Keith Snode: Navigating Educational Travel Challenges

Lessons in Excellence: How Keith Snode and Kaleidoscope Adventures Elevates Educational Travel

Episode Overview

Episode Topic:
In this episode of TravelPreneur, we engage in an insightful conversation with Keith Snode, the CEO of Kaleidoscope Adventures, a company known for flawlessly planning and executing educational travel experiences for students. The discussion revolves around the intricacies of student travel, the challenges faced by educators, and the measures taken to ensure the safety and well-being of students.

Lessons You’ll Learn:
Gain valuable insights from Keith Snode’s extensive experience in the educational travel industry. One key lesson is the encouragement for educators to step out of their comfort zones and explore unconventional destinations for student trips. Keith emphasizes the importance of trusting travel professionals in the planning and execution of these educational journeys, encouraging educators to take leaps into the unknown. He underscores the transformative power of travel experiences in shaping students’ perspectives and broadening their horizons.

About Our Guest:
Keith Snode, the CEO of Kaleidoscope Adventures, brings a wealth of knowledge and passion for educational travel to the episode. With a focus on making educators shine and prioritizing safety, Keith shares his vision for the future of Kaleidoscope Adventures and the broader student travel industry. His extensive experience and dedication to creating meaningful travel experiences for students make him a respected figure in the field of educational travel.

Topics Covered:
We delve into various aspects of educational travel, including the meticulous planning process, the comprehensive safety measures in place, and the role of technology in streamlining operations. Keith discusses the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry and highlights the need for continuous adaptation in the ever-evolving landscape of student travel. The episode also explores how Kaleidoscope Adventures leverages technology to enhance efficiency and provide a seamless experience for educators and students alike, demonstrating the company’s commitment to staying at the forefront of innovation in the field of educational travel.

Our Guest: Keith Snode, Shaping the Future of Educational Travel

Keith Snode, currently serving as the CEO at Kaleidoscope Adventures, brings over 30 years of extensive experience and leadership to the travel industry. Based in Oakland, Florida, Keith has played pivotal roles in various organizations, showcasing his expertise in strategic leadership, operational oversight, and talent development. 

Throughout his career, Keith has seamlessly transitioned through various leadership roles, including Director of Development at Manhattan Concert Productions, Assistant Sales Manager/Referral Desk Manager at Residential Finance Corporation, and Managing Director/General Manager at New Horizons Tour & Travel. His journey includes transforming sales and marketing strategies, implementing efficient processes, and achieving significant revenue increases.

Always championing innovation and growth, Keith Snode’s dynamic career showcases a commitment to excellence, strategic thinking, and a passion for creating exceptional travel experiences. His commitment to creating transformative travel experiences and fostering a culture of excellence positions him as a true luminary in the travel industry. Keith Snode, a name synonymous with leadership, innovation, and a passion for exploring the world, continues to leave an indelible mark on the travel landscape.

Keith Snode: Navigating Educational Travel Challenges
Kaleidoscope Adventures

Episode Transcript

Keith Snode: Don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never done. There are so many amazing places, even just in our country, that offer incredible opportunities for students that educators typically are so reluctant to try. And it’s a big leap. But take it. It is absolutely worth your time, and a lot of the other destinations that don’t see as much traffic have just as much, if not more, to offer than you ever would know. My biggest piece of advice is take that leap. Trust. Find a travel professional. Whether it’s us or anybody else in the industry. Lots of great companies out there. Find somebody you trust and then ask them, what do you think I should do? Talk about what you want to accomplish and say, what do you think I should do? And let them share some thoughts with you and be ready to take a leap and try it.

