Interview by Kapila Bandara
7th June, 2018
An experienced American educator who has been accompanying Hong Kong school students on memorable and enriching trips for more than a decade, is providing enthusiastic explorers the opportunity to create their own special travel experiences from more than 130 custom-designed itineraries tailor-made for students.
Edward Hepting, who heads the well-established Educational Travel Consultancy, is a meticulous planner and is also an expert photographer with an unflagging curiosity.
He has a painter’s eye for aesthetics and a writer’s passion for story-telling through his photography, which match his love of exploring destinations of a lifetime.
Hepting understands that travel can teach students about the world that no amount of classroom lessons can.
The consultancy combines the experience and expertise of four travel companies to propose, organize and deliver exciting itineraries, which for many students, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Hepting does not make any assumptions about student travelers, choosing instead to create specific itineraries that fulfil their wishes.
“We have more than 130 customized itineraries for students. These include action and service trips, adventure trips, art trips, city itineraries, heritage and cultural experiences, and summer adventures,” Hepting says. “Unlike other companies, we use these itineraries as the starting point for schools to tell us what they want.’’
The Educational Travel Consultancy allows schools to add features to the itinerary or delete items that don’t resonate with them. “If a school would like to add a cultural activity in an evening, or a visit to a particular museum or factory, or if they would like to integrate with students at a local school in the country they are visiting, or participate in an activity involving some sort of service, this can be added to the program. By the same token, we can remove features that the school may not wish to include.’’
Hepting says that pricing is based on services and amenities the school chooses to include in a program. “While other companies give a single blanket costing for their trips, the Educational Travel Consultancy takes the time to source the right accommodations, the type of meals, and the suitability of guides for each trip according to the needs of the school. This can range from dormitory-style accommodation to a deluxe four star hotel. If the school does not need a swimming pool, or a business center in the accommodation, this will reduce the costing, as well.’’
The trips include buffet breakfasts, but dinners can range from a simple meal in the hotel, to a dinner in a typical restaurant with local ethnic cuisine and perhaps even entertainment such as costumed folk dancers and musicians, and so on, he explains.
“We can also provide trips in which the students can participate in a cooking class where they will learn how to prepare food that is typical of the country they are visiting.”
Additionally, guides and escorts, as well as local transportation will have a bearing on the costing.
Hepting says that some groups choose not to have a guide, preferring to use their own teacher escorts, instead. Some groups prefer to use local public transportation rather than a designated coach. All of these factors will affect the costs. “As all of our trips can be taken year-round, the client has many more options from which to choose. Hotel rates and ground transport costs fluctuate throughout the year depending upon the season, just as airfares do. But we will work with the client to find the plan that works best for their budget.”
The Educational Travel Consultancy collaborates with Aristotle Travel, Cosmo Incentive, Cultural Vacations and Safaris, and Snow Leopard.
These companies are managed by travel trade veterans with more than 30 years each of experience in working with schools and designing trips for students. “We have been working together for the past fourteen years in Hong Kong. Having traveled and escorted student groups around the world for many years myself, I feel confident in working closely with schools and understanding their particular needs,’’ Hepting says. “I also believe that the Educational Travel Consultancy offers schools among the finest travel experiences available for their students. We are also very careful in selecting the suppliers we work with … All our programs are monitored closely for safety, cleanliness, suitability of accommodation, local cuisine, professional and experienced guides, licensed transport suppliers, access to local medical facilities, and value-for-money.
Hepting is also developing specialized programs with specific themes, for example, sports trips, theater-drama trips, and Christian-themed itineraries for church groups. Trips are available for groups interested in the 2020 Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany. “We already have three different itineraries that include the Passion Play as well as some of the most beautiful parts of Austria and southern Germany,’’ Hepting explains.
Over the years, Hepting has accompanied students to many destinations that are sought-after for various reasons.
There are several destinations that are in demand.
“Cost-conscious schools are turning to destinations closer to Hong Kong to save on airfares. One of our most popular and frequently requested destinations is Sri Lanka. It’s a scenically beautiful country with diverse environments – everything from tropical rainforest to breathtaking mountains and historical, ancient cities. There are many opportunities for service activities, and the destination is not expensive. We also have a large variety of service-oriented trips in China and Southeast Asia,’’ Hepting says.
