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category:School Group Tours

ABTA’s role in the Brexit negotiations

Two tour managers from ACFEA, Becky Shaftoe and Dan Porterfield, recently attended the School Travel Forum AGM in Birmingham. John de Vial, ABTA Director of Financial Protection and Financial Services, gave an excellent presentation on Brexit and the UK travel industry.  ABTA is working hard with the UK government, and across Europe, to secure the best possible outcome for the travelling public as the UK departs the European Union. ABTA is lobbying to safeguard our transport links, including our air routes, and protect valuable consumer rights. Post-Brexit, it is important that travellers continue to enjoy visa-free travel and access reciprocal healthcare arrangements currently offered by the European Health Insurance Card.

Whilst there is still much uncertainty in the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the UK government is advising passengers to have 6 months passport validity for travel to Schengen areas beyond 29 March 2019.  As always, it is essential that passengers continue to take out adequate travel insurance in addition to carrying an EHIC.

ABTA has produced several reports on Brexit and the UK travel industry which may be accessed here:
https://www.abta.com/industry-zone/policy-and-regulation/brexit-and-uk-travel-industry 

 

 

 

Published: 14 January 2019

An adventure in Transylvania

Site inspections are always full of excitement and the trip with the London Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO) was no different. As a first time visitor I was constantly stunned by the beauty of the landscape, the variety of food and how warm and hospitable the locals were. 

We landed after midnight at a regional airport (to applause from the plane…) and sped through the streets of Sibiu to the hotel. Early next morning we visited our first concert venue, walking through the Christmas markets of this former European Capital of Culture and arrived to the sound of the Sibiu Philharmonic rehearsing Spartacus by Khachaturian. There followed our first long drive of the trip seeing many a horse and cart along the way. 

The next stop on our adventure was the tiny Saxon village of Malancrav where we visited one of many fortified churches in Transylvania with original pre-Reformation frescoes and the wonderful Apafi Mansion. Then it was on to Sighișoara, the birthplace of Dracula, where we climbed to the church atop the hill and had a lovely dinner just a short walk from Dracula’s house!

The next day we decided to take a “shortcut” from Sighișoara to Brașov and ended up on uneven country lanes with the snow falling around us – the car got quite grubby but we had beautiful views of the countryside and spotted some wildlife. We also managed a brief stop at the castle stronghold of Făgăraș where we were allowed to take the throne for a few minutes. It was very cold in the gothic Black Church in Brașov (so named because the roof and exterior walls and roof were blackened from a great fire in 1689) so we retreated to a restaurant for dinner where we were instructed to try the local tipple called palinka – a traditional fruit brandy – which was very strong but delicious!

On our final day we made the long journey to Bucharest this time stopping in Sinia for a view of the magnificent Peleș Castle as well as coffee and a cake. In Bucharest we took a tour of the Athenaeum, a landmark of the Romanian capital city (see first and last image) and afterwards I tried another traditional Romanian dish (essentially cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat) which was very nice indeed.

So ended the site inspection to Romania. LSSO's tour in July of this year was a great success, their performances were received by appreciative audiences and the group came back with lifelong memories of the culture and hospitality of this country.

Published: 15 October 2018

The Courier Experience

Touring in Spain with Eton College, by Courier turned Tour Manager Paloma Alvar

When you accept a job as an ACFEA courier, you know that you are taking on a huge responsibility. Tour Managers work on their tours for months. They know every little detail about the group and about the destination and, when the tour is set for departure, they pass the responsibility onto the courier to ensure all runs smoothly. Eton College was the first UK school group I worked with as a courier, but I was not alone on the tour – I was accompanied by Pilar, an experienced courier who had couriered for many ACFEA tours.

Our courier role involves taking care of all of the details of the tour – all of which are tailor-made. Duties include getting in touch with hotels and restaurants beforehand to make sure all the arrangements are reconfirmed, checking that the coaches are going to be waiting for us at the right time and contacting the venues to confirm the group’s arrival and concert set-up arrangements. 

Couriers also have to be quick to understand how groups are organised and adapt to their needs. With Eton College, we went through the itinerary with Tim, the group leader, at the end of every day and he would then pass on specific instructions to the students. All the boys were very collaborative and always willing to help when it came to loading or unloading the coaches and the instrument van. Due to the high temperatures of Spain during the summer, our interaction with Nik, the van driver, was extremely important - instruments are valuable and delicate so it was important for us to ensure they were not exposed to the sun. Nik was incredibly helpful at all times and thanks to his previous experience transporting instruments for professional orchestras we were confident he knew what to do. 

