Introducing…The Travel Advisory Group!

Introducing…The Travel Advisory Group!

AFS-USA established the National Council, Advisory Groups, and Committees to create a space where AFS volunteers and staff can work together to address organizational needs and/or challenges from a national perspective. These national volunteer groups are forums where AFS staff and volunteers representing different areas of expertise, knowledge, skills, and talents can review different areas of the organization and develop recommendations for how we can improve the processes, tools, and/or resources needed to effectively deliver and support our AFS programs, volunteers, communities, and participants. The article below introduces one of the groups.

The Travel Advisory Group (TAG) of the National Council seeks to provide a seamless and integrated arrival and departure experience for our hosted students, volunteers, and staff. Over the past several years, AFS-USA shifted its travel operation from a gateway model to “through-ticketing,” where AFS partner countries  book international and US domestic flights on one itinerary. This model allows for a more direct travel experience where hosted students arrive and depart to and from a local airport two to two and half hours of their host community. This has revolutionized the experience for all stakeholders involved. The benefits are huge, but the change hasn’t come without challenges.

To start with, let’s discuss some of the benefits of through-ticketing. For the vast majority of our students who get booked directly to their final destination with fewer layovers along the way: luggage is more likely to arrive when they do, without extra baggage fees, and they themselves spend far less total time in transit, so they aren’t as exhausted when they arrive. For the enthusiastic host parents: they get to pick up their new family member sooner, welcoming and beginning to integrate them into their family right away, which aids enormously in bonding. Since the arrival is timed to coincide with the student’s start of the school year, the student will miss less school if theirs is one that starts earlier than the norm. Because AFS-USA can avoid expensive Gateway Arrival and Departure events, the organization saves a prodigious amount of money than can be better utilized elsewhere in the organization.

In order to facilitate the work that needs to be done with each area team throughout the year, an exciting new year-round volunteer position has been developed: Travel Representative! The Travel Representative position coordinates with Orientation, Support, and Hosting functions on the team to ensure that each hosted student, natural family, host family, and liaison is always supported and knowledgeable about the student’s travel needs and expectations. The Travel Representative also coordinates with Travel staff to ensure that all travel updates are communicated as rapidly as possible to everyone who needs to know.

While the official job description for the Travel Representative can be found here, there a few useful notes to be added. First, one of the early tasks the Travel Representative should tackle is recruiting other volunteers to help with airport duties. Among other things, being an airport volunteer is fun; there’s a low investment in terms of training and experience required; and it’s a great entry-level task for volunteers. And did I mention it’s fun? It really is!

It’s also important to keep in mind that like most key volunteer positions within AFS, the Travel Representative role, which does require a little more training and skill, can be shared between volunteers who communicate and work well together. To volunteer to be a Travel Representative, please contact your Area Team Chair, Volunteer Coordinator, or check with your team’s designated Travel & Logistics Staff (found on your MyAFS Portal under the Staff tab of Volunteers and Staff).

While every team that hosts or sends should recruit a Travel Representative to help manage the travel-related details for its students, teams based near international airports like Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Dallas/Ft. Worth, are also expected to step up to help with students transiting through their region as well, and are encouraged to develop a larger team of airport volunteers who can step up throughout the year on an on call basis when students need support while transiting through their airport.

For additional information about the Travel Advisory Group, including its current membership and key goals going forward, please see the Travel Advisory Group page in Help & Learning found here.