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Overseas, Anyone?

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Europe continues to be a popular teacher vacation destination, but higher airfares and hotel rates this year could deter a lot of people from going abroad this summer, several travel industry officials said.

"Airfare and hotel rates in Europe have started to climb," Jim O'Malley of Diplomat Travel in Chicago, Illinois, said. "Those who planned in advance, did well. Those who didn't, are paying the price."

"Europe is very popular, especially Italy," added Rob Brown of World Class Vacations in Allentown, Pennsylvania. "The [2006 Winter] Olympics [in Turin] may have sparked interest. But Europe is very expensive compared to previous years. If you want to go, you are going to have to pay."

Still, flights and hotels for most European destinations remain available, with the possible exception of Italy, agents said. The chance to experience the culture and learn more about the history of Europe is a major draw for teachers and other travelers.

"Many of the history and language teachers often want to go to Europe to study the culture and the language," noted Skip Fortier of MacNair Travel, in Alexandria, Virginia. "But at the same time, they have to book trips that meet the needs of their kids and spouses as well."

Teachers and other travelers also seem to want more from their trips than strictly leisure, said Brown. "We find that more people -- not just teachers -- are looking for trips with more educational value," he said. "They are looking for more than just lying on a beach."

"Cruises appeal to teachers because typically teachers are very cost-conscious, and the idea of paying for everything ahead of time in U.S. dollars is very appealing."

A company that specializes in "learning vacations" is Collette Vacations, based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The company's tours attract both elementary and secondary teachers. "Our tours offer more history and more education," said Paula Camera, retail channel marketing coordinator for Collette. "A lot of people like South America and Eastern Europe. We also have partnerships with the Smithsonian and The History Channel -- those are more learning vacations."

The agency offers a 2 percent discount to members of the National Education Association (NEA), and is working with the NEA to organize group tours for members, Camera added.

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