Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Discovery Student Adventures at the Forefront of Traveler Health and Safety

Discovery Student Adventures is a member of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA). In December, USTOA held their 31st annual conference and marketplace in Banff, Alberta, Canada. The weather was incredibly cold at -22 F on Monday of the conference, and I heard the temperature had dropped to -33 F by Tuesday.

The Fairmont Banff Springs was our home from Sunday to Friday. Styled after a Scottish Baronial castle, The Fairmont Banff Springs is located in the heart of Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A small group of California tour operators founded USTOA in 1972. These founding members recognized the need for a unified voice to protect the traveling public, as well as to represent the interests of tour operators. In 1975, USTOA became a national organization with headquarters in New York.

USTOA's motto is "Integrity in Tourism." Accordingly, the association has established some of the highest standards in the industry for their members to follow. Among USTOA's goals is to foster a high level of professionalism within the tour operator industry, a vision shared by all of us here at Discovery Student Adventures.
The first few days of the conference are reserved for the annual membership meeting and the active member board of directors meeting, which are open to all active members. The majority of the second day is set aside for various workshops designed to improve the knowledge of each individual company. Selected members share their experiences and best practices with all members. The last few days of the conference are set aside for various vendors to speak to active members and share their service offerings.

Crisis Management Planning
I was invited by USTOA to present in two educational conference sessions this year. The first session was titled “Preparedness through Crisis Management Planning.” In this session, I was asked to describe our extensive on-call support system and escalation process. The on-call support system is the process we have in place to support, manage, and ultimately resolve situations that may arise while a student is traveling on one of our programs. I was joined by Rakesh Dewan, director of Worldwide Operations of Tauck World Discovery, who also shared what his organization is doing. The next portion of my presentation was designed to help educate the members on how to take an emergency response template and transform that guide into an effective formal response plan.

Minimizing H1N1's Effect on Travelers
The second training session of the day focused on the current status of the H1N1 pandemic and how organizations can better prepare to minimize the pandemic’s effect on their travelers. The session started off with a very informative global update by Dr. Grant Tarling, chief medical officer for Princess Cruises International. Dr. Tarling leads a shipboard team of 60 doctors and 150 nurses on 30 cruise ships worldwide and is responsible for the medical and public health care provided to 1 million passengers and 20,000 crew members each year. Dr. Tarling highly recommends that everyone get the H1N1 vaccination, especially those under the age of 24. I have had both the H1N1 vaccination and the normal seasonal flu shot, as have my sons and wife.

After Dr. Tarling’s presentation, it was my turn to share our plans for controlling the number of influenza cases on our programs. I explained how each member could take specific steps to help an organization better control its chances of eliminating the virus on its programs. Based on the feedback we received at the conference, I believe these presentations were timely and of great value to the active members of USTOA.

Our Focus is Health and Safety for All Travelers
Now, you may ask, “Why would Discovery Student Adventures share its secrets of success with operators who potentially compete for the same customers?” The answer is very simple; our focus is the safety and health of all travelers, whether they are traveling with us or our competition. When we have learned by experience, we feel it is our responsibility to share that information with others in our industry to make international travel safer for all. In return, others become more open to share their successes, and ultimately we end up with a very strong network of experienced, credible operators working closely together for the betterment of all travelers. We believe we need to actively pursue calibration in the industry, and USTOA clearly shares that vision with us.

Next year, USTOA will hold their 32nd annual conference in New Orleans, and we look forward to attending and sharing what we will learn in 2010. I hope we can help all travel-related organizations enhance their health and safety practices, and gain new ideas from our peers as well to ensure the safety of every People to People Ambassador Program delegate. Let’s just hope it is a little warmer then it was this year!
With that, I wish you the most exciting and safe travels.

Mike Bowers, MBA
Senior Director Safety & Health
Discovery Student Adventures

Welcome to the Discovery Student Adventures blog!

We created this blog for you, the adventurous student or teacher. Here, you’ll find travel tips and information on upcoming Discovery Student Adventures trips. Preparing for your adventure? Want to make sure you reap all the benefits? Visit our blog often to read firsthand reports from our destinations and learn more about travel, Discovery curriculum, safety and health, and global education.

