June 19, 2022
Foreign tours are officially back in women’s college basketball
At least 18 teams will travel internationally this summer for basketball and bonding
For the first time in three years, women’s college basketball teams are going to travel the world this summer.
College teams can go on foreign tours once every four years, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all tours in 2020 and effectively all tours in 2021. This summer, amid some lingering concerns about the virus and the war in Ukraine, the number of women’s basketball teams traveling hasn’t completely rebounded to 2021 levels: Two tour companies whose representatives spoke with The Next, Basketball Travelers and Anthony Travel, combined to average about 25 to 30 trips per year before the pandemic, whereas this summer, they are taking just seven teams abroad.
However, teams are slowly starting to travel again because of the opportunities that foreign tours provide to play extra exhibition games against unfamiliar competition, bond in the offseason and experience new cultures.
The Next reached out to 11 leading tour companies to gather information on the trips they have planned for Division I women’s basketball teams this summer. Ten companies responded, and one did not answer multiple requests for information. Their responses indicate that at least 18 teams will travel internationally this summer:
|Tour Company||Number of Foreign Tours|
|World Sports Travel||4|
|Sport Tours International||2|
|Complete Sports Management||1|
|Global Sports and Events||1*|
|Navigo Sports Tours||1|
|Showtime Basketball (Australia)||1|
|Beyond Sports Tours||0|
|JD Sports (Canada)||0|
Basketball Travelers, a well-known tour company that also runs the in-season Paradise Jam tournament, is taking six teams overseas, the most of any company surveyed. World Sports Travel (four) and Sport Tours International (two) are the only other companies with more than one team traveling this summer.
|North Texas||Puerto Rico||June 23-28||World Sports Travel|
|Stetson||Costa Rica||July 30-Aug. 5||World Sports Travel|
|Wyoming||Australia (Melbourne, Cairns, Sydney)||July 31-Aug. 12||Showtime Basketball|
|North Dakota State||Greece||Aug. 2-10||Global Sports and Events|
|Drake||Italy||Aug. 2-12||Basketball Travelers|
|Abilene Christian||Portugal||Aug. 3-10||World Sports Travel|
|South Dakota||Greece||Aug. 3-13||Temposs|
|Oklahoma||France (Cannes, Lyon, Paris)||Aug. 4-13||Complete Sports Management|
|Bowling Green||Costa Rica||Aug. 5-12||Sport Tours International|
|Northern Kentucky||Greece||Aug. 5-13||Sport Tours International|
|Pittsburgh||Italy||Aug. 6-16||Anthony Travel|
|Colorado||Spain||Aug. 6-16||Basketball Travelers|
|Memphis||Greece||Aug. 7-17||Basketball Travelers|
|Texas Tech||Greece||Aug. 8-15||World Sports Travel|
|Western Kentucky||Italy||Aug. 8-17||Basketball Travelers|
|Washington||Italy||Aug. 11-21||Basketball Travelers|
|Seattle University||Greece||Aug. 20-28||Basketball Travelers|
|Columbia||Morocco, Spain||Aug. 20-28||Navigo Sports Tours|
The majority of trips will be to Europe in August, but teams chose a variety of destinations, with nine countries and U.S. territories represented. “A lot of times, either the destination will drive the budget, or the budget will drive the destination,” Darren Cohen, the director of international team tours at Anthony Travel, told The Next.
These trips are often years in the making. Some reach out to tour companies for exploratory conversations three or four years ahead of time, and the more formal planning typically begins 11 to 18 months in advance. (Flights generally can’t be booked more than 11 months out, noted Kelsey Harris, the manager of international team tours at Anthony Travel and a former Elon basketball player.) Teams bring an average of about 30 people on their tours, both Anthony Travel and Basketball Travelers said, but some teams have much larger travel parties that include players’ families and/or donors.
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One key to a successful foreign tour is listening to what staffs want and customizing each trip to their interests and needs. “We are always trying to make a trip as personal as possible,” Cohen said. Industry veterans such as Cohen and Jennifer Ashby, the director of international programs and events at Basketball Travelers, know that no two teams are alike, even if they end up touring the same destination.
