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Carylann Assante, CAE is a lifelong learner with a passion for travel that began with her family's annual vacation. Her desire to travel led her to major in art and languages at Vanderbilt University, where she studied abroad in Spain and France.

While her original plan was to travel art collections, she switched to people when she began her career at a historic hotel in Washington DC. She specialized in meetings and events in the hospitality industry, student and youth programs in higher education and leading not-for-profits and associations. She eventually became the CEO of SYTA and the SYTA Youth Foundation and today leads this global association for student and youth travel.

What are the most interesting student travel industry changes you've experienced?

SYTA is celebrating its 25th anniversary and I would say the most interesting changes have been brought by smartphones and technology. We used to take phones away from students because we thought it kept them from engaging with their travel mates and the live experience, but instead, it gives youth travelers access to information that helps them prepare, investigate and become more curious. They are now storytellers, videographers and curators of their own experiences.

What other changes are you seeing beyond the technology?

An appreciation by the industry for the student traveler. They are providing more experiential experiences. They connect the student more personally or through curriculum to the destination or the attraction. Like amusement parks that offer STEM related products or allow students to go behind the scenes to see how the attraction operates, and what the job opportunities are.

From a DEI perspective, more destinations are marketing and using photos that reflect the faces of younger, and more diverse travelers. Students need to see themselves in the photos to believe they can actually do what the destination is promoting. Zip-lining, white water rafting, service projects—if they don't see themselves, then how can they feel it's for them?

What are the greatest challenges facing the student travel industry?

Students have essentially been without travel for two years. What impact will this have on them? We all agree that students benefit from travel. But schools, administrators, and parents are all concerned with the uncertainties surrounding travel and are hesitant to approve school trips. We are seeing this globally. As an industry, we need to rebuild their trust and demonstrate that we can still travel safely.

What opportunities do you see for the student travel industry?

A silver lining could be the transparency and understanding by customers of the trip planning process. We see group leaders and tour operators as partners creating transformational learning experiences with suppliers who have reinvented their destinations and attractions to meet the needs of today's student groups.

What should every newcomer to the student travel industry know?

That travel changes young lives for good, and everything they can do to make travel possible for every student—regardless of financial need or socioeconomic status—is an imperative. When a student visits their destination, they will come back as an adult.

Written by Josh Veal, Contributing Writer for Groups Today.

This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb '22 issue of Groups Today.

 

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