Student group travel was on course for “greatest year ever” pre-Covid-19

According to the Student Travel Business Barometer 2019 released by the Student & Youth Travel Association and BONARD, the student and youth group travel industry is a significant segment that was “on course to achieve its greatest year ever” prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

“[The industry] was on course to achieve its greatest year ever”

The initiative focused on 149 student tour operators from 26 countries across the world, which included both SYTA members and non-members. Overall, responding businesses represented 1.8 million travelling students.

The data gathered from 2019 measured three main performance indicators: number of students travelling, average trip duration and average group size.

Of all quarters, Q2 recorded the highest number of respondents (65%) reporting a year-on-year increase in the number of students travelling domestically.

Q4 and Q1 also performed strongly, with 60% and 54% of business reporting growth in customer volume.

Regarding international trips, the biggest number of operators that saw an increase in student numbers was recorded in Q3 (56%), with Q2 (52%) and Q1 (46%) following closely.

Carylann Assante, SYTA CEO, noted that the idea behind the industry study was to establish a data platform for the global student group travel industry.

“Our 2019 business barometer shows that the student and youth group travel industry is a significant industry segment that was on course to achieve its greatest year ever, prior to the outbreak of Covid-19,” she said.

“The pandemic brought that growth to a screeching halt, but the great value in our business barometer is that we now have a benchmark of real data that we can use to measure growth as we hopefully move into recovery phase in late 2020, 2021 and beyond.”

Assante said she hoped that the numbers reported predict a good sign for recovery later this year and into 2021.

“If we can count on the strength of Q1, Q2 and Q4 in 2019, we are optimistic that we may be able to see a rebound in business in Q4 of 2020 and Q1 and Q2 of 2021,” she explained.

However, Assante pointed out that as the majority of the business is derived from school trips, “school openings around the world will be the real determinant of our recovery”.

The barometer also explored the sentiment of student tour operators on health and safety, the role of technology in business, and sustainability.

“Health and safety will be number one on each operator’s list of priorities for certain”

Student travel customers placed cost and content aspects of their trip as their top priorities in 2019, however, safety was growing as a concern.

Now with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, safety is expected to emerge as the top global concern.

Prior to the pandemic, 46% of responding SYTA members claimed to be prepared for critical situations, however, 59% of non-member organisations already felt challenged by safety concerns and risk management requirements.

All student tour operators said they make use of mobile applications and social media to communicate with schools and parents, but a majority of the operators surveyed did not use GPS devices to track students during their trips.

Additionally, none of the operators recorded high demand from customers for sustainable elements in group travel and in fact found reluctance by customers to bear higher costs to pay for sustainable features in their itineraries.

“We anticipate that we may find some striking differences in the attitudes of operators and their customers to all of these issues in 2020 and beyond,” continued Assante.

“Health and safety will be number one on each operator’s list of priorities for certain, and we expect both technology and sustainability to play a far greater role as trip planning transforms in a post-Covid student travel industry.”

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