Colleges and universities would like nothing better than for alumni and friends to take the school’s name, colors and reputation on the road around the country and the world. And millions of travelers who love their alma maters are happy to do just that. Alumni travel members meet new people, see new places and sometimes write gift checks to schools that keep them connected and engaged.
Virginia Tech University
Virginia Tech’s travel program began in the 1970s and has surged lately, according to Gwen Harrington, a Tech travel manager. The Blacksburg, Virginia, school’s program is open to Hokie alumni and friends. The goal is commitment.
Tech uses travel vendors geared to alumni groups like Go Next or Alumni Holidays. The most popular type of travel alumni is cruises. Land excursions are down, said Harrington.
“It’s the economy,” he said.” Go Next works a lot with Oceania, which includes air in its pricing. Alumni may feel they’re getting a better deal. It’s also because you drop your suitcase in one spot and go to all these destinations.”
People are more apt to travel to many different locations if they’re not bedding down in each one; there’s less hotel hopping. They stay put but still see a lot.
“All trips have a reception and/or dinner,” Harrington said. “We’ll ask the group to pose with our flag or banner and take pictures. We give alumni opportunities to network. Some want to be part of the group; others do not. When we send someone from the university, we connect with everyone several times to foster the Hokie spirit.”
Occasionally, Tech’s president or a dean will go. Professor Bud Robertson, a respected Civil War expert, took a Mississippi River cruise to discuss the region and its connection to that war.
Harrington networks with other college travel planners. On a Tahiti trip, there were other travel directors like her on the trip. They dined together to talk shop and exchange ideas.
East Texas Baptist University
The Traveling Tigers from Marshall, Texas, have a motto: Go, Grow, Glow. They do exactly that, said Paul Tapp, director of alumni development, who began the program.
“We’re in university advancement. I guess we have ulterior motives, but we think they’re of the highest quality,” he joked. “We try to foster opportunities for good fellowship and relationships. We want travelers to connect and keep loyalty fires burning.”
The travel program keeps alumni aware of the school, its president and its top leadership. University staff come along to deliver updates.
The program has no budget.
“We rely on numbers,” said Tapp. “If we get one free trip for every eight or 15 people booked, we take it. If total bookings are small, no university rep will go.”
The program mixes domestic and international travel. Trips have included Cozumel, Mexico; Alaska’s Inside Passage; the Canadian Rockies; and Switzerland and Austria. A group did the 2010 Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, and then continued to Prague, Budapest and Vienna. There’s been an African safari. One domestic trip allowed east Texans the chance to see the ranch lands of west Texas, a real change of pace.
“That was one of our most popular trips,” Tapp said. “Everyone had a blast.”
One program goal was to attract 1980s alumni. They weren’t giving or attending homecoming. Tapp arranged a Cozumel cruise.
“We booked 16 but they were all gray-headed — not ’80s grads. To this day, we haven’t had a single person from the ’80s travel with us.”
Tapp has learned his constituency.
“It’s retired seniors who’ve raised families and who’ve got good disposable income and health.”
University of Findlay
In Central Ohio, the University of Findlay just began a travel program and is learning the ropes.
“Our first trip is Germany’s Christmas Classics Market Tour,” said Dee Dee Spraw, alumni center director. “We have 12 passengers so far, and I’m thrilled. You’ve got to start somewhere.” The next trip is to Costa Rica.
Spraw attended a major travel conference to learn about travel programs. She asked others for recommendations for travel companies and how to get started. A big challenge was finding time. The travel program is but a fraction of her overall job duties. That’s why she chose a partner: Collette.
“They’ve been wonderful about getting travel brochures to me, meeting with me and answering my frantic phone calls,” she said.
Spraw asked for trips that would “wow my people” and earn her trust and respect from travelers.
“If I take them on a trip and it’s horrible, I have to start again at ground zero,” she said.
The university will offer one domestic and one international trip per year.