 AM
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Passports is a well known mid-ish range student travel company . . . Has been around for a long time.

http://www.passports.com
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Old Mar 7th, 2015, 10:10 AM
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The tour guide was also constantly trying to take us on side excursions because he obviously had a financial relationship with the people offering them. These were different than the paid excursion option to Pisa, but were run by locals who he knew and weren't part of the tour itinerary.>

this is also endemic with guided tours - selling the opitional extras may be a big part of the company and or guides salary which can even depend on tips that are made known to be expected at the end of the tour.

Where is that "nbad neighborhood" in Venice as I have traipsed over every inch of Venice - Venice not Mestre - and have seen nor can fathom any bad neighborhoods - what was bad about it and where was it?

Seems like you've never taken a group tour before and like janis says a sownmarket one meant for students.

Big question - how did you son like it - he may have a different take, especially since most folks on student trips I've seen are girls!

Don't expect any replies to valid questions as this first-time poster is too busy posting on every site she can - and that raises a question too - either she is really teed off and the tour was abominal or she is trying to torpedo the tour company for some reason. Ah the Internets... I'll give her the benefit of the doubts but you never know the real reason for such a post - now if it were a long-time Fodorite we'd be more sympathetic as I am if true and probably is - Caveat Emptor with student tours, meant for students who are not generally fussy and not their parents.
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Old Mar 7th, 2015, 11:31 AM
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One problem is the student tour company is limited to hotels that are large enough to accomodate a bus load of people, yet will accept teens in rooms by themselves. Some hotels require an adult in each room. Places that accept a bunch of teens in rooms by themselves will most certainly not be posh places. Most hotels in city centers are too small, do not want teens or cost too much.

There are hotels that have set themselves up to cater to the teen tour groups, including a large dinning area. Some of these are pretty nice, others not. In some places, there just are not that many of these hotels, so during busy times, choices are very limited. So, if your hotels were actually "second rate" you did OK.

The same is true for which restaurants can sccomodate large groups, especially for groups where they can't charge as much as they would for a wedding or party.

Frankly, if your food was even as good as Olive Garden, then you did not do too bad for a student tour, as I have had much worse on tours.

To get exactly what you want, and the most for your money, a tour is not usually best, but it is a good way for students to get their first taste of Europe, and often generates a life long interest in travel, history, art.
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Old Mar 7th, 2015, 11:37 AM
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I can assure you that you that it is not only parents who view the European sex trade and exploitation of women as a serious issue, and work to educated young people not to see it as funny.

I am glad you posted and I think people will benefit for your candid report. Lots of responses will be "blame the victim". Others will view it differently and appreciate the trip report and warnings.
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Old Mar 7th, 2015, 01:33 PM
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not only parents who view the European sex trade and exploitation of women as a serious issue, and work to educated young people not to see it as funny.>

are are reading so so much into what she said - she just lamented the fact that women of the night were walking around - to her making it a 'bad area' - that the teen boys or whatever age thought it funny was an eye-opening experience and thus probably the most educational part of the tour they had.

You can see ladies of the night working around some very fancy hotels in some very fancy areas - right in the heart of Paris at several places. Prostitution is legal in some countries too but I think sanda is sticking her own words in for the OP when she said the OP condemned the sex trade (as I do even though I am a man) - but at times it can be very regulated and not exploitive - again reading a whole lot into something you know nothing much about in this case.

And we are not blaming the victim really just telling her that is what a student tour is like and that is why adults used to better amenities are stupid to even consider such a tour without knowing what it is like.
Caveat emptor!
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Old Mar 7th, 2015, 02:03 PM
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I concur, PQ, just didn't have the energy. Trying to have a discussion can sometimes be like speaking reasonably to stampeding cattle. Thanks.
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Old Mar 7th, 2015, 03:01 PM
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Cheaper tours stay in budget hotels and often they are not in the dead center, that's just the way it works. Student tours are meant to be cheap, so you aren't going to stay in expensive hotels, AND many hotels will not even accept student groups, either. I'm sure none of the hotels I stay in would.

So that's just the way it goes with student tours and hotels.

HOWEVER, I do agree that the tour guides sound unprofessional and are deserving of complaints. There is no excuse for that, there are plenty of good tour guides around. The food is probably kind of par for the course if included on cheap tours, unfortunately. I took a couple cheap tours and some of the hotels were not in the center, but I made do with buses, etc. And I deliberately chose tours without included food as I wanted to eat where I wanted.

I think there are a lot of bad student tour groups, unfortunately, and it is too bad you got a bad one. IN general, though, I have to admit I don't believe parents should be sending students on tours to Europe, it's too much money. Unless the parents are very wealthy, though. There is no necessity for students to be going on European tours IMO, no one ever paid for me to take vacations in Europe when I was a kid.
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Old Mar 7th, 2015, 03:38 PM
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As Sandralist said, the sex trade and exploitation of women is a big issue, and not just in Europe. It is more hidden, but the US certainly has similar problems, especially with younger girls.

