Premier International Tours’ Founder Loek Van Zijl on The Power Of Soccer Travel
Premier International Tours has helped American youth soccer teams discover the joys and challenges of competing across the Atlantic for decades. More popular than ever, team travel allows players to experience how the shared passion for the beautiful game unites players from different countries.
Premier International Tours founder Loek van Zijl fell in love with traveling as a soccer player when he was young. Driven to share this experience, van Zijl built a highly successful business in America and has shared the joy of traveling with a soccer team with more than 25,000 players. In fact, over the years, Van Zijl has helped nearly 2,000 youth soccer teams travel around the globe and was one of the first people in the soccer world arranging tours for American teams.
Born in the Netherlands, van Zij has traveled extensively and knows the international youth soccer landscape better than most. His company has earned the highest of awards from the Better Business Bureau and works closely with US Youth Soccer, US Club and many other national, regional and local organizations and clubs. A proud partner of Nike, van Zijl’s company professionally arranges highly organized and comprehensive tours for teams of all ages and can even arrange community service projects.
Premier International Tours has arranged travel for more than 25,000 youth soccer players
The real value of traveling with a soccer team extends far beyond the competition on the field and the final score of the tournament’s games. Exploring the world with teammates, along with coaches and even parents, allows players to see the world differently than on a family vacation.
Players are able to discover how small the world is while being challenged by international teams.
The passion for the sport of soccer is global, and nothing can match the bond that can form between players from foreign countries — when they cross the field’s white line together and realize the language of the ball is all they need. Even if traveling abroad with a soccer team is far from cheap, it is a rite of passage that broadens the mind.
According to Jim Eisenhardt from Morrisville SC, “Ever since 2005, the Morrisville SC, a small Vermont soccer club, has had the pleasure to see the world, traveling with Premier International Tours. We have had 15 boys and girls teams take tours to Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris and all over Italy, Denmark and Portugal.”
“It has been an amazing experience for our players.”Jim Eisenhardt from Morrisville SC
“This summer we will be taking a U16 boys team to Italy and I have the trust and confidence that this trip will again be another amazing success,” says Eisenhardt. “I know that everything will be taken care of, allowing my teams to focus on experiences they will remember for a lifetime.”
Chad Liddle founder of the Darlington School Soccer Academy echoes this sentiment and says, “Loek and his team are experts. The tours are so professional and well organized, the players, coaches, and families can focus on what is important, immersing themselves in the culture, preparing for the competition and enjoying the shared passion for the game.”
“I think travel and experiencing culture through the common world language of the beautiful game is the greatest educational opportunity.Chad Liddle, Director Soccer Academy at Darlington School
“I have kids from all around the world, but I still want to show all my kids the world of soccer and the passion the game brings,” adds Liddle. “It is also about making life long memories.”
SoccerToday Interview with Loek van Zijl
Diane Scavuzzo: What motivates you?
Loek van Zijl: What drives me? Showing the world is connected through soccer.
It is motivating to open the eyes of youth soccer players all across America. When they go on one of our Premier International Tours, we open their eyes to the world.
Diane Scavuzzo: When did you first discover your passion for travel?
Loek van Zijl: If we go back to why I started, I was a boy of 16-years-old and I went from the Netherlands to Germany with my soccer team in 1975. This was usually done back in those days. There were still emotions between Holland and Germany which lingered from WW2 but on the soccer field, it didn’t matter. The only thing that matters on the soccer field is the ball and a player’s ability. I love the way players make friends with kids from other countries.
At Premier International Tours — what we do is help people discover the world through soccer.
We build a bridge that connects teams and families to the experience of the game abroad.
It is a civilized world on the other side of the ocean. A world with a breathtaking atmosphere and a rich soccer culture.
There is real power in the mutual understanding created through soccer, regardless of politics or social economics.
Diane Scavuzzo: Premier International Tours has taken over 26,700 players on approximately 2,000 teams overseas. Is there any common experience usually shared by the teams that travel?
