Travel to learn, not to escape

The global rise of student mobility is closely linked to trends driving the booming youth travel industry. Young people seek meaningful travel. Study and work abroad do exactly that for students. This provides opportunities for education and accommodation providers, observe youth travel experts Samuel Vetrak and David Chapman.

The youth travel market represents an incredibly attractive growth market for the education industry. The New Horizons III – a global study of the youth and student traveller found that 22% of the 34,000 respondents cited language learning as the main purpose of their trip overseas in 2012. There was also an increased share of young people travelling for work experience (15%) and another 15% were travelling for study (other than language learning). Holiday was still the main purpose of the trip for 47%, although this percentage was significantly down from over 75% in 2007.

“We have seen a rapid growth in this so-called meaningful travel,” says Samuel Vetrak, CEO of StudentMarketing, a market intelligence and business development consultancy specialising in student travel. “Young people and students tend to travel to learn, as well as experience new things. They are not escapists travelling away from something – they like to spend their time abroad purposefully. For instance, a combination of language course and vacation has become a popular alternative to traditional leisure trips.”

Cultural experiences

David Chapman, WYSE Travel Confederation Director General: “Young travellers are trying to get more from their time abroad. Our research shows that the nature of youth travel has changed enormously in the past decade. Young travellers today want, more than ever, to be enriched by cultural experiences, to meet local people and to improve their employability when they return home.”

Language courses have traditionally been an incentive to go abroad. In recent years, a growing number of universities have started offering summer courses. These courses are often packaged with cultural programmes and include accommodation in student residences. Vetrak: “Language or summer courses have become a means – people learn a foreign language abroad in order to enrol at a university in the given country, or to get a better job at home. The English language travel market alone represents US$10.6 billion.” This demonstrates how youth travel and international academia are intertwined.

Volunteering abroad is another growing phenomenon, with the supply skyrocketing between 2005 and 2011. The number of programmes on offer has increased almost 10 times.

Youth travelers spend more

The total number of youth-travel arrivals worldwide surpassed 200 million in 2012. Young travellers tend to stay longer in one place, and thus spend more money. They are also more likely to come back if they have a good time. Research from Australia shows that the average spent per trip by incoming visitors was AU$4,812, while youth travellers spent an average of AU$7,279 and had a return rate of 56%. Chapman: “Because young people tend to spend more time in the same place, it is inevitable that they make new friends, resulting in a higher return rate.”

The youth travel and education market is not only showing rapid growth, it is also changing. The service providers, tour operators, information resource providers, specialised travel agents, accommodation providers and other members of the travel industry, are all aware of the fact that youth travel and education are indeed connected and is becoming a serious submarket.

StudentMarketing is seeing rapid consolidation in the industry: mergers and takeovers in the education and accommodation sector are creating an industry with fewer, but bigger and more professional players. Youth Travel has even been placed on the WTO’s agenda, further recognising it as a submarket of the global travel industry.

With the number of international students expected to nearly double by 2020, the demand for flexible and serviced student accommodation will grow, and StudentMarketing expects this growth to be significant. “Our estimate is that by 2020 the student housing market will have grown an additional US$30 billion in market value compared to today”, says Vetrak.

New business models

The changing youth travel market requires a different accommodation product. Hostels and budget hotels are upgrading services and room design to cater to the so-called flashpacker. Hostel group Generator – operating 6,400 beds throughout Europe, having recently purchased properties in both Rome and Paris – is attracting new customers with smartly-equipped rooms and sleek design. Student housing operators are catering to travellers and students alike. In Edinburgh, travellers can stay in university or student accommodation. “With single, twin and double ensuite rooms from £30, it is a comfortable and cost effective alternative to staying in a hostel or a hotel ”, reads the website of one of the providers. Rooms are available all year round, but bookings are mainly in the Christmas, Easter, and summer vacation periods.

Melon District operates student residence halls in two Barcelona locations. As well as students, young travellers are also welcome. Rooms can be rented for a single night, a few weeks or a full semester. The Student Hotel in the Netherlands and Belgium applies a similar strategy. Casa400 in Amsterdam is a student residence during the academic year, becoming a regular hotel in summer.