Photo courtesy Travel for Teens
Travel for Teens was founded on the proposition that while there are many travel programs for teenagers that are fun, there aren't many that will provide the experience of living like a local. That is what Travel for Teens endeavors to do.
"If someone wants to go abroad and eat at American restaurants, stay at American hotels and go with people who look just like themselves and not really experience the culture, that's just a fun trip to Europe," said Ned Clark, vice president and program director. "If want to go and really grow, and experience a new way of life, and make friends and try new experiences, then we're the right program for you."
Travel for Teens is an international tour operator that operates travel programs for teenagers in more than 40 countries on six continents. But it originated not from the tour culture, but from the camp industry.
The company was begun by Pat Maloney, a woman who had built a business as a master's level occupational therapist in the insurance industry handling workers comp case management. After 28 years in that trade, she sold her company, creating a nice nest egg upon which she could travel with her children.
Maloney fell in love with Paris, began visiting as a regular thing, returning again and again, and exploring deeper and deeper into all the fun things she and her children could do.
As word spread about Maloney's trips to Paris, more and more people wanted to join in.
"There were always more friends that wanted to go than could go," said Clark. "At one point she thought, 'Why don't I start a summer camp in Paris?' She had figured out all the fun things for her kids to do. She knew it as well as a local and she had insider access through the contacts she'd made. That was the foundation."
As it began to develop it started to shape up as something that other teenagers would profit from just as her kids had. She looked for good travel opportunities for her kids, and was disappointed with what she found.
"She looked at the models that were out there and she only saw bus tours where everyone had to do the same thing," says Clark. "They were eating at Americanized restaurants staying in Americanized hotels and there wasn't any emphasis on 'What does it mean to be Parisian?'"
Not finding what she was looking for in the market, Maloney took it upon herself to build what she had been looking for. The first summer of Paris for Teens took place in 2003. Clark joined the following January and found a perfect fit with Maloney and the company and its mission.
"We were founded upon the notion of giving students the experience of living as a local through insider access," says Clark. "There were just 40 kids the first summer. I joined just after the first summer. I was employee number three."
Clark came up with the company's slogan, its one-line summary of its mission: "Teaching Teens to be Travelers Not Tourists."
From a single summer camp to an operator in 40 countries in just over 10 years is a dizzying rate of growth. How was that accomplished?
"Our growth has been built around people and our staff who have access to insider experiences in the places where we go," says Clark. "That allows us to not just design a trip, but to design a program where everybody who goes on it, no matter where it goes, will get immersed in culture and really get to live the life of a local. We want to use insider access in all these places to go as deep into the culture as possible."
The company installs its student guests in locally owned hotels.
"We avoid big chains that are kind of soulless and full of business travelers," says Clark. "There's nothing wrong with those hotels, it's just not where we want to take a teenager to understand the culture."
Starting from Paris, the company built its programs with the intention of maintaining a consistent standard in every country where it operates. The operations are based on staff who know the destinations and have insider access that can create opportunities for true cultural immersion.
"If someone goes with us to South Africa, Paris, Costa Rica or Thailand, they are going to get a comparable experience in all those places that is defined by the culture they are in."
The company interacts with host countries, sets up dancing lessons, cooking lessons volunteer service programs. It offers trips that provide cultural explorations, opportunities to perform community service, language immersion, photography trips, and active trips.
According to its website: "We have crafted our unique programs to engender love for travel, hunger for learning, curiosity about differences, appreciation of similarities across cultures, and an understanding of what it means to be a global citizen."
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