All of our contributors and guest bloggers write firsthand about their DSA experiences.

This resource is for you: the traveler. Please contact us and let us know what you’d like to read— we want you to get the most from your Discovery Student Adventure.

Get ready to pack your curiosity and GO!

Anson Lee
Managing Director

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sicily's Legs

On the Italy and Greece Discovery Student Adventure, students will encounter not only people and places, but also cultures, traditions, and symbols that are a part of the destination’s true character.

The symbol for Sicily, the Trinacria or Sicilian Triangle, is a symbol you will grow accustomed to as you explore Mt. Etna and the surrounding area. You will find it proudly displayed everywhere, from parliament banners to popular souvenirs, and eventually may become very curious about what it stands for — I know I did.

There are many interesting answers to the question, and thousands of interesting Google results, however this is my favorite: the three legs symbolize the continual cycle, or running, of nature. The three legs represent the three promontories of the island; the head in the center — now reduced to a more benign, maidenly figure — once was the head of Medusa. Medusa represented the more destructive side of Athena, the patron goddess of the isle, but seemed a bit too gruesome for more modern versions. The snakes that were Medusa’s hair, which now seem to be more stylized curls, grasp sheaves of wheat to represent the fertility of the island.

The symbol itself truly represents the fertile history and experiences that you can find on Sicily, as well as the rich vibrancy of the culture.

Land of the Trulli

The Italy and Greece Discovery Student Adventure explores some of the most famous locations in the world — the Acropolis in Athens, the Colosseum in Rome, the Vatican — however, some of the lesser known sites may prove to be travelers’ favorites, such as Alberobello in Italy…

Even if this didn’t happen to be one of the most charming villages I have ever seen, and it is, it would be on my list of all-time favorite places simply because it is incredibly fun to say — Alberobello, land of the trulli! Alberobello is on Italy’s east coast, and exploring its crooked streets dotted with trulli (dome-topped stone houses) makes a great way to stretch your legs on the DSA Italy & Greece trip after the overnight ferry from Patras, Greece. The trulli are simply so unique with their whitewashed walls, conical roofs, and symbolic caps (pinnacles) that you can’t help but feel transported to some kind of storybook land — I was enthralled. Many have additional symbols painted onto the curved roofs.

After asking locals and reading a book about trulli (a lucky gift from a local contact), I learned the symbols can be apotropaic (guarding against evil) and protective in function, and vary from very primitive symbols of vines and wheat, to religious symbology with representations of Jesus, Mary, or the Holy Trinity.

Those eight-foot freehand sketches in lime are the Italian equivalent to my grandfather’s horseshoe nailed over the barn door — a good luck charm when your livelihood depends on too many factors out of your control, as farmers’ work has over countless ages.

Here’s a great site for more information on the history of Alberobello, including the reason for such unique construction techniques, on the website listing Italy’s World Heritage sites:

Passports 101

Once you have selected your destination, it’s time to get ready! Besides all the fun things you can do (learn some of the language, research destinations, buy cool travel gear), there are a few very critical items for your to do list, and right at the top should be: Get my passport!

If you already have your passport, great! Get it out and check the following:
  • Expiration Date: The U.S. State Department advises that a U.S. passport should be valid six months beyond your proposed return date. Many countries require up to six months validity before allowing entrance or issuing a visa or visitor’s permit.

  • Your Name: Be sure your passport reflects your current legal name.

  • Blank Pages: If you’re a globetrotter and are running out of blank pages, make sure to add some. Many countries require two blank pages for entry (immigration officers need the space to affix approved permits and/or stamp entry/exit stamps).

  • If you need to get your passport: Get started now! Depending on your program, we may need your passport details up to three months prior to departure. If this is the first time you will be issued a passport, start the process by first finding your state-issued birth certificate. Go to to find the appropriate offices to contact about retrieving vital records in all U.S. states and territories.

Whether you’re getting a passport for the first time, renewing your passport, or adding blank pages, the place to start is the U.S. State Department’s travel site:

Get ready to pack your curiosity and GO!

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