International Travel — Issues Identified by the ACA National Standards Commission

April 2016
International Travel

Travel and adventure have been part of camp since the beginning. The travel may be on foot, in a watercraft, by horse, or bicycle; travel might be in the city or open spaces, in the US or in far away locations.  

As more and more ACA-Accredited® Camps expand their boundaries and offer trips to international locations, the ACA National Standards Commission (NSC) has begun the process of reviewing ACA standards to consider if they are appropriate when camps are traveling abroad to countries with different cultures, different levels of what is considered “safe”, different emergency response procedures and communication systems, etc.  

Over the next nine–twelve months, ACA will be reaching out to camps that offer international travel to get their thoughts and input. In the meantime, the NSC feels it is important to remind trip and travel camps of the expectation that “standards are to be met for all programs a camp offers — no matter the location.”  When a camp indicates it is ACA-accredited, the public (and parents) expect the ACA standards to be met on all programs. This means that as a camp reviews their written documentation for specific standards, it might require several “emergency plans” as each location is somewhat different. If this is the camp’s visit year, be prepared to share this documentation with the ACA visitor. 

Areas of Most Concern Include: 

  • Transportation — Does a camp need to adjust accident and safety procedures for various locations (what might work in Vietnam might not work in Costa Rica)? ACA standards require emergency equipment, mechanical evaluations, and verification of acceptable driving record on all vehicles/drivers (even “charted” vehicles) — can a camp acquire these from their provider? 
  • Healthcare — Are camp healthcare policies for programs in the US appropriate for those in a foreign country?  Are their laws/rules specific to medication (OTC and RX)?  What if medication is lost/destroyed? While not specifically a standard, does someone speak the language fluently to assist in any healthcare treatment/issues?  
  • Program Providers — Does the camp have verification that program providers use appropriately trained staff and that the equipment is checked and in good repair? Does the camp receive written evidence of this?  
  • Communication — While the concern is mainly with emergency communication (to parents, to authorities), what expectation has been set for “routine” communication with parents from the camp and from the campers? Does the camp have the necessary devices to meet the need and the expectation for each location in which it will be traveling (what works where will potentially change). 
  • Trip Planning – A camp should consider things such as: third party vetting, emergency and crisis plans, immunization and disease prevention, registering with the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP), setting the benchmark for cancellation decisions, etc. 
  • Marketing and Communication – A camp should accurately and fully inform campers and families of all plans. Don’t avoid talking about the risks; instead, paint an accurate picture of the destination and activities. Don’t assume families are well versed in the realities of where the camp is going. 
  • Documentation – A camp should provide detailed, written plans for participants/parents and trip leaders.  Require medical authorization, power of attorney, medical histories, and signed releases of liability.  Obtain all necessary permits, visas, and contracts.  Consider scanning all documents (including copies of all passports) and load on a thumb drive as well as a PDF on a device that is readily available and can read such. Maintaining this information in a secure location is critical.  
  • Cultural Competency – A camp should ensure that participants are made aware of what is/isn’t acceptable behavior in their destination.  This might include things such as: what is the concept of time (are people always early? Late?) What are the gender roles (such as males always walk into a room first, females must be accompanied by a male), what are the appropriate clothing norms for the destination? Can a visitor openly take pictures or is permission needed?  Learning about and respecting the culture opens many possibilities. 

As a camp finalizes plans for 2016 travel and programs, remember: 

  1. Prepare well in advance 
  2. Know the country — do your research 
  3. Communicate clearly and thoroughly about the plans and expectations (all levels of expectations) 
  4. Talk about the inherent risks and your philosophy on managing those risks 
  5. Create communication, support, and emergency systems – have a plan! 
  6. Train staff and campers to be culturally aware and sensitive 

ACA fully supports and embraces all types of programs — including those occurring outside the US — although additional planning time and consideration is necessary. 

Members of the National Standards Commission contributed to this article. Special thanks to Ann McCollum, Risk Management Consultant and NSC member.