Megha McSwain: Welcome to Travel Preneur, the weekly business show for the travel industry. I’m your host, Houston-based travel journalist Megha McSwain. Each episode, we’ll be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the travel industry. From conversations with leading travel business executives and industry-focused venture capitalists to exploring the innovations that are shaping the next generation of travel businesses. If it impacts the travel industry, we cover it here on Travel Preneur. Greetings travel enthusiasts, and welcome to another episode of Travel Preneur. I’m your host, Megha McSwain. Today we are joined with Keith Snode, the CEO of Kaleidoscope Adventures. Welcome to the show, Keith.

Keith Snode: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.

Megha McSwain: Keith. Kaleidoscope Adventures is known for flawlessly planning and executing every detail of student trips. How does your team ensure that each trip not only meets but exceeds the expectations of educators and students?

Keith Snode: So we spend a lot of time talking with our team about just not being order takers, really helping them understand their role in the trip planning process, and to really listen to the educators needs and try to recommend and work to recommend a trip that really is going to meet those needs, to meet their budgets, and then work with them throughout the process to adjust as things change. So a lot of our training, a lot of our conversation in our office is spent around that idea is just to make sure that we’re really honing in and paying attention to those teachers needs, but not only the teachers needs. As travel has evolved, especially student travel, the passengers the students needs within that request from the teacher. So it’s important for us to really address not only the teacher or the group leader’s needs, but those individual travelers, which sometimes can be true totally.

Megha McSwain: Exactly. I was going to say that sounds like two totally different things, but that’s that’s impressive.

Keith Snode: Sometimes they align, and a lot of times that deals that you learn through your conversations with group leaders about their communication with the group and what they talk to the group about when they share things about the trip with the group, and you help them make sure that we’re plating up things that help them be successful. So our role really in planning a good student trip is to make the educator look good, like we want to have a really amazing trip, but that educator has an initial vision. They have a curriculum they have to meet. They have something that they have to accomplish. And so we need to take that vision and make it a reality. But our role is really the backseat. It’s we want to make that educator shine.

Megha McSwain: Sure. You have their back.

Keith Snode: Yeah, exactly.

Megha McSwain: And safety is a top priority for Kaleidoscope Adventures. Can you elaborate on the comprehensive safety plan implemented for each trip, like the selection process for trusted partners and just the various measures taken to ensure the well-being and security of the students and the educators?

Keith Snode: Well, that’s a great question. And it absolutely has evolved greatly over the past five years, especially with the pandemic. It changed quite a bit. And, you know, before the pandemic, we’d have emergency response plan. We had plans in place to we were always doing site visits and attending the trade shows and things like that to vet clients, vet suppliers and make sure that they were great options for students and that they fit all of the safety and security needs we need to meet. But then during the pandemic, we had to shift. We had to really say, okay and evaluate that process and say, now we have some additional criteria which actually has helped us in the long run. We were the first US-based tour operator to get our safe travel stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council, so we went through the process of meeting all of their requirements and making sure we did that during the pandemic, and then we encouraged our suppliers to participate in that as well. So we have a shared data system used called Group Travel Odyssey that’s shared with a lot of other tour operators. It shares a lot of information about the different suppliers that we work with. You can see which ones have student-friendly menus and student friendly accommodations and things like that. We attend trade shows like the Student Youth Travel Association, the American Bus Association, where we get to meet these folks face-to-face and really talk about their product and how they can serve our clients needs. And then we’re out on the road a lot. So we have tour directors, and we have eyes on the ground and pretty much everywhere we send groups and we take that feedback and make decisions based on that feedback. So we’re really positioned well to serve our client’s needs and make sure we do it at a very safe way. Provide them the safest, best options for every aspect of their trip.

Megha McSwain: Kaleidoscope Adventures prioritizes working with highly trained and experienced staff like you mentioned. How does the company ensure that its staff members are well-equipped to handle the different challenges and requirements of student travel? Stuff that just comes up? I mean, I feel like there could be any array of situations that might arise.

