It all started with a class project. Some 30 years ago, Larry Larsen, a German teacher in Minnesota, led his high school students through a long-term project to plan a trip to the Old Country. After the students did the work, they were eager to make the trip a reality. That’s what they did — spending several weeks bicycling through Germany.

The next year’s class wanted to go, too, and soon after that, parents expressed their interests in traveling.

From there, Ed-Ventures, the company that Larry Larsen formed, branched out, continuing to send people throughout the world to experience the wonders of travel.

The tour company, based in Rochester, Minnesota, specializes in creating life-changing travel adventures.

The power of travel

Ed-Ventures ziplining adventure, Costa Rica
[/media-credit] Ed-Ventures ziplining adventure, Costa Rica

Paul Larsen, Larry’s son, has experienced the power of travel firsthand. He traveled as a student on Ed-Venture’s second trip to Germany. For the past decade, as the president and sales manager of Ed-Ventures, he’s had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe and the Middle East with many groups.

“Tourism makes such a difference,” Paul Larsen said. “People come to our country and get to know us. And when we go to their country, we get to connect with their history and heritage. It makes the world a little bit smaller.”

Over the years, the number of destinations on Ed-Venture’s roster has grown — branching out from Germany to German-speaking destinations to a wider scope of countries. Locations in Central America and the Middle East have become popular with groups traveling with Ed-Ventures.

But, not everyone travels abroad.

“Our specialty is international travel, but we have many friends in Minnesota for those who want to travel close to home,” he said. “Travel doesn’t have to leave the country or even the city to be successful.”

As the destinations changed, Ed-Ventures remained committed to its core principles. The tour company still works to offer customized itineraries and the same high level of service for each group.

It’s helpful for tour planners to have some ideas in mind when they call, but it’s not necessary. Paul, Larry and the other members of the Ed-Ventures team are eager to build a trip that fits the group.

“We’re going to hear their thoughts, dreams and purposes when planning the trip,” he said.

Ed-Ventures began planning trips for students, but its scope has expanded to other groups.

Faith-based travel has become an important element of the business in the last several years.

“Faith-based travel is a growing market,” Paul Larsen said. “That’s another place where we can break down walls. If we all work together, things really can get better.”

Larsen served as the chair of NTA’s Faith Travel Advisory Council in 2012 and 2013. Now he is a member of the advisory council working with the Faith Travel Association (FTA).

The travel trade organization made its debut at the 2014 Travel Exchange, the annual conference co-hosted by FTA partners, NTA and the United Motorcoach Association.

Larsen sees a robust future for this segment of the group travel industry — in terms measurable and beyond measure.

“Because faith-based travel is about the experience first, rather than the dollar, it holds up well against the whims of the economy,” he said.

The Big Question

Group Tour Media: What is the next big thing for Ed-Ventures?

Machu Picchu, Peru
[/media-credit] Machu Picchu, Peru

Paul Larsen: Ed-Ventures will continue to look for ways to provide the traveler with the best opportunities and value for experiential travel.

As for the next big thing, sometimes it is about an event and one of them coming up is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 theses to the doors in Wittenberg, Germany. We’ve leveraged the relationships we’ve made through continuous contact and touring to secure prime dates for lodging and services for our clients, even in the small towns like Wittenberg and Erfurt. We realize that an important part of the faith-based travelers’ experience is to connect to their roots. Our tours allow time for English church services, in addition to touring the historic sites and museums. Many of our groups choose to spend time with the people who conduct the English ministries in Germany. There are opportunities for our travelers to participate in a local service project, if they wish. Since all of our tours are custom designed, we can ensure that the clients get a tour that is tailored to their needs and expectations. But now is the time to book, as there are a finite number of places available and demand is really heating up.

The other big thing for Ed-Ventures is our ever-widening scope of our destinations.

Even with the popularity of Germany and the Holy Land, we are designing more tours in more countries than ever before. We’ve called upon the expertise and talents of our growing multi-lingual staff to produce tours like the “Lands of the Former Czechoslovakia” and the addition of Jordan to so many of our Israel tours.

We’re planning tours that will hike a portion of the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu and will be taking a group of high school students on a trip to Tanzania.

We’ve got adult, student and family tours all going to destinations like Poland, Scandinavia and China. Our Egypt program is coming back. Plus, our domestic program has been making some huge strides forward, with tours scheduled to New York, Alaska, the Oregon Wine Trail, New Orleans and more.

It will not be long either before the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, is on the horizon. It only happens once every 10 years.  

For more information, call 507-289-3332, or visit ed-ventures.com.