For the first time in three years, women’s collegiate basketball teams will travel around the world this summer.
College teams can tour abroad every four years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has halted all 2020 tours and virtually all 2021 tours. This summer, the number of women’s basketball teams’ travel has not fully recovered to 2021 levels: Two tour companies whose representatives spoke to The nextBasketball Travelers and Anthony Travel together made an average of 25 to 30 trips a year before the pandemic, while taking just seven teams overseas this summer.
However, teams are slowly beginning to travel again as foreign tours offer opportunities to play additional exhibition games against unfamiliar competition, bond in the off-season and experience new cultures.
The next reached out to nine leading travel companies to gather information about the trips they have planned for Division I women’s basketball teams this summer. Eight companies responded and one did not respond to multiple requests for information. Their answers indicate that at least 15 teams will be traveling internationally this summer:
|travel company||Number of trips abroad|
|World Sport Travel||4|
|Sport Travel International||2|
|Complete sports management||1|
|Showtime Basketball (Australia)||1|
|Beyond sports travel||0|
|JD Sports (Canada)||0|
|Global sports and events||*|
Basketball Travelers, a well-known travel company that also hosts the in-season Paradise Jam tournament, takes six teams overseas, the most of any company surveyed. World Sports Travel (four) and Sport Tours International (two) are the only other companies traveling with more than one team this summer.
|North Texas||Puerto Rico||23-28 June||World Sport Travel|
|Stetson||Costa Rica||30 Jul-Aug 5||World Sport Travel|
|Wyoming||Australia (Melbourne, Cairns, Sydney)||Jul 31-Aug 12||Showtime Basketball|
|drake||Italy||Aug. 2-12||Basketball Traveler|
|Abilene Christian||Portugal||3rd-10th August||World Sport Travel|
|Oklahoma||France (Cannes, Lyon, Paris)||4th-13th August||Complete sports management|
|bowling green||Costa Rica||5th-12th August||Sport Travel International|
|Northern Kentucky||Greece||5th-13th August||Sport Travel International|
|Pittsburgh||Italy||August 6th to 16th||Anton trip|
|Colorado||Spain||August 6th to 16th||Basketball Traveler|
|memphis||Greece||August 7th to 17th||Basketball Traveler|
|texas tech||Greece||August 8th to 15th||World Sport Travel|
|Western Kentucky||Italy||8th-17th August||Basketball Traveler|
|Washington||Italy||11-21 August||Basketball Traveler|
|Seattle University||Greece||20-28 August||Basketball Traveler|
Most trips will be to Europe in August, but teams have chosen a variety of destinations, with eight countries represented. “Often, either the destination determines the budget or the budget determines the destination,” said Darren Cohen, Director of International Team Tours at Anthony Travel The next.
These trips are often years in the making. Some approach tour operators three or four years in advance for exploratory talks, and more formal planning usually begins 11 to 18 months in advance. (Flights generally can’t be booked more than 11 months in advance, noted Kelsey Harris, Anthony Travel’s international team tours manager and former Elon basketball player.) Teams average about 30 people on their tours, both Anthony Travel and Basketball Travelers, but some teams have much larger tour groups that include the families of the players and/or donors.
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A key to a successful overseas tour is listening to employees’ wishes and tailoring each trip to their interests and needs. “We always try to make a trip as personal as possible,” said Cohen. Industry veterans like Cohen and Jennifer Ashby, director of international programs and events at Basketball Travelers, know that no two teams are the same, even if they end up touring to the same destination.
“I think I heard it all,” Ashby said The next. “…Each year one coach would tell me, ‘It’s super important that we stay at a hotel on the beach on our trip,’ and then another coach would say, ‘We don’t want to stay on the beach because we can at home.’ our children go to the beach.’ …
“It’s easier to make something off the shelf and do it the same way over and over again. And there’s value in doing the same thing over and over again, but there’s also so much more value in being able to listen to someone… and now putting it all together.”
