Oh, About that glossy People To People “Invitation”? A few words of caution

liarSome Upper Valley parents recently received a formal “invitation” ostensibly from the People To People Ambassador Program. We’re led to believe that our kids have been singled out for the honor of going on a trip to Australia as Student Ambassadors under the auspices of a group founded by none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Too good to be true? I thought so, and did some digging. First the good news: People To People International is a more-or-less genuine non-profit organization, and the trips do take place. But:

  1. The trips are glorified vacation tours, offered by a for-profit travel agency called Ambassadors Group, Inc; the company has licensed the People To People brand and can flaunt their wares as “student ambassador” trips, milking the presidents and pedigree for all it’s worth. The Ambassadors Group isn’t mentioned directly in the mailing, of course, they modestly call themselves a “program office” on the letterhead, but it is they — not Dwight D. Eisenhower and impressive list of friends — that run this outfit.
  2. Anyone can sign up for these trips. You don’t need to be “invited annually” and your kid was not selected or honored by being “invited.” (But some enterprising sports club or youth group may have made a few bucks selling your kids’ name to the folks at Ambassadors Group, Inc.) All of that to say: this is little more than a glorified direct mail piece.
  3. The quality of the trips is questionable — both the level of supervision and competency of the chaperones, as well as the educational quality of the trips. A wrongful death lawsuit was settled a few years ago, and many parents tell stories of what they perceived as negligent behavior on the part of trip leaders. 
  4. The value is perhaps even more dubious. Consumer Affairs reviewed the marketing and business practices of Ambassadors Group a few years back and came across numerous stories of escalating, questionable and non-refundable expenses. We’re talking a final tab of $5K and up for a couple of weeks overseas. Make no mistake: this “opportunity” is not so much about your child’s enrichment as it is about your wallet’s “enlightenment.” 
  5. Oh, and that partnership with the National Teacher of the Year Program on their letterhead? Well, Ambassadors Group, Inc. sponsors the CCSSO (Chief Council of State School Officers), which runs the Teacher of the Year Program. In return, they get to declare themselves a “partner” — much the way Audi “partners” with the US Ski Team.

Personally, I wouldn’t dream of signing my kid up for anything with an outfit that tries something so deceptive and duplicitous with its marketing; but having said that, the offer is not a scam per se. The advertised trip to Australia is for real, and your kid is certainly eligible to go provided you’re willing to pay. Maybe he or she would even have a great time.

But please do yourself and your child the favor of learning more both about the Student Ambassador trips and the business practices of Ambassadors Group Inc. in particular before you commit to anything. From what I read, that October “information meeting” (takes place in South Burlington) may feel a bit like those time share sales pitches you encounter on vacation.

The internet is your friend — start with the Consumer Affairs report, then branch out and educate yourself.