How could COVID-19 Affect my student tour?

Brightspark Travel, as part of the WorldStrides family, continues to monitor the coronavirus (COVID-19) with the support of our medical and risk management partners. We understand you may have questions in regards to an upcoming student tour, and we have compiled answers to frequently asked questions from Group Leaders and parents.

 

Updated August 7, 2020

Frequently Asked Questions

 
Will my tour or program be cancelled?

We continue to work with Group Leaders on a rolling basis, discussing the best contingency for each group (including the option to reschedule for future travel). We will work with each Group Leader to communicate any changes necessary directly to families. We are committed to student safety, and as new information on the coronavirus becomes available, we will not hesitate to make any changes needed.

Our new WorldClass Group Flexibility policy gives Group Leaders options for changing the dates or the destination for a trip scheduled during the 20/21 school year.

 

How are you making decisions about when and where to travel?

Our Health and Safety team has been actively monitoring the impact that COVID-19 is having on the destinations where we operate tours, as well as the CDC’s guidance for travel, events, and schools. This includes continuous communication with our many partners around the world about closures that impact our ability to deliver culturally-rich programs. Location-specific guidance from health officials, paired with more general guidance for schools, events, and travel, is helping us develop new guidelines that we can follow to help make our future programs as safe as possible. In nearly all of our program locations, we have local staff who provide additional information for consideration by our Health & Safety Team.

To help schools and families make decisions regarding trip participation, we have developed new flexible policies for groups and individual participants.

 

Can I get a refund if I need to cancel?

For groups and individual participants who canceled a trip originally scheduled for this spring or summer, we have identified generous cash refund solutions. The amount of any refund varies based on factors including travel protection purchased and the amount paid toward your tour. Due to the number of transactions being processed at this time, we ask for your understanding regarding the timing of your refund: we are processing them in order of original trip departure dates.

Note that if you cancelled at a time when Brightspark was not yet communicating the option for a cash refund, you do not need to contact us to update your account. The refund will be returned on the same method of payment by which you paid.

For groups scheduled this fall and beyond, our new WorldClass Flexibility policies help protect your investment:

  • Group Leaders can change tour dates or destinations up to 45 days prior to departure for domestic tours and 60 days prior for international tours. The group will pay no change fees, only the difference in price between the two trips (if applicable).
  • For participants whose 2020 trip was rescheduled due to COVID-19, our significantly-reduced cancellation penalties will remain in place for the 20/21 school year. Participants have until 151 days (about 5 months) before departure to take advantage of that policy. After that time, we’ll begin making non-refundable bookings on your behalf, and our standard cancellation policies will apply.
  • Should closures, government regulations, or travel restrictions due to COVID-19 prevent your trip, your Group Leader can move or postpone the tour or choose to cancel the trip. If your trip is cancelled, special COVID-19 cancellation fees will apply.
  • Participants who register early for a trip in the 21/22 school year or later could be eligible for our No-Risk Guarantee.
  • If you added Refund Guarantee Protection to your trip, you'll receive a full refund of all tour payments (less the cost of the protection plan) should a trip be cancelled for any reason.

Find more details here.


What are your non-recoverable costs?

The small percentage that we have not returned as part of our refunds helps to cover some of our non-recoverable costs. Many of you have asked what these costs are. Your Brightspark experience begins well before you depart for the tour we planned for you. Many of you have likely interacted with our experienced and dedicated full-time staff. Our teams work with teachers to select the itinerary that matches your groups’ needs, help our customers navigate flexible payment options, and of course, find and book travel components like hotels and airline tickets that make the experience possible.

The timing of the spread of the coronavirus was challenging, since all of these investments were made with the expectation of an exciting tour season. These internal and external costs, along with some unrecoverable payments we made to vendors, far exceed the money we will collect this year.

This helpful resource from the Student & Youth Travel Association sheds light on the group travel booking process.

 

Why can't my refund be processed and sent immediately?

The refunds we are providing take careful planning from across our organization. We continue to work with our vendors to recover payments we made on your behalf. Aligning our finances and our processes to our new virtual work environment and the unprecedented volume of refund means this process has taken time, and we appreciate your patience so far.

We have provided millions of dollars in refunds to tens of thousands of families already, and expect to do so for tens of thousands more this summer and fall.

Unfortunately, our systems were not designed for this situation, and we’ve worked hard to adjust. Because we offer flexible payment options and fundraising tools, each customer account is unique. Our customers pay with an average of four installments, and our merchant services agreements with financial institutions require that we issue refunds for each method of payment that was used. This work requires specialists who assess and refund each account by hand to ensure we provide the refund you are anticipating. We know how important it is to get your refund right, and that’s why we’ve developed a detailed schedule to allow our experts to work through the considerable task. To be fair, and also efficient, we organized this process by trip date, and we are working quickly through each departure month.

 

I am having a difficult time reaching customer service. What do I do?

We apologize we aren’t able to offer prompt customer service. As you might expect, our phone lines and inboxes are experiencing an unprecedented level of inquiries regarding the status of refunds and future travel. Please know that we are doing everything we can to provide the best service possible. Here are some suggestions that will help us help you:

  • Reach out regarding urgent needs. If your situation is not urgent, we recommend contacting our Customer Support team at a later time when we can better assist you. 

  • Group or individual question? Because our work is highly customized to each group, we work through the teacher or school associated with each trip on high-level decisions like a new date for travel. If your questions are related to a group decision, we recommend reaching out to your Group Leader, who will work with our team to confirm information and share with you.

  • Communicate via one channel. If possible, we recommend using one channel of communication to reach us, so that we can make sure to address your needs most effectively. If we cannot respond with full answers promptly, we will communicate a time frame within which we plan to respond.
If the tour or event I'm signed up for changes, what would that look like?

Our team is actively working to identify health and safety plans for travel programs and events in a new world with COVID-19 considerations. Our “Back-to-Travel” task force is meeting regularly to evaluate changes that might be necessary and prudent for this era, including adjustments to our traditional way of doing things that allow for a focus on hygiene and social distancing.

Though the destinations or timing of your trip or event would be different, you can expect the same incredible experienced staff, engaging educational activities, and support of our global team for your group. We will determine tour dates and location, in collaboration with your Group Leader, and each decision will be unique to your group.

Some other actions we are taking include:

  • Contacting our motor coach, hotel, and restaurant partners to understand what additional measures they are considering to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Procuring supplies like hand sanitizer and masks to use in the future.
  • Developing additional training for our staff, addressing a range of topics related to hygiene, prevention, and response in this era.

In consultation with our Medical Director, Dr. Neal Sikka, who leads our Doctors on Call program from The George Washington University Department of Emergency Medicine, we’ve revised our health and safety protocols, outlining how to immediately engage our resources if COVID-19 is suspected. This includes developing specific plans for how we work with Doctors on Call in this scenario and outlining how to engage local health professionals to determine if other steps are necessary.

 

What can I do to stay healthy?

To keep yourself and others safe and healthy: ​

  • Comply with special instructions issued by local officials, including social distancing and wearing a mask when in public.
  • Adhere to known, effective best practices to minimize your chance of catching respiratory infections:
    • Do not touch any part of your face without first washing your hands.
    • Avoid contact with persons who are already ill.
    • Avoid unnecessary touching of other persons (e.g. shaking hands in greeting) and limit touching publicly-shared surfaces where possible. 
    • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
    • Carry hand sanitizer (60-95% alcohol) and use it for situations where hand washing might not be possible.
    • When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue or in your elbow.

Should you have further questions, please contact us