Welcome to our new member – Ondago by ISX
Interview with Leslie Zulauf, Founder and Director
Tell us your story. How did Ondago by ISX get started?
Ondago Travel was conceived as the educational and academic travel division of ISX. ISX has been providing pre-scheduled recreational weekend excursions for international students in Canada for almost 20 years, and in the US since 2013. Ondago launched in 2017 as the custom educational and cultural travel division within ISX, as a response to an increasing number of requests from international agents and academic institutions to provide experiential and learning tours. Ondago Travel is now a fully independent entity that works with agents (B2B) and institutions (B2I) to provide customized, fully integrated travel and learning experiences.
What makes Ondago by ISX different from your competitors?
Creativity. Ondago creates travel programs that combine and connect aspects of various educational disciplines, a variety of integrated on-tour activities and site visits, and animated Tour Managers that bring the tour to life. In every way, an Ondago experience is an engaging experience. Our trips are designed to meet the specific needs of the group. Ondago’s relationship with ISX and their regular pre-scheduled tour departures provides groups the advantage of joining a pre-scheduled tour with other students, while allowing for
some customization, which translates into significant savings for groups on a fixed budget.
What is your favourite success story from your organisation?
There are many individual success stories, but on a macro level, our legacy is founded on the personal connections we’ve helped facilitate over the years and the culture of integrity that is inherent in everything we do. Our goal on every tour is not just to show people around, but to help them make personal connections and learn something new. Our success is measured in the culture we’ve helped facilitate, which in some small way creates a more connected, tolerant and humane world.
What can we expect to see from Ondago by ISX in the future?
More of an effort to separate Ondago and have it stand out as its own brand, one that is synonymous with thoughtful and engaging learning programs that are able to meet a group’s budget, maintain quality, and in some way enrich and enlighten those who travel and work with us.
We are also developing some interesting new programs that allow students to receive academic credits while they travel.
Which trends do you see in educational and active youth travel?
More purpose driven travel. While travel should always be enjoyable and fun, it is also always about gaining some type of experience (to a person a place a subject matter). Experiences have value. They are how we learn and grow and evolve. This trend will continue, as more emphasis is placed on gaining and having meaningful and enriching life experiences.
How do you work to ensure the health and safety of young travellers involved with Ondago by ISX?
After 20 years in the business, we’ve seen it all or almost but there is always something new that happens that you’ve never had to deal with before. Our industry is about problem solving. You can do everything in your power to ensure a safe and problem free trip, but things will inevitably come up. We have a very robust protocol internally for dealing with safety Issues, and risk mitigation and comfortable travel is always top of mind. We practice this at ISX and Ondago from the office staff to the tour managers, and ensure that we only work with suppliers who share our concern for health and safety.
What was your motivation to join WYSE Travel Confederation?
I first attended WYSE in Cancun, Mexico… I think it was 2001. As I was just starting out as a company, it was a great opportunity to expand our network beyond North America, and meet and learn from others in the industry. Since then, we continue to attend and meet WYSE members as we expand our programs to destinations throughout the world, and look for clients who need our logistical and operational help with the groups they are sending to North America. Personally, I’ve also enjoyed meeting and chatting with the WYSE team at these events. They are very welcoming and dedicated to their mission.
Have you attended a WYSE Travel Confederation event? (WYSTC, STAY WYSE, WYSE Exchange Australia, WETM IAC) If so, what was your experience with the event?
My staff and I have attended a number of WYSE events and have also helped out with some of them in Canada, providing transportation, etc. My experience is largely what I’ve spoken of already – great connections, an expansive network, and an opportunity to learn and see where the industry is going. It’s always nice to re-connect with those who have become clients and build new relationships with agents and suppliers from throughout the world.
What is an industry challenge your organization is facing currently?
The current challenge we face is transitioning our long-standing brand (ISX) that has been around for almost 20 years, and rebranding and repositioning it as Ondago Travel. ISX has accumulated a lot of brand goodwill, with both our academic and institutional partners, as well as the hundreds of thousands of end-user students that we’ve hosted on our tours over the years. ISX started out doing weekend sightseeing trips for visiting language students, but has grown to where half or more of our business now comes from agents and local or international groups who require customized experiences, often with an educational component.
Not many travel companies offer both private group tours AND pre-scheduled trip departures to individuals. Our decision to offer ISX weekend trips alongside Ondago’s custom tours presents some challenges.
The first is from a marketing standpoint: We questioned whether to keep ISX and Ondago as separate divisions and brands offering different products, or to bring them both under one umbrella. We are in the middle of this process and the full transition will take place sometime in 2020. In the interim, we have been using the name “Ondago by ISX” to soft-launch the new brand.
The second major challenge is from an internal, technical perspective: It takes thoughtful effort to make our software function optimally for both sides of the business and we continue to look for process improvement methods to this end.
Ondago is the private groups division of ISX. As a company, we have earned a first-class reputation for providing safe, affordable and enriching cultural excursions for students.
We design and operate unique recreational and educational travel experiences for schools, universities and international groups.
Our custom tours range in length from 1-21 days within North American and European destinations and we are happy to serve groups of all sizes. Our team of travel and education experts ensures that each tour exceeds the expectations of our clients and provides lasting learning and memories for our passengers.
Membership: WYSE Travel Confederation Subsidiary Member
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