Keith Snode: There are. We’ve had some unique ones, uh, especially post-COVID, but we’re constantly looking at our client feedback. That’s one, and adjusting based on the client’s feedback. And we get client feedback in two different ways. You can talk about earlier when you asked about the connection with the individual traveler, we have a review system through our payment portal where individual travelers can actually review the trip. And then obviously we have an evaluation and review system for the actual group leader, the teacher, the client that is in charge of the trip. So both of those give us a very unique perspective. Um, it’s great when those two stories align, and it’s really troubling when they don’t, because if the teacher has a great trip and five students come back. Until they had a horrible trip that we certainly want to understand what that happened. What caused that to be the case? That is our biggest vehicle. I’d say that our tour directors, those are the people that are on the road with the groups. They give us a lot of feedback as well, and we take all of that into account. And that’s where we make our adjustments in our training, in our process and all of those things to make sure that we stay on top of what we do. I will say that the training for us starts when a new employee starts with us. Our whole first day of training is all about the mission and vision for the company, our core values, our mission and our vision, and to really talk about why that’s important to us and why that’s important in our daily work and it grounds us. We talk about that frequently throughout the year. I probably talk about it more than people want me to because kind of the cheerleader for that. But I think it’s important for us to understand our history and understand why we do what we do and the vision that we have for that.

Megha McSwain: Providing a convenient and user-friendly online payment and registration platform is a key aspect of your services. How does the platform streamline the trip planning process for educators? Alleviating the stress of paperwork, financial management and enabling them to focus more on providing the experience for the students?

Keith Snode: Well, you just said it all right there by them allowing us to register and take care of the payments for all the individuals, it really takes something off of their plate, a big piece of work that they normally would have to do. It also enables us to ensure some things happen that are really crucial to clients, to the individual travelers, things like making sure that their offered travel insurance when a group leader does that on their own and they do the registration on their own, they can recommend it, but we can insure it. It’s part of their payment path. So they have to do that, making sure that we gather information about medical needs, that a prime example would be dietary restrictions. So, that we’re informing our suppliers of the issues and the questions and the different things that we need to address when we’re planning a menu for for a group. So all of those things are things that we can take off of the group leader’s plate by then using our technology to help them facilitate a better and smoother trip planning process.

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Megha McSwain: What is your vision for Kaleidoscope Ventures in the coming years? I mean, I’m sure it changed a lot in the last just from 2020 to now, and you probably had to pivot then. But what are your plans for the future? Are you guys at a place where you’ve landed and now you’re coasting, or are the changes still evident?

Keith Snode: I don’t think it’s possible to be in business and land and coast anymore. I think it’s absolutely impossible to sit in that space. I don’t know if it was possible 20 years ago, but for me that’s just not a place that I sit. So my vision, travel industry as a whole, with the student travel industry very specifically has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with things like diversity, equity and inclusion and catch up with sustainable tourism and how we better treat and better handle a an idea of regenerative tourism instead of just doing the tried and true every year. I don’t think the student travel industry has even scratched the surface of having conversations and making changes that really affect a change in our world right at all. So if I have a vision for Kaleidoscope, it’s to really continue and ground ourselves in the level of service that we’ve always provided, continue to provide that, but start to weave in some of these ideas that need to be part of our narrative for the future.

Megha McSwain: And I’m sure technology has played a part in the changes that you’ve had to endure. I mean, it’s like we can’t ignore it anymore, right? We just all have to embrace technology the way it is. I mean, it’s just slapping us in the face. So it is. How does Kaleidoscope Adventures leverage technology and digital solutions to enhance its operational efficiency?

Keith Snode: Since COVID, we’ve actually instituted an entire back-end system to manage all of our processes. That has been a big change point and a big pain point some days, transitioning to that from what we used to do, but it really has helped us with visibility, staying on top of things, making sure we’re handling customer needs in a timely manner, and following up when they need us to be there. So, back end system. Our group travel honesty system has been really effective at helping us with that. Online payments hugely helpful for us because we get visibility on things like numbers of people that are actually signing up for a trip way sooner than we used to. So those two pieces of technology are important. But I think as the industry itself uses technology, we will incorporate more of it as we move on and we’ll just continue to embrace it. But right now, I think those are the biggest things that have helped us and help our clients the most.