The highlight of the tour is, of course, the concerts which were truly outstanding! From my personal point of view, it was a privilege to act as an interpreter for the conductor and express the group’s gratitude to the audience in my native language. After every concert members of the audience interacted with the performers, thanking them for being there. For some it was the first time they had ever seen an orchestra performing live. But it wasn’t only an emotional experience for the locals attending - one of the matrons who came on the tour couldn’t stop crying when the soloist performed Sibelius Violin Concerto. She explained to me that she had watched him grow up and now she had to say goodbye to him, after six years. Witnessing how involved the staff are with the wellbeing and development of the children had a huge impact on me.    

After ten days of hard work and little sleep, I can only say what was an incredibly rewarding experience it was - I made lots of new friends and I cannot wait for my next tour to begin!

Published: 15 September 2018

South Africa

On the road with Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School
By Tour Manager Julia Vivian

Christmas came early when I was given the green light to accompany Schola Cantorum on part of their tour to South Africa in October 2017. 24 hours after leaving the UK and a long journey via Dubai we arrived in Johannesburg and met our courier, Pieter. The group were tired but in good spirits and after a spot of lunch we were revived enough for a guided tour of Soweto. A visit to the Walter Sisulu Square featured the choir in an impromptu performance of Ukuthula in the brick tower (a monument to the Freedom Charter where the full principles of the charter are engraved) with its beautiful acoustic.

Next followed a visit to The Hector Pieterson Memorial and shortly after Regina Mundi, the largest Catholic Church in South Africa where the group would be taking part in Catholic Mass the next day. One of the most prominent artefacts in the church is the painting entitled "The Madonna and Child of Soweto", mostly referred to as "The Black Madonna", depicting a black Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus (see photo). The walls still bear the signs of the shootings of the Soweto uprising of June 16, 1976, when students were shot by the police in Orlando West.

After this thought provoking tour we returned for a rest in the hotel before dinner. A fantastic lightning storm ensued on the way to dinner at the restaurant Carnivore. As the name suggests, there was a veritable feast of different meats on offer including alligator, zebra and warthog, as well as pork and chicken. The group seemed to really enjoy it!

The next morning the Schola Cantorum took part in the service at Regina Mundi where they sang alongside the church choir and were made to feel very welcome. Much of the service was in English but they did switch between many of the other regional languages. The group were given the opportunity to perform on the altar steps at the end of the service. It was moving to see the congregation taking photos and enjoying the music. After the service, the group departed for Pilanesberg in anticipation of the Safari!

Receiving the wakeup call from Pieter at 4:45 am the next day was painful to say the least, but it wasn’t long before the excitement of what was ahead dawned on me. At the game reserve we separated into two groups and almost immediately spotted our first animal - a rhino! The rhino is one of the 'big five' (the name refers to the five mammals that were the most dangerous to hunt), shortly followed by an elephant and a giraffe. Our guide then received a call over the radio – lions had been spotted! We raced through the park and arrived in time to see two male lions wandering around – it was marvellous (and unusual) to see them so active. Before too long the morning game drive was over and we were on our way to Sun City for a visit to the Valley of the Waves where the boys made the most of the water slides (I only went on the slower ones!).

Back at the game reserve for the evening drive it became clear that our driver was looking for something and sure enough we found it – a leopard – the rarest of the big five! What a privilege! There were various groups vying for a good spot but the leopard managed to evade everyone and disappeared after about 15 minutes. It was ok though because as the sun was setting we came across three cheetahs (see photo) which was probably my favourite part of the whole day. The reserve was silent apart from their calls to each other.

Dinner was a BBQ in the middle of the park (guarded by a man with a gun!) and followed by a campfire where the group sang a few songs together. It was a really memorable day.

The next day we said goodbye to Pilanesberg and made the journey to George on the Garden Route. After a short rehearsal the choir performed in a joint concert with the South Cape Children’s Choir and they sang Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus together. It was a joy to watch these two diverse choirs sing together, even if I was occasionally distracted by the bat flying around in the rafters! The venue was wonderful and the audience gave both groups a standing ovation!