“For those schools who prefer to travel further afield, we have found that Europe is often the first choice because of its diversity of cultures and heritage, as well as its convenience and easy accessibility. Our experience has shown that many schools prefer the countries of Eastern Europe, as they are still somewhat unfamiliar to travelers from Hong Kong, and they provide a less expensive alternative to the more familiar regions. In this respect, the Czech Republic has been our most popular and successful destination for several years already. The country has a high number of cultural, heritage, and historical attractions, plenty of outdoor activities, a mild climate, an excellent and convenient location in the heart of Europe, and a very welcoming people.’’
For students of ancient history, Greece and Italy are also very popular, with many different itineraries highlighting everything from art to theater studies, Hepting suggests.
“In Africa, South Africa and Tanzania are often selected. South Africa offers students a look at Africa’s most developed country with many different educational and service opportunities in a setting unlike any other country. Tanzania, of course, is more rural and still developing. It offers many service opportunities as well as animals one associates with safaris.’’
North America is always popular as an English-speaking destination, Hepting assures. “The Educational Travel Consultancy offers a variety of different experiences…..whether horseback riding and white water rafting in Yellowstone National Park or visiting the Amish community in Pennsylvania, attending a robotics course at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, or visiting the scenic Oregon Coast, our American adventures are always a hit with the younger students.’’
South America is our newest destination, Hepting reveals. “For several years, we offered trips to Mexico. These were very successful and well-received. But recently, we have operated school trips to Argentina, Peru, and Brazil. These are a little more challenging, but greatly rewarding experiences for the participants. They have proven to be very popular as well, but are a little more expensive because of the distance involved in reaching them.’’
Hepting is also very excited about his newest project to develop specialized itineraries for students interested in music and/or performing arts, and itineraries featuring various aspects of science and technology. “We are also developing a special itinerary for students with an interest in computer and I.T. careers.” Hands-on activities are always an important element in each of the itineraries.
This year also saw the development of trips designed for students planning to study abroad, with itineraries featuring university visits in the United States, England, Scotland, and Ireland. These flexible itineraries can be adjusted by schools who wish to give prospective students an opportunity to experience the foreign universities their students are interested in attending.
Educational Travel Consultancy can be reached by phone, 5116-0464, or by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org The firm will send a CD with all the trip itineraries and a short questionnaire for those interested to complete and return. The questionnaire helps the travel firm to design the trip that specifically fits the needs of the school. And whenever schools request, Hepting undertakes a special informative presentation for the school with no obligation.
Hong Kong students were in awe when Hepting led the first group to see the marvel of Machu Picchu in Peru.
Hong Kong students enjoying the challenge of whitewater rafting in Yellowstone National Park with Edward Hepting
Greeting Dr. Menarques from the Padre Damian School in Barcelona, Spain during one of the school integration trips
One of Hepting’s favorite and most frequently visited destinations for students, Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic
Building a school for an impoverished district in rural Tanzania, the first community service trip organized by Hepting
Arriving at the summit of Haleakala volcano on Maui, Hawaii on the first adventure trip organized by Hepting
An excursion near the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia to study Khmer architecture, art, and history
Making a speech at an underprivileged school in Istanbul, Turkey, in which Hong Kong students donated books, supplies, musical instruments, and other educational materials
Exploring the Canadian Rockies on the Educational Travel Consultancy’s first educational trip to western Canada
At a televised press conference with the Minister of Tourism in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
With one of the Educational Travel Consultancy’s expert guides, Irmtraud Lambertsen, in front of the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany
Presenting a music award to a local singer during a music festival in Maui, Hawaii
The Educational Travel Consultancy’s first student trip to Venice when the water was at high tide
The Taj Mahal – an absolute “must see” for any group visiting India
Taking a break in front of Wyoming’s Grand Tetons
Time to enjoy the Alpine scenery and beautiful setting of King Ludwig’s Schloss Linderhof in Bavaria, Germany
Participating in one of the community service projects organized by the Educational Travel Consultancy under the auspices of Vatsalya, an Indian service organization
Another favorite destination, this time Florence, when leading an art history trip through Italy
Cooking up a storm in Cape Town, South Africa
Along the embankment of the Moscow River with the Kremlin behind
Contemplating the color white in Santorini, during a student trip to Greece
Hepting’s second public photo exhibition in Hong Kong in 2014 in which more than 900 of his images from student trips around the world were displayed
Some of Hepting’s images of the Czech Republic in the 2014 photograph exhibition
Contemplating a trip to Russia?