A brief history of the American student travel industry
47 years, and still counting!
Religious beginnings Travel historians will note that the present "alphabet soup" of American student travel companies had its beginnings in the 'sixties at the hands of the elders of the Mormon Church, in Salt Lake City, who for long had sponsored the travel of young people overseas for missionary purposes.
The industry A secularization of this idea by two astute Mormon businessmen produced the Foreign Language League (FLL), later to be renamed the Foreign Study League (FSL). Thousands of high school and college students traveled with "the League" to Europe, using then-brand-new Boeing 707 and DC-8 jet aircraft.
Thousands more traveled with a competitor company created in Cincinnati, Ohio by two Proctor & Gamble breakaway executives called the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS).
A concept perfected... ALSG (the American Leadership Study Groups) was created in 1965 by a Yale University graduate student and former Fulbright Scholar, Gil Markle, who a year later brought the thriving young business to Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he was to teach Philosophy until 1972.
...and emulated Most of the student travel companies in existence today were actual spin offs from, or substantially influenced by, ALSG, which had developed a reputation for imaginative teaching techniques overseas, and lively travel itineraries.1
ACIS (American Council for International Studies) was created in 1978 by a former philosophy student of Markle's, Mike Eizenberg, who had worked creatively at ALSG for many years. Eizenberg, one of the most influential personalities in the American student travel industry, captained ACIS for nearly 20 years, ceding executive responsibility in 1997 to former ALSG sales star, Peter Jones. ACIS, still an industry leader today, was purchased by AIFS (see above) in 1987, but not before spawning AET (American Educational Travel).
AET is no longer in existence, but certain of its former (ALSG-trained) staff have created a new company called NETC (National Educational Travel Council), which is based in Boston.
The once active CSI (Cultural Studies International) and Ciao! (a fourth generation descendant) also traced their history to ALSG. Neither company is in existence today.
Increasingly active during the mid-seventies, and offering quality, "budget-priced" overseas tours, were CHA (Cultural Heritage Alliance) and EF-Educational Tours, the first owned by a well-known educator from Philadelphia; the second by a successful Swedish entrepreneur. (Gus Falcione, the Philadelphia-based owner of CHA, died in 2003, leaving the operation of his company in family hands; Bertil Hult, the Swedish entrepreneur, is alive and well, currently represented in the US student travel industry by his Cambridge-based and talented EF board member, Martha Doyle.)
Subsequent events In 1988, shortly after the "terrorism jitters" and the American bombing of Tripoli, ALSG was taken over by Access America, Inc. (AAI), a for-profit subsidiary of two East Coast Blue Cross & Blue Shield insurance "plans." AAI sold the assets of ALSG to a U.K firm in 1991, which operated that company from a Cambridge, Massachusetts address, although with very few original ALSG staff members on board, until June 3, 1993, when a major default in the delivery of travel services occurred.
Another ALSG spin off is a company called Voyageur, also based in Massachusetts, led by ALSG's former computer guru, Paul Colella, and another former ALSG staffer, Joey Cancelmo. The company operated successfully until May 12, 2009, when in a recessionary environment bankruptcy was declared. Another such spin off is the meticulous boutique Travel By Design, founded by the former ALSG staffer and travel writer, Liz Lalos.
New in '92... ALSG's founder, Gil Markle, who left the company in May of 1990, banded together with several former colleagues in 1992, and created passports. The company is headquartered in Spencer, Massachusetts, and now sponsors the overseas travel of several thousand American students and teachers each year. Experienced teachers frequently compare passports to the ALSG of the seventies and the eighties.
Jim "Nibby" Gibson, an early employee of passports, had worked previously at Markle's recording studio, and subsequently at ALSG as an Admissions Coordinator. He left passportsin 1994 to start a competitor travel company called Global Vistas. Global Vistas filed for bankruptcy protection in May, 2004.
In 1999, Mike Eizenberg (mentioned above as an original ALSG veteran who left the company to help form ACIS, but who left that company in 1997) created a new Boston-based travel company called eTrav (Educational Travel Alliance). eTrav's final alliance (August, 2004) was strategic in nature, and involved eTrav's former competitor, EF. eTrav currently exists on the EF website as a name only, and Mike Eizenberg is no longer involved.
Relatively new (2000) on the "stutrav" scene in Boston is the first EF offspring company called Explorica. The web site is excellent, the dot-com aspirations of this firm are courageous, and the founder of the company is the former president of EF, Olle Olsson.
Newer still (2001) is The European Institute. Paul Clarke, a founder of this Boston company, traces his career in the student travel industry back, through NETC, to the years he spent as an overseas courier and sales manager at ALSG.
Many of the legacy ALSG personalities mentioned above were recently (2002) brought together for the first time in twenty years in some cases at a gala gathering commemorating passports tenth anniversary. A Boston harbor cruise provided the physical setting; the persistence and pervasiveness of the shared ALSG heritage provided the conceptual backdrop.
1A recent (1998) PhD doctoral dissertation traces this influence. Cf., Lyle, L.G., The Performance of Industry Culture. Knoxville: University of Tennessee.