On Wednesday, we ventured over the Outeniqua Mountains (where the weather changed dramatically) towards the Cango Caves at Oudtshoorn stopping at an Ostrich Farm along the way. Here the group had the opportunity to feed and stroke some of the ostriches as well as stand on the eggs (which can take weight of up to 120kg)! At the Cango Caves we all visited the first few chambers with impressive formations of stalagmites and stalactites. The majority of the group continued on for the Adventure Tour. This involved a small trek deep into the bowels of the caves culminating with a looped tour where members of the group were required to climb and squeeze through small gaps. It was challenging but everyone had a blast! Back in the main chamber the group took advantage of the spectacular acoustic and performed for the other visitors. We returned to George for a delicious dinner at an ocean restaurant where we looked out at the stormy Indian Ocean. The perfect end to another adventure-filled day!



My final day with the grioup included the journey by coach from George to Cape Town. Before we left George, we stopped at the beach for a quick look at sea. A few people got caught out by the waves so there were some very wet feet for our journey!

I arrived in Cape Town with enough time for a brief glimpse of Table Mountain and the group's short rehearsal at the Hugo Lambrechts Auditorium (where they were to perform another joint concert that evening). I bade an emotional farewell and departed for the airport.

I thoroughly enjoyed being in South Africa, the cultural experience was diverse. The country has so much to offer and I probably only experienced a small percentage of that on my whistle-stop trip! I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this wonderful country, made all the better for the enthusiasm and knowledge of our representative Pieter, and it was a double bonus to be there with such a delightful and talented group.

The Choir of Jesus College Cambridge is currently on tour in South Africa! If you are interested in learning more about a concert tour to South Africa get in touch here

Published: 1 July 2018

MMA Conference, Eton College

As Tim Johnson, Director of Music at Eton College, said in his opening address, it was thoughtful of the Royal Family to organise Harry and Meghan’s wedding so that it coincided with the MMA Conference. The trade fair venue, Eton College’s magnificent School Hall, would have been splendid enough in its own right, but coupled with the carnival atmosphere in Windsor on May 19, the whole weekend created a very special atmosphere. Inspiring keynote speeches from Tony Little and Will Gompertz, choral evensong sung by delegates in Eton College Chapel, and the opportunity to view the magnificent Eton Choirbook in the College library, added to the unique attraction of the event. ACFEA was proud to sponsor the final dinner in the elegant surroundings of Dorney Lake Boathouse, and the evening was rounded off with a spectacular musical fireworks display.

Published: 4 June 2018

Learning outside the classroom changes lives

Here at ACFEA, our mission statement is simple: “to create unique opportunities for memorable and life changing experiences”. We are passionate about school trips and the benefits they can offer to the whole school community. Whilst it’s possible to receive a general musical education in the classroom, there is no substitute for actual performing experiences in the wider world, in a variety of different venues and to new audiences. Our bespoke concert tours can bring about unforgettable positive experiences and wonderful opportunities to learn.  They aid not only musical development, but can contribute to learning in a wide range of areas such as history, the wider arts, language and culture.
The Director of Allegro Con Brio wrote to us after their tour to Sweden in June 2017: With the completion of our fourth international trip with ACFEA, the Allegro staff is once again blown away by the thoughtful care and creativity in planning and executing our tour. The two exchange choir opportunities were life changing, and the relationships built between young singers were meaningful and heartfelt.”

Pupils who don’t normally shine in the classroom have been known to excel on a residential concert tour.  In terms of personal development, students are given opportunities to grow in resilience, self-confidence and self-esteem. Touring as a school community can add a new dimension in terms of how students relate with each other, bringing out a range of interpersonal skills including leadership, team work, trust and respect.  This can all help to improve performance and relationships back at school.

Phillip Scott, conductor of Hampshire County Youth Wind Ensemble, described their tour to Germany which ACFEA operated in July 2017: “I'm struggling to think of any tour I've been involved in which has offered such a combination of unforgettable venues, warm welcomes from venue hosts and… mind-boggling numbers attending.  None of my students will ever forget their six days in Germany - for at least one, it was his first trip abroad - and I think that the memories of the concerts at the Thomaskirche and Brandenburg Cathedral will become burnished over the years as very special events in their youth.”