Megha McSwain: Right. I feel like it’s more convenient. It makes things easier for both parties.

Keith Snode: It does. I mean, if there’s a learning curve with it, right? Yeah. That system or the front-end system, there’s always a learning curve with it. And there’s always that mindset of, well, it was always easier. It was easier when I did it myself. Most of that comes from the time it takes to learn it, not. The actual task of doing it. Once you learn it and it becomes second nature to you. The technology can make it faster and more efficient, but getting over that hump is a big one to jump. But luckily I feel like we’re on the back the backside of that learning curve, and we’re now headed into the point where we can start enjoying the technology that we’ve instituted. And really, as we add new features, they won’t be as disruptive to our flow in terms of a learning curve.

Megha McSwain: Now you have such a wealth of experience, clearly in such an esteemed figure in the student travel industry, what advice would you offer to educators and travel professionals looking to create transformative travel experiences for students drawing from your own experiences?

Keith Snode: Well, first, thank you for your kind words. I appreciate that. I really am passionate about student travel. I’m passionate about travel as a whole. I feel like it really. It really changes our perspective on life. No matter who you are and changes your conversation. I feel like it’s very good for all of us to be part of that experience. So I would say that my biggest piece of advice for educators is don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never done. I see so many educators doing the tried and true, and I don’t want to discount the destinations like New York and Orlando and all those things. But there are so many amazing places, even just in our country, that offer incredible opportunities for students that educators typically are so reluctant to try. And it’s a big leap. But take it. It is absolutely worth your time. And a lot of the other destinations that don’t see as much traffic have just as much, if not more, to offer your students than you ever would know. My biggest piece of advice is take that leap. Trust. Find a travel professional. Whether it’s us or anybody else in the industry, that lots of great companies out there find somebody you trust and then ask them, what do you think I should do? Talk about what you want to accomplish and say, what do you think I should do? And let them share some thoughts with you and be ready to take a leap and try it.

Megha McSwain: That’s excellent advice to be open-minded, and there’s a lot to explore. Like you said, in our country alone and of course, everywhere else.

Keith Snode: Around the world.

Megha McSwain: Yes. Right. Yeah.

Keith Snode: Some of the best experiences I’ve had are when I’ve trusted someone else, or when I go to a restaurant and say, what do you think I should have tonight? And I just take it and let it go. And some of the best experiences I’ve had in my life are when I’ve let go and let someone else guide you.

Megha McSwain: Yeah, yeah. Well great advice. Well, thank you so much for sharing all of this and your journey with us, Keith. Let our listeners know where they can learn more about Kaleidoscope Adventures and where they can connect with you.

Keith Snode: They can learn more about Kaleidoscope Adventures on the web, which is the best place, or we’re on all the social media Facebook, Instagram. But on the web, it’s mykatrip, K standing for Kaleidoscope Adventures that we don’t have to spell it and and it’ll take you right to our website. Lots of helpful information. I encourage you to look at our blog. We’ve got some amazing blog articles on there and about some really relevant topics. Student and just travel. So that’s a great way I’m listed on there so you can find me. My contact information is there, but it’s easy. It’s so it’s not difficult. You could find me and that’s So, we’d love to hear from you. And if I can be of assistance in any way or help with your next student tour, we’d love to work with you.

Megha McSwain: Excellent. Thank you so much, Keith. And to our listeners, please follow and subscribe for future episodes and leave us reviews. That helps us out a lot. Keith, thank you so much for joining us today.

Keith Snode: Thank you so much. It was great to be here.

Megha McSwain: You’ve been listening to Travel Preneur by make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast listening platform so you never miss a new episode, and we’ll see you again soon on Travel Preneur.