UNWTO chief: Youth Travel needs more support from governments and destinations


At ITB Berlin 2016 leading stakeholders demonstrate youth travel’s impact on destinations at the Youth Travel Summit. UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai, opened the 6th ITB Youth Travel Summit with a clear message to governments and destinations to support Youth Travel as the powerful engine for progress and tourism development.

The Summit included three Panels encompassing education and accommodation providers, tour operators, and destinations and international associations pointing to what drives Youth Travel and how it is reshaping tourism behaviors and preferences from student groups all the way to international student populations.

The First Panel, preceded by UNWTO’s Taleb Rifai, saw the Secretary General’s Keynote Speech expand on the importance of Youth Travel as a vital source of innovation, social integration and sustainability for destinations. Rifai also highlighted the benefits and positive social impact of this new, culturally driven, and resilient form of tourism on local communities, “The future of world tourism, future of travel is being shaped by young travelers of today. They’re, after all, going to be travelers of tomorrow.” He also went on to say, “This all needs more recognition from governments, as well as private sector, to create policies and strategies catering for that.”

The Panel was then opened by industry expert Samuel Vetrak, CEO of StudentMarketing, who went on to give some insights into the Youth Travel industry: $250b in revenue alone (comparable to business travel) and representing nearly a quarter (24%) of all international arrivals. Furthermore, youth travelers stay longer, and spend more (per trip rather than per day), with a growing formal and informal education component blended into tourism creating an increased value proposition. “Destinations should focus on content as the main mobility driver (experience, skill-building, education-building drivers) for visits and also recognize that youth travelers are open to new destinations, creating a great opportunity for non-mainstream destinations as well.”

The Second Panel, led by Carylann Assante, Executive Director, Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA), expounded on their comprehensive research study to be released in June 2016, “Student and Youth Travel Digest,” mapping the unique characteristics of the student group travel market (10-18 age group segment). Commissioned by SYTA and conducted by StudentMarketing, this 3 year, robust B2B research involved surveying US and international tour operators and US teachers and group leaders with 2,143 responses representing 1.1 million traveling students. Carylann noted that “the study, to be released in June 2016 shows student group travel as a unique combination of students, parents, educators and teachers, tour operators, destinations and other partners and provides the first-of-its-kind insight into this segment.”

The panel was composed of:

Theresa Belpulsi, Vice-President of Tourism | Destination DC

Uwe Flügel, CEO | welcome berlin tours

Christian Walker, Managing Director | Ardmore Educational Travel

Mike Clark, Managing Director | ECE Travel

The Third Panel, led by Frank Uffen, Founder of The Class of 2020 and Partnership Director of The Student Hotel, provided a better understanding of the connections between higher education and youth travel within the framework of opportunity. According to Vetrak, who co-presented the Panel, the current number of 4.5m international higher education students is expected to climb to 6 million by 2020 and generate an economic impact of $132bn. Vetrak also pointed out how international students contribute to tourism growth and city development – generating additional visitation (visiting friends and family and as returning visitors), contribution to the social fabric of the city and bringing further benefits as prospective residents.

Some of the questions Uffen addressed included, “what kind of strategies can cities apply to compete in this increasingly growing and international higher education market?” and, “how does one work with other partners in a city, to create a stronger and more competitive offering?” He further highlighted research and best practices from destinations such as Copenhagen, Glasgow, Rotterdam or Vienna as an inspiration for other cities who might not be taking advantage of the connection between higher education and youth travel.

The panel was composed of:

Rachel Sandison, Director – Marketing, Recruitment & International | University of Glasgow

Emil Spangenberg, Director of Marketing and Communication | Wonderful Copenhagen

Karl Wöber, Professor of Tourism and Rector | MODUL University

Kim Heinen, International Press Officer | Rotterdam Partners