“I think I’ve heard it all,” Ashby told The Next. “… In any given year, I’ve had a coach tell me, ‘It’s super important that on our trip, we stay in a hotel that’s on a beach,’ and then have another coach say, ‘We don’t want to stay on a beach because at home, our kids can go to the beach.’ …
“It’s easier to do something cookie-cutter and do it the same way over and over again. And there is value in doing the same thing over and over again, but there’s also a lot more value in being able to listen to somebody … and now put it all together.”
For example, on a trip to Italy in 2017, UConn women’s basketball was able to attend the nearly 500-year-old horse race Palio di Siena and meet former champion Andrea Degortes. The following year, then-Wake Forest head coach Jen Hoover decided to have her team stay in Bergamo, Italy, the hometown of then-rising senior Elisa Penna. In 2015, Miami head coach Katie Meier insisted that her team get to see the Eiffel Tower light up at midnight, despite having a 9 a.m. game the next day. The smaller things matter, too: Ashby noted that coaches are often superstitious and might ask her to ensure, for example, that the team has the same pregame dessert of ice cream with chocolate sauce as it does during the season.
There are always cultural components to the experience, tour company representatives 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 — and limit tour guides to — just the most important sights and details to keep everyone engaged.
The cultural aspects can also blend with academic and even life skills components. In summer 2019, Tennessee’s players took a class at the university related to what they would experience abroad a few weeks later. Several teams have also taken cooking classes during their foreign tours and learned to make authentic recipes.
Cohen shared a story about a cooking class during a team’s trip to Italy to demonstrate how a personalized itinerary can be meaningful for everyone involved. “[One] student-athlete wanted to make sure, before they left, they [got] pictures of the recipe so that she could make pasta for her mother,” he said. “Her mother has always cooked for her for so long and all these things, and [she wanted] to show a little bit of appreciation.”
Whatever teams are looking for out of their trips, tour companies pride themselves on making it happen. “We like to say we’re the international director of operations so that the staffs can enjoy themselves,” Harris said. “And so being able to handle it from our end, so that the teams don’t feel any kind of stress, is a really important piece of it.”
That task is especially challenging for tour companies in the era of COVID-19. International travel protocols are constantly changing — in fact, on the day The Next spoke with Cohen and Harris, the Biden administration announced that it would eliminate the requirement for people entering the United States by air to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Foreign tour companies also have to prepare for flight delays and cancellations, which are “significant” right now at European airports due to staffing shortages, worker strikes and high demand for travel.
There is also at least some concern about the war in Ukraine. Ashby said that none of the teams she is working with had “expressed skittishness” about traveling, but teams Cohen is working with had. One team working with Cohen and Anthony Travel postponed its trip to 2023 because it wanted to visit Hungary, which shares a border with Ukraine.
“There were teams that simply were just uneasy about heading abroad because of that,” Cohen said.
Then there are the more evergreen concerns for tour companies. Scheduling the right level of competition is always challenging, Ashby said, and requires having strong local connections. For teams with international players, there is also the difficulty of navigating the U.S. visa system and ensuring that those players will be able to travel and then reenter the United States.
As tour companies get back into the swing of summer travel, there is optimism for the future of foreign tours. “We have heard from an extraordinary number of teams, the highest I’ve ever seen, for 2023,” Cohen said. He pointed out that most teams will have the option to travel next summer because it will have been at least four years since their most recent trips.
Ashby likewise expects to see growth in 2023 compared to 2022, but she predicts that it will take at least five years to reach 2019 levels. That’s because schools’ budgets are still feeling the impacts of COVID-19. Colleges and universities lost an average of about 14% of their revenue in 2020 and 2021, and enrollment — a key revenue driver — remains below pre-pandemic levels.
But whenever teams get to travel abroad, and whatever disruptions and challenges may arise during their trips, it’s sure to be a memorable and valuable experience. Harris knows that firsthand: As a student-athlete at Elon, she went on a foreign tour to France, Belgium and the Netherlands in 2011.
“An experience like this stays with a student-athlete for the rest of their lives,” she said. “These types of experiences and having exposure to different cultures … I think it helps prepare student-athletes for life.”
Note: This story was updated on Aug. 26 to include three additional teams taking foreign tours in summer 2022.
For further reading about foreign tours, you may be interested in this before and after series following six teams taking foreign tours in 2019 and/or this story on West Virginia’s 2019 tour from the perspective of a season ticket holder and donor.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.