Loek van Zijl: People who take our tours come back with a deeper love of the game of soccer. Traveling internationally, testing your skills against new competition and coaching against foreign teams, it is an experience to remember.
Soccer abroad is social, and teams and coaches connect after the game and even before.
Diane Scavuzzo: Can American teams compete successfully in Europe?
Loek van Zijl: Yes, of course. It is always interesting to see how an American team ranks in comparison with their international counterparts on an international stage.
Often coaches in Europe are surprised.
And the teams from the U.S., they have a great time. How can you not when you are playing on a field with the Vatican in the background? Or competing in an international youth soccer tournament with teams from all over the world?
It is always a good learning experience. Sometimes, players even discover they need to be humble …
Diane Scavuzzo: How did you start your career in travel?
Loek van Zijl: At 20, I started working for a firm that working bringing teams from the USA to Europe.
After the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA, interest in international soccer travel exploded. By then, I was in the USA and we were taking twenty groups a year overseas. It was a huge deal and we were one of the only organizations familiar with European soccer and arranging this type of travel.
Now, decades later, traveling to Europe on a team trip is a part of the American youth soccer resume — all the big, important clubs take annual trips.
It is an obligation for a big club to have every player experience an international tour.
It used to the exception, now it is part of the soccer curriculum and education. Many of the smaller, independent clubs want to give their players this experience as well.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is it affordable?
Loek van Zijl: Well, like anything else, it depends upon how much you want it.
Average Daily Starbucks for One Year = One Player’s Trip on a Team Tour
If you go to Starbucks and order coffee and pay $5.50 for a cappuccino every day — well, the money spent on all those coffees in a year can be more than the actual cost of a trip.
And, we have excellent fundraising programs. Every year, Premier International Tours gives away two roundtrip tickets to Europe as a prize for this raffle.
Players can sell raffle tickets and pay for their entire trip.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the cost of a trip?
Loek van Zijl: The cost per player for a trip to compete in a tournament in Europe ranges from $2,000 to $4000 — the average is $2,500 and includes tournament costs, hotels, 2 meals a day, transportation and usually even tickets to a professional game.
We also help teams with financial planning. We do not need huge chucks — teams can pay over a period of months so players can fundraise. It is a luxury but it is a life-changing experience and there are enough fundraising efforts available.
If you want it, you can really make it happen.
We feel it is so important that teams travel, we try to help. For example, when a youth soccer team becomes either US Youth Soccer and US Club National Champions, Premier International Tours offers them a $10,000 travel certificate towards an international tour.
Diane Scavuzzo: what is the best way to begin planning a soccer tour?
Loek van Zijl: Decide where you want to go. Do you want to travel to England, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Ireland, Scotland, Germany or Italy — just select a destination or pick a European youth soccer tournament and everything else will start to fall into place.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do most parents join the team on the trip?
Loek van Zijl: Parents are always welcome. Even for parents who are well-traveled, it is almost the same experience as for the player.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is traveling with a soccer team really different from visiting the country as a family?
Loek van Zijl: Soccer travel is different. Soccer travel brings you into the community
If you go to Spain with a tour organization, you become part of the experience — As a tourist, we go to a city and we leave. On a soccer trip, you experience the culture and the people. And you do not need to speak the language.
Diane Scavuzzo: What makes Premier International Tours different from other travel organizations arranging soccer trips?
Loek van Zijl: There is no organization in America that has more experience. I know every place, every game — With 40 years of experience, our expertise cannot be matched and because of our volume, our prices are the best.
We roll 40 years of knowledge into every single tour. We make sure the American teams are taken care of, and we know what they want.
Teams from the USA expect WIFI, they eat a bigger breakfast than European teams and expect more selection, and Americans expect a level of service that teams from other countries only dream of.
And, quite frankly, one of the best reasons to go on a soccer tour — guess what it is? You will never guess.
Getting kids untethered from their screen.
One last thing, I am proud of our work — the quality of our tours and our rates. We want to give back to the American youth soccer community because the soccer community has given us everything we have — we have two beautiful kids, and we sincerely love living in the USA. We are very grateful.