On Tuesday I arrived in San Diego for the annual WYSTC — the World Youth and Student Travel Conference. It may be a bit of a jumble of an acronym, but it is by far the largest conference of its type. And I am here as a speaker to share two presentations about our HI-USA work and the youth accommodations market.
WYSTC is a global forum, held once every five years or so in North America. Nowhere else can you find hostels, Couchsurfing and student dormitories, along with au pair, cultural exchange, work and study abroad and language school organizations from around the world under one roof – exchanging ideas, generating business, and cementing friendships.
Yet this year the meaning of WYSTC seems to hold new promise, with the message