In February 2018, ACFEA was proud to be awarded the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge for the 8th year running, as part of being an Assured Member of the School Travel Forum.  The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom advocates that every young person should experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of learning and personal development, whatever their age, ability or circumstances.  The purpose of the Quality Badge is to help schools identify good quality and safe provision, and to reduce red tape for schools when planning educational visits, as it combines learning and safety into one easily recognisable accreditation. As a Quality Badge holder, schools have the assurance that ACFEA delivers:

  • Strict risk management processes across all areas of the business
  • Robust safeguarding and child protection procedures
  • Clear and accurate information given well in advance on services, amenities and costs
  • Learning objectives of the activities on offer, and the flexibility to tailor activities according to groups’ needs
  • Guidance and information on preparing pupils for the visit to maximise learning opportunities
  • A culture of listening to schools’ feedback and working to meet their requirements

ACFEA organises concert tours for schools and colleges across the world, and the feedback which we received from the Director of American choir, Washington & Jefferson College Singers, to Prague, Vienna and Salzburg last year gives confidence to other educational organisations considering planning a concert tour: “Thank you so much to everyone who made our tour such a special experience. This was my first time taking a choir abroad, and I honestly don't know why I waited so long. I plan to take my community choir to Italy in the summer of 2018 and I will absolutely, positively use ACFEA. Every detail was handled so professionally. From the planning phase to check in at the airport and all during the tour, our needs were the top priority of ACFEA. It was an extraordinary experience. Many, many thanks for all you did for us.”

Published: 21 May 2018

Travelling Tips

Here at ACFEA we are all aware of the less-glamorous sides to travel: jet lag and the dreaded packing!  Eleanor Etherington, one of our experienced tour managers, has travelled more than most and here shares her top tips for beating jet lag and minimising your packing stress

Beating Jet Lag

  • Make sure you're well stocked up with healthy snacks (nuts and cereal bars are good) and plenty of water
  • Keep snacking and drinking throughout the journey! It keeps energy up and can help curb travel sickness, essential if you're spending many hours travelling  and are  experiencing a whole new country and culture for the first time.
  • Try and adapt to the new clock as fast as possible - don't be tempted to stay up until 3am just because you feel ok, as it'll take way longer to get comfortable with your new time zone.
  • Changing to destination time on your watch before you take off!
  • Take a big wrap or scarf for wrapping around yourself in a plane or on a coach. This keeps you warm and snug and keeps light and sound out, all helping you rest during long travel schedules. 

Minimising Packing Stress

  • Try to limit your clothes packing to one outfit per day, plus one 'posh frock', plus your performing gear.
  • Packing 17 tops for a week long trip will likely have you lugging a load of clean stuff all round your itinerary and then home again! (We've all been there!!)
  • You get through less clothing than you may think and worst comes to worst, you can use the hotel’s laundry service while on tour
  • Keep liquids to a minimum, use travel bottles (up to 100ml) where possible instead of bringing full size toiletries, and double up if you can (for example 2 in 1 shampoo conditioner, and moisturiser with a decent SPF).
  • I never travel without a scarf (see above!)
  • I always pack in a standard carry-on size suitcase, whether or not I'm checking it in, to remind myself I don't need to take the kitchen sink!
Published: 23 March 2018

ACFEA Tour Consultants UK Summit in Derbyshire

With a busy touring summer behind us, November saw the team from ACFEA Tour consultants travel up to Derbyshire for our annual review meeting. As Tour Manager Elizabeth Assmann says, “it was the second time the team had met at the cosy East Lodge Hotel in Rowsley so we knew we were in for a treat! Spending this time together, away from our regular office base, is really valuable because it’s an opportunity to meet together to review the past touring season and also an opportunity to re-connect as a team and strengthen our working relationships.

During the morning and afternoon we met together in the hotel’s private meeting room to note the highs and lows of our groups’ experiences in each touring destination. Our discussions focussed on how to improve the experience of each group which chooses to tour with us and the way we work to deliver the high quality tours ACFEA is known for.

On our third and final day, with all our meetings successfully concluded, it was time to explore a bit of the beautiful county of Derbyshire! After breakfast we drove into the Peak District National Park and enjoyed a short walk with breath-taking views. We then drove on to visit the picturesque village of Eyam. The village is noted for an outbreak of bubonic plague which occurred there in 1665, in which the villagers chose to isolate themselves rather than let the infection spread. We visited the church and the local arts & craft centre before reluctantly leaving the beautiful county of Derbyshire behind and heading back to London.” 

Published: 31 January 2018

NYC Nightingales sighted in Spain

Circulo de Amistad Liceo Artistico y Literario

April 2016 saw ACFEA Tour Consultants bring New York's Nightingale-Bamford School Chamber Chorus to Spain for a concert tour which included the cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. 

