Carylann Assante is the CAE-CEO of the Student & Youth Travel Association.

Airports are bustling, motorcoaches are traversing interstates and train schedules are picking up. Travel is recovering and the student market is no exception. The Student Youth & Travel Association (SYTA) is beginning to see a healthy return of business this fall and for 2023 and beyond, following a devastating 90% loss in business in 2020 and a small percentage of recovery in 2021. Now, as the world has opened up again, parents, teachers and students are all anxious to resume experiential learning through travel, and the increased bookings reported by our members reflect that eagerness.

Overall, according to the 2021 Student Travel Business Barometer, 79% of tour operators and travel agencies agree that domestic travel will continue to be in high demand in the near future and we are optimistic this overall demand will continue to drive the student travel recovery. While we don’t have data on the 2022 student travel performance yet (Watch for our 2022 Student Group Travel Business Barometer in March, 2023), we have definitely seen some changes in student travel. For example, in the U.S. and internationally, Tier 2 destinations are benefitting greatly from the demand for closer-to-home trips and outdoor venues. We have also seen that student trips are longer, with tour operators staying in one location for a longer time to reduce exposure opportunities and costs. And, not surprisingly in our current economy, we have seen a rise in overall costs for student trips.

More positive for the industry as a whole, we are seeing employment in the student travel sector recovering. The increased business offerings bring new opportunities for diversity in the workplace along with commensurate opportunities for robust training programs. With the USA being the most popular destination for international trips taken in 2021, accounting for 24.2 % of student travel, this need for employment is all the more important.

International student travel has proven to be even more challenging for the student market. Some of the more popular student destinations like Canada have only recently fully opened up to international visitors. Health and safety restrictions vary widely among different countries, making it extremely difficult to satisfy the safety protocols for school boards and administrators. In 2020 and 2021, our Student Group Travel Business Barometer showed more than 80% declines in international travel, however the tour operators surveyed were optimistic for full recovery to pre-Pandemic levels in 2024. Bookings for the 2023 Spring and Fall seasons are looking robust, so we are hopeful that we may reach that recovery level even sooner.

While the health and safety of our student travels have always been the No. 1 priority of SYTA members, the Covid 19 pandemic necessitated even greater focus on our safety standards and on new ways to promote them to reassure educators, administrators and parents that our operators can be trusted partners in providing safe and financially protected travel experiences. SYTA provides training, education and certification programs to help them navigate these challenges. Looking to the future, we are working with the international tour operator community to introduce a set of global safety standards that can be customized by country to make international itinerary planning much easier.

While challenges remain, there is overwhelming agreement that student travel provides the experiential element to a well-rounded education that is particularly important following the past two years of isolation for our young people. SYTA is working hard to ensure that students can travel safely and that teachers and parents can feel confident to send their young people out into the world again.

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By Carylann Assante

To learn more about the 2022 Titans of Tourism, visit the December issue of Leisure Group Travel.