Tiffany Harrison and STA Travel recognize flexibility is vital when younger travelers venture out into the world. // © 2018 Tiffany Harrison
Feature image (above): STA Travel’s layaway program makes it easier for students to afford studying abroad in locations such as Stirling, Scotland. // © 2018 Creative Commons user dun_deagh
When Tiffany Harrison was 20 years old, she got on a plane for the first time and hopped across the pond to study abroad in Stirling, the “Heart of Scotland,” for a year. The first of a large family to graduate from college, she says the cost of traveling was always the deciding factor, but taking the leap abroad was a big turning point in her life. Harrison came back to the U.S. knowing she wanted to support others on the path toward similar life-changing travel experiences.
Today, Harrison is doing just that as the senior marketing manager for STA Travel, the world’s largest student and youth travel company, which has been helping young travelers expand their horizons for nearly 40 years.
Harrison talks to TravelAge West about recent trends with this demographic and how STA Travel appeals to younger travelers.
When planning travel for students and young adults, what are some factors that you especially must keep in mind?
I would say flexibility and freedom are crucial because their plans can change at the drop of a hat. That’s what we really keep in mind at STA Travel: We have resources that support student travelers.
One example of this is our exclusive deposit program, a layaway program that helps make the cost of airfare a bit more accessible. The traveler puts down a deposit, locking in the price. Then, he or she has until seven days before departure to finish paying it off. There are no fees; there’s no payment structure. It was built around the idea that students are sometimes relying on financial aid — I was that kind of student — and they don’t necessarily have $1,500 to spend on a plane ticket.
Is there a specific destination that is especially popular this year?
It’s hard to put a pin on just one specific destination. We’re working with something like 2 million travelers each year. A lot of people are looking to those “endangered destinations.” That’s one of the most interesting things based on today’s — no pun intended — climate that we’re seeing happening.
The impact of humans on the world is really driving people to go and see things that maybe won’t be around forever. For places such as New Zealand and the Arctic, they don’t just want to read about it or hear about it. They want to see it, too.
What other trends are emerging with student and youth travelers in 2018?
The main thing is that people are looking for those personalized, authentic, off-the-beaten-path experiences. It’s really exciting to see millennials and Gen Zers investing in that. It’s not so much about the destination anymore: It’s more so about what they can do while they’re there, what kind of story they can tell about it and what’s the most Instagram-worthy.
Travelling around to see different music festivals is a big movement. Trekking is another trend that we’re seeing quite a bit, whether it’s through Nepal or somewhere in South America; that relates to getting outside of those hot-spot tourist destinations. People really want to experience the country and get a feel for what it’s like as a local.
Sustainability is also very top of mind for today’s younger traveler. They don’t want to negatively impact the location that they’re traveling to. Finding ways to contribute some sort of tangible benefit for the community and the locals is important.
How is group travel changing?
It used to be very guided — there was no breaking off from the itinerary, and that’s just what you got. But, in the last five years alone, that’s changed dramatically because what people want to experience has changed so much.
STA has recognized that, and our partners have recognized that. The change is happening industry-wide. Group travel’s transformation is exciting because it offers a look at cultures on a level that you didn’t used to see.
Travelers get a 360-degree look at a destination even if they’re going to be there for only a week. Group tours have really adapted to make sure you are digging beneath the surface of a destination in a limited amount of time.
For some of the schools we work with, we do suggested itineraries. Those professors and advisors will have specific curriculum-inspired destinations in mind, then we can build around that.