The tour saw twenty members of the choir participate in Mass followed by a concert in the Iglesia del Santo Angel, a 17th century Baroque Church in the centre of Seville. From here they moved on to Cordoba and were able to perform in Circulo de Amistad Liceo Artistico y Literario, a beautiful building which is registered as one of Spain's cultural and historical monuments. Their final concert was in the Church of our Lady of Sorrows in Granada and it was here where each member of the choir was presented with a souvenir gift from the parish priest and in turn the choir reciprocated with a gift and a donation to the church. 

Church of our Lady of Sorrows

The tour also included plenty of sightseeing and a tour to the Alhambra Palace, as well as a flamenco lesson which added a taste of authentic Spanish culture! 

Flamenco lessons

Published: 9 May 2016

Incredible India

Eton College Chapel Choir at One World Retreat

India is a tourist paradise but is far less known - at present - as a destination for Western musical groups to perform in. That is all changing and ACFEA is proud to be in the Vanguard of this change.

We were delighted to work with our long-time client, Eton College Chapel Choir, for their tour to India in March 2015. The Choir had been invited to perform and entertain at the Maharaja of Jodhpur’s “One World Retreat”, a major fund raising weekend event for the Indian Head Injuries Foundation which the Maharaja founded following a tragic injury to his son and heir.

Eton College with Songbound

ACFEA added tour arrangements for the Choir in Mumbai, where the boys participated in joint workshops and a farewell concert with local disadvantaged children under the auspices of the UK charity, Songbound. There was also a fiercely contested cricket match!

The Choir’s trip ended with two sell-out concerts, one in the National Centre of Performing Arts and the other in St Peter’s Church, Bandra, both with the Symphony Orchestra of India. This extraordinary and memorable project gave the students an amazing “Maharaja to the Mumbai slums” introduction to a country that fully lived up to its Tourist Office’s billing as “Incredible India”.

Eaton College Chapel Choir

We also arranged two performances of the Verdi Requiem for the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus in Mumbai, the members of the choir taking the opportunity to travel to various regions of India before and after the concerts on itineraries specially set up for them by ACFEA.

Published: 10 March 2016

China and east Asia

NYOS in China

In August 2015 the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland (NYOS) enjoyed a superbly successful tour around this vast country. The symphony orchestra’s packed itinerary included visits to awe-inspiring sights such as the Yu Gardens in Shanghai, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, as well as taking an exciting overnight sleeper train from Shanghai to Beijing. The students even performed Scottish jigs on board the train, entertaining the locals in one of the carriages while the larger instruments were safely stored in another!  Our China Concert Representative Nick Smith, who was awarded the OBE for his work in Anglo-Chinese cultural relations, ensured that NYOS performed to thousands in world class concert halls in Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin.

NYOS in China

China, Hong Kong and other Asian destinations, such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, provide such unique opportunities for western performances and we continue to make tailor-made, affordable itineraries a reality. ACFEA is excited to be taking Berkshire Maestros, National Youth Choir of Great Britain, and City of Glasgow Chorus on tour to this exciting region in 2016.

China has become one of our most popular long-haul destinations. This is largely thanks to our exclusive ACFEA representatives in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong and their negotiation and organisational skills.

Published: 3 March 2016

Featured on TV in Spain

LOS Tour to Spain

Spain is a very popular destination with ACFEA touring groups, due to the Mediterranean sunshine, wonderful food, and the appreciative full audiences. Venues range from majestic cathedrals to state of the art concert halls, castle courtyards and well-appointed outdoor venues.

One of the many choirs who visited in 2015 was London Oratory School Schola Cantorum who were filmed for National Spanish television during their Mass participation in Toledo Cathedral.

Spain also offers the opportunity for a two-centre tour – perhaps catch the ferry to Morocco? Or cross the border to Portugal?

Published: 3 March 2016

Glorious Hungary

 

Hungary

Budapest boasts not only some of the best Art Nouveau architecture in Europe, but also houses a vast array of performance opportunities for all group types. 

In 2015 El Camino Youth Symphony enjoyed a full house and standing ovation at the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall. The Chorus of Westerly performed Dvorák’s Stabat Mater with the Danube Symphony Orchestra in the glorious Matthias Church, and Davidson UMC Choir  experienced the thrill of singing mass in the awe-inspiring St Stephen’s Basilica.

Wonderful performances and very appreciative audiences enabled thrilling and successful concert tours for the groups that performed there.

Published: 2 March 2016