For example, a trip to Italy in 2017 allowed UConn women’s basketball to compete in the nearly 500-year-old Palio di Siena horse race and meet former champion Andrea Degortes. The following year, then-Wake Forest head coach Jen Hoover decided that her team should remain in Bergamo, Italy, the hometown of then-rising senior Elisa Penna. In 2015, Miami head coach Katie Meier insisted her team see the Eiffel Tower light up at midnight, despite a 9 a.m. game the next day. The smaller things matter too: Ashby noted that coaches are often superstitious and might ask them to make sure the team has the same ice cream and chocolate sauce dessert before the game as they do during the season.
The experience always has cultural components, tour operators say. As Ashby put it, “I’m not going to take a group all the way to Florence and not see the David [statue].” But she tries to focus on the main sights and details, and limit the tour guides to that to keep everyone occupied.
The cultural aspects can also mix with academic and even life skills components. In the summer of 2019, the Tennessee players took a course at the university on what they would experience abroad a few weeks later. Several teams have also attended cooking classes during their trips abroad and learned to prepare authentic recipes.
Cohen shared a story about a cooking class during a team trip to Italy to show how a personalized itinerary can make sense for everyone involved. “[One] Student-athlete wanted to make sure before they went that they [got] Pictures of the recipe so she can make pasta for her mom,” he said. “Her mother used to cook for her for so long and all those things and [she wanted] to show a little appreciation.”
Whatever teams want from their trips, tour operators pride themselves on making it happen. “We like to say we’re the international operations manager so the employees can enjoy themselves,” Harris said. “So it’s a very important part of that to be able to manage that from our side so that the teams don’t feel any stress.”
This task is particularly challenging for tour operators in times of COVID-19. International travel protocols are constantly changing—every day The next Speaking to Cohen and Harris, the Biden administration announced that it would remove the requirement for people entering the United States by air to have a negative COVID-19 test result. Foreign tour operators must also prepare for flight delays and cancellations, which are currently “significant” at European airports due to staff shortages, workers’ strikes and high travel demand.
The war in Ukraine is also causing at least some concerns. Ashby said that none of the teams she works with have “expressed shyness” when it comes to travel, but the teams that Cohen works with have done so. A team working with Cohen and Anthony Travel has postponed their trip to 2023 because they wanted to visit Hungary, which borders Ukraine.
“There were teams that were just uncomfortable going abroad,” said Cohen.
Then there are the more evergreen concerns for tour operators. Planning for the right level of competition is always a challenge, Ashby said, and requires strong local connections. There is also a difficulty for teams with international players navigating the US visa system and ensuring that those players can travel and then re-enter the United States.
As tour operators jump back into summer vacations, there is optimism for the future of outbound travel. “We’ve heard from an extraordinary number of teams for 2023, the highest I’ve seen,” said Cohen. He pointed out that most teams will have the opportunity to travel next summer as it will be at least four years since their last trips.
Ashby also expects growth in 2023 compared to 2022, but she predicts it will take at least five years to reach 2019 levels. That’s because schools’ budgets are still feeling the impact of COVID-19. Colleges and universities lost about 14% of their revenue on average in 2020 and 2021, and enrollment — a key revenue driver — remains below pre-pandemic levels.
But whenever teams travel abroad, whatever disruptions and challenges may arise during their travels, it is sure to be an unforgettable and valuable experience. Harris knows this firsthand: As a student athlete with Elon, she went on a tour abroad to France, Belgium and the Netherlands in 2011.
“An experience like this stays with a student athlete for the rest of their life,” she said. “Those kinds of experiences and exposure to different cultures… I think it helps prepare student-athletes for life.”
If you’re interested in reading more about touring abroad, you might be interested in this before-and-after series of six teams touring abroad in 2019 and/or this story about West Virginia’s 2019 tour from the perspective of a season ticket holder and donor.