However, PQ, I kind of saw it the same as you, that the OP was not expressing concern for the women so much as seeing them and having the teens see them, affected her trip negatively.

If the "boys" thought it was funny, then she, as a Mom and an adult woman, could discuss their attitude with them, especially her own son.

If the tour guide was as inappropriate as the OP said, I hope she called him/her on it. That is definitely something the tour company should deal with.

Hotels and food could be better for sure, but for some of the kids, these trips are kind of "once in a lifetime" adventures. They may have been to camps or visited relatives, but being away from Mom and Dad, in Europe for the first time, with a bunch of other kids, is pretty exciting. Add to that, seeing places they have seen only in movies can be life changing.

It is important for teachers and parents to really check out the company and the itinerary, and for teachers to prep the students.
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Old Mar 8th, 2015, 01:09 AM
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The food was probably that way because experience has taught the organisers that teenagers can be pretty conservative in their choice of what to eat. Better to have them complain the food was boring and they eat it, than go home saying the food was weird/inedible/horrible and they were hungry all the time.

There are hotels which specialise in school trips, not only for Americans but European kids too, who make similar trips and stay in similar areas. They all survive, and probably have a lot more freedom on the trip than their US cousins do.
Our sons all made trips from school and all had a great time, learning a lot about themselves as well as the city visited.
A complaining about the guide is perhaps in order, but for the rest it sounds like a standard school trip to me.
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Old Mar 8th, 2015, 01:11 AM
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Posted to soon. I meant to add the trip was aimed at the students, not the adults accompanying them. So the adults are there to do a job and accept what they find, not see it as a cheap holiday for themselves.
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Old Mar 8th, 2015, 01:29 AM
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Good to see the OP raising the issue of tours and dissapointment. These warnings are important.

My thoughts are
1) Use the experience as a learning event. Sit the kids down and check back with the contract and publicity material. If when you have read it all carefully and you still feel agrieved then communicate the errors to the company in writing and on facebook/twitter identifying the issues exactly. Facebook / Twitter is like standing in the bank and refusing to go into "the office" it gives you power. There are loads of guides on how to make facebook twitter into a bat to hit companies with, DYOR.
2) If it proves that the contract was fullfilled, you don't need to "suck it in" but instead use it as an opportunity to teach the kids about advertising and contract law, make this negative into a positive so they win.
3) Prostitution is certainly not a nice thing, while pimping and sex trafficing are even nastier. Firstly this is Italy (they do things differently there); consider, in your own society there will be prostitution, just not walking past your house. Use this as an opportunity to discuss the issues and why some aspects may be positive and others absolutly negative.

Many of us have sent off children, nieces, nephews or friends on these trips and they all report back the companies struggle to balance costs with income but for some people they may be the only way to go.

Good luck and thanks for the feedback
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Old Mar 8th, 2015, 03:39 AM
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Pal has it right--reading 'way too much into "thinking it funny". They were undoubtedly amazed to see it up close and it was a learning for them. I first saw it in Amsterdam on a student tour!!
And the person who thinks trafficking in the US is "not so much" is dead wrong.
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Old Mar 8th, 2015, 05:01 AM
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The thesis of what I say below is this--I believe it is the <b>responsibility of the group leader/teacher/chaperone to educate and prepare the group---INCLUDING PARENTS (I've got 3 going with me in June)--about expectations.</b>

I have not used the tour group UpsetMom traveled with, but I have used another probably similar (mid-range, i.e., more "affordable" than the higher end ones, for the small percentage of American parents who can actually afford any such travel expense) 3 times and am set to go again. So I'd like to address a few of the concerns, although I agree she seems to have vented here and maybe isn't reading any of this. But perhaps others are that would in some way benefit from this discussion:

I have found that the accommodations and food on such student tours are as she described, sorta, and for the budget-constraints reasons mentioned above. Rooms have been adequate to good, always safe, and often not in city-centers; food has been adequate (well maybe not quite enough for the hungriest of big guys!) to actually quite good. And the particular tour director you get, I'm sure, makes all the difference. I have been blessed with 2 superb ones (used one young lady twice, as we worked great together), but I might not be so blessed this June. We shall see.

But I think, as the teacher/group leader, that it is MY responsibility to be VERY CLEAR to all the folks on the tour, maybe ESPECIALLY the adults, what to expect. So I have several meetings with the group as we prepare to go and say over and over again that this is to be an adventure and a very, very busy experience, NOT a vacation, not a foodie-tour, not a luxury trip. That the rooms can likely be small/far away from city-center/even maybe non-AC'd or having no elevator (although the last two trips all our hotels had elevators and most had AC although we didn't need it.) That they are to expect glitches.

