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Insider Knowledge: Why STC Expeditions Uses In-Country Leaders

Insider Knowledge: Why STC Expeditions Uses In-Country Leaders

Here at STC Expeditions we’re proud to have a fair bit of experience in travelling around the world, taking school groups on eye-opening adventures. We know a lot about the countries we visit and we have International Mountain Leaders, D of E trainers and safety management experts on our team. We even have an ex-commando, for goodness sake. And yet, we’re acutely aware that we don’t know it all. Yes, experience and qualifications will stand us in good stead, but they don’t beat proper, on-the-ground, born-and-bred understanding of a destination. The sort of knowledge, say, a local might have.

That’s why, when you and your students travel with STC Expeditions, you’ll be travelling with one of our local, in-country leaders. Someone who knows the country from top to bottom, speaks the local languages (as well as yours), understands the customs and cultures, can navigate the terrain, show you the wildlife and explain the food. They’ll have at least three years guiding experience, clean references, background checks and relevant first-aid qualifications. They’ll also have gone through our own in-house training programme. From where we stand, these are the people best qualified to show you their country inside out, while making sure your expedition ticks all of the adventure, experience, safety and education boxes.

So, you might ask, why don’t all school travel and expedition companies employ in-country leaders? You might not be surprised to learn it’s a bureaucratic thing. Most school expedition companies are members of the Expedition Providers’ Association (EPA), and EPA’s rules are rigid. They state that in order to lead a UK school expedition, a leader must hold a UK Mountain Leader (ML) qualification. Even if the expedition they’re leading to some far-flung country goes nowhere near a mountain. It goes without saying that the vast majority of in-country leaders don’t hold an ML. Why would they? It’s a UK qualification designed for UK mountains.

If we were going for a hike on Dartmoor or Cairngorm, we wouldn’t get someone from Dar-es-Salaam or Caracas to show us the way. Likewise, when we organise your trip to Ghana, we don’t send someone who trained on Ben Nevis to lead you. Instead, we arrange for a local expert to take the reins. And you can be certain we’ve vetted them, scrutinised their qualifications and trained them in our procedures. You can also be certain they have all the backup they need from our full time in-country operations team as well as the STC team back at home. We’ve gone for belt and braces, you see. To maintain our safety management and leadership to the highest standard, we abide by British Standard 8848 and are externally audited to this standard every year. And the feedback we get from students tells us our ‘going local’ approach is a definite winner. In 2017, our local leaders averaged an overall feedback rating of 9.74 out of 10 from our students. Pretty impressive, huh?

There are lots of brilliant, knowledgeable and inspiring UK-based expedition leaders out there and we’re certainly not knocking them. But we have a number of responsibilities and we take them all seriously. Firstly, school expeditions aren’t cheap, so we want you and your students to squeeze every last drop of experience and learning out of what will hopefully be the first of many ‘trips of a lifetime’. Secondly, we respect the local cultures in the destinations we visit and don’t presume we know more about them than someone who was born there. Thirdly, responsible tourism is at the core of our ethos. By hiring and training local leaders we’re helping them to make a living, and by doing so we’re directly investing in the local economy.

Still with us? We hope so. It’s the future of school expeditions and you can get it now with STC Expeditions.

Click to find out more about our in-country leaders and our responsible travel policy.