Going Places Educational Travel Blog - A Brief History of the Educational Travel Industry
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June 16, 2016

A Brief History of the Educational Travel Industry

educational travel industry

The U.S. educational travel industry had religious 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. Two astute Mormon businessmen produced the Foreign Language League (FLL), later to be renamed the Foreign Study League (FSL) and thousands of high school and college students traveled with “the League” to Europe. 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).

Educational Travel Industry: 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 (founder of Passports Educational Group Travel), who brought the thriving young student travel business to Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he taught Philosophy until 1972. Most of the companies existing in the educational travel industry 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.

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 educational travel industry, captained ACIS for nearly 20 years, ceding executive responsibility in 1997 to former ALSG sales star, Peter Jones.

ACIS, still an educational travel industry leader today, was purchased by AIFS in 1987, but not before spawning AET (American Educational Travel). AET is no longer in existence, but certain of its former ALSG-trained staff, created a new company called NETC (National Educational Travel Council). In 2012, NETC joined educational travel industry leader Worldstrides and became known as WorldStrides International Discovery Programs. 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 midseventies, and offering quality, “budget-priced” overseas tours, were CHA (Cultural Heritage Alliance) owned by a well-known educator from Philadelphia and EF-Educational Tours, owned by a successful Swedish entrepreneur. Bertil Hult, the Swedish entrepreneur is currently represented in the U.S. educational travel industry by his Cambridge-based and talented EF board member, Martha Doyle.

Another ALSG spin off was a company called Voyageur, also based in Massachusetts, led by two former ALSG staffers Paul Colella and 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.

In 1988, ALSG was taken over by AAI (Access America, Inc). AAI sold the assets of ALSG to a U.K firm in 1991, which operated that company in Cambridge, Massachusetts (with very few original ALSG staff members on board) until June 3, 1993, when a major default in the delivery of travel services occurred.

educational travel industry 

Dedication to the Educational Travel Industry

In 1992, ALSG’s founder Gil Markle banded together with several former colleagues and created Passports Educational Group Travel. The company, now an established educational travel industry leader, is headquartered in Spencer, Massachusetts*, and 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 Gibson, an early employee of Passports, had worked previously at Markle’s recording studio, and subsequently at ALSG as an Admissions Coordinator. He left Passports in 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 was acquired in August 2004 by their former competitor, EF. eTrav currently exists on the EF website as a name only, and Mike Eizenberg is no longer involved. In 2000, the first EF offspring company called Explorica, founded by former EF president Olle Olsson, joined the student travel scene in Boston. Explorica was acquired by Worldstrides in early 2016.

The founder of The European Institute, a Boston company created in 2001, Paul Clarke, traces his career in the educational travel industry back to the years he spent as an overseas courier and sales manager at ALSG.

Educational travel industry pioneer Gil Markle brought together many of the legacy ALSG personalities mentioned above in 2002, 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 their shared ALSG heritage provided the conceptual backdrop.


 *In 2017, Passports moved to nearby Auburn, Massachusetts.

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passports Educational Group Travel partners with teachers across the United States to provide high-quality educational travel experiences to their students. Educational tours visit destinations around the world - primarily France, Italy, England, Spain and Costa Rica - at low, guaranteed prices.

Passports, Inc., ToursOperators & Promoters, Spencer, MA


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