As to the inappropriate remarks by the tour director, if I as the group leader/teacher/chaperone had been bothered by such (and I'm a very conservative teacher at a small private Christian school, so I may have been!) I'd have probably discussed it with the TD, IF I felt that would be of any use, and MAYBE have reported it, if I felt the TD had not responded appropriately. As she was a parent, I think she should have asked her group leader to do so first. That's what I tell my parents going--to funnel any concerns or complaints through me first. And then I think it would be the group leader/teacher's responsibility to address this. And to also have a talk with students about this if need to. And she as a parent certainly had a great teaching opportunity with her own child.

As to the "forced shopping excursions"--well, so far, that's not been a big problem. DH has had this in major ways (to the point of being yelled at and told to not come back to the rest of the tour the next day when he wouldn't buy some item) in China. I think this is just a sometimes-reality of some tours. When I was in Rome on a training trip with the student-tour-company I use, we were "left" in a shop for some time, some place I didn't want anything from, and I felt it was a waste of time, but there was no pressure at all or feeling it was a "personal" arrangement.

So, in short what do I want to "add" to this conversation? I think the teacher/group leader may have needed to do a better job at preparing the group--including the parents--about what to expect, especially about food and rooms. If UpsetMom had heard very clearly that the tour was for STUDENTS, so room and board would be adequate but not top notch and maybe far from center, then maybe she'd have been more prepared. The uncomfortable/inappropriate other things (sexual in nature and shopping pressure) maybe couldn't be expected by the group leader, but the general nature of these things should have been discussed ahead of time by the group leader, in my opinion. I do--we discuss things they may encounter in the "big cities" they never do in their small American city lives, and I make sure to huddle up and debrief often on the trip.

So I think some of the problems may have been eliminated or at least lessened if UpsetMom had had more realistic expectations. So either the group leader didn't do his/her job in making things very clear, or UpsetMom didn't "hear" what she was told. Group leaders/teachers are of course all different, and maybe it was this one's first time, but I think sooooooo much is the <b>responsibility of the group leader/teacher/chaperone to educate and prepare the group---INCLUDING PARENTS (I've got 3 going with me in June)--about expectations.</b>
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Old Mar 8th, 2015, 06:01 AM
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>>>Did you not check the locations re the hotels before you booked?<<<

Janisj - The student tour companies do not tell you the hotels until right before departure usually.

As for food, it's usually plain (chicken/pork, potatoes, pizza/pasta) as students are picky and usually won't eat many local foods.

Stopping at shopping excursions or restaurants that are giving the tour director kick-backs is the nature of many tour companies, not just student tours.

Passports is actually mid-range in the student tour companies (EF and Explorica are bottom of the barrel). You might get a slightly better experience with CHA-Tours (also mid-range). If you want a good student experience try ACIS, but it will cost more than those other tours as they have better hotels and include things that the other student tour companies don't (more entrances, etc., not drive-bys or extra cost excursions as much). ACIS also puts only 2-3 students in a room where other tour companies put 4-5. NETC used to be a good student tour company too, but I've seen some complaints about it the last few years.

ACIS states on their website that your hotels are where you want them to be:

***Hotels Where You Want to Be
Would you rather stay steps from the Tower of London or within earshot of Heathrow? We thought so—that’s why we have the most centrally located hotels in the business. Commuting two hours a day is a waste of your precious overseas time. And comfort is essential, which is why all of our hotels are three- and four-star rated.***

ACIS further states authentic meals:

***Authentic and Satisfying Meals
Eating the local cuisine is one of the best and most enjoyable ways to experience a new culture. With ACIS, there are endless opportunities. Paella in Spain, pasta in Italy—it’s authentic food your students will eat and enjoy. What you won’t get are pale imitations of the real thing, served at 5:00 pm seatings at suburban hotels. Leave that to the other student travel companies.***

The reason teachers use EF/Explorica/Passports, etc. is they are cheaper. The teachers can attract more students to their tours. They get a free spot for every 6 students that sign up or they can take it in cash once they've earned their own free spot.
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Old Mar 8th, 2015, 06:47 AM
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When I was helping my sister chose a tour, they all listed the hotels, even though most had a caveat regarding possible changes.

It has been my observation, that the people who complain most about travel are the inexperienced travelers. They are unaware of what to expect and often unprepared how to counter inconvenient situations.

When waiting at the TSA lines it is usually the casual traveler who grouses about this and that, the experienced traveler knows that it is PITA, but are resigned to that fact. Casual travel identified by many factors including traveling as a family.

Like most of you, we have had terrible experiences, inedible meals, horrible weather, obnoxious hospitality workers, and dangerous situations. It becomes part of the trip, the story, it depends on your disposition, your knowledge, and how narrow your perspective may be.
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Old Mar 8th, 2015, 08:04 AM
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"There is no necessity for students to be going on European tours IMO, no one ever paid for me to take vacations in Europe when I was a kid."

Quote of the day.
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