Should we go to America?

28th September 2001 at 01:00
Transatlantic trips have become hugely popular with school parties, now their organisers have a tough decision to make. Phil Revell reports

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have created a dilemma for hundreds of British schools that have arranged transatlantic trips. They must decide whether to go ahead with the journeys or cancel and accept huge losses.

The Foreign Office is not advising against travel to the United States, which limits the options open to schools. Most would face heavy financial penalties if they decided to cancel their booking.

Costs for a US trip begin at around pound;350 a head. Travel-bonding schemes, such as the one operated by the Association of British Travel Agents, offer protection if an airline or travel company ceases trading. But there is no protection for this kind of eventuality.

Nevertheless, one or two independent schools have cancelled planned trips and others are trying to postpone their departure dates. Oundle is one of the independent schools to opt for cancellation. The Peterborough school decided not to go ahead with an art trip to New York during the October half-term "because we felt it inappropriate in these uncertain times".

America has become a popular destination in recent years. There are music and arts tours and sightseeing trips. Hundreds of schools visit New York, and the twin towers of the World Trade Center have been on most of the itineraries.

"We were there in May," said Tony Evans, head of music at Allhallows Catholic high school near Preston. "And we are due to go again in October."

Mr Evans runs a split-site tour to New York and Washington that allows the school band to play venues such as Central Park, Capitol Hill and the Lincoln Memorial. Allhallows is booked with EST Travel, part of the NST group and Britain's biggest school-travel company. "We have 56 groups due to travel between now and Christmas," said its managing director Mark Sanders.

EST responded quickly to the attacks, faxing advice to schools and parents the next day. This has been followed up with a daily bulletin. At present, the company is not advising schools to cancel trips scheduled for this term. "We have representatives and agents based on the spot," says Mr Sanders. "They tell us that most venues and activities are accessible and there is no issue of safety."

In Preston, Tony Evans has canvassed opinion among the 44 teachers and parents with places booked.

"Initially, people wanted to cancel out of respect," he said. "They didn't want to intrude on a city in mourning.One or two have said that they are not going to be put off by the terrorists. We've got to make a decision in the next two weeks."

Chris Barson is head of sociology at Church Hill school in Bristol and is due to fly to New York with a group of 43 sixth-formers next month. "We were going to go to the top of the twin towers," he said. Mr Barson is another trip organiser waiting on events.

"No one can guarantee your safety. People are understandably nervous, but if the company say it's OK, we will almost certainly go."

USEFUL WEBSITES

New York City website with emergency information

http:home.nyc.govportalindex.jsp?pageID=nyc_home

The Insider - a travel website with information on attractions and events in New York:

http:www.TheInsider.comnycindex.html

Foreign Office travel advice can be found on its website: http:www.fco.gov.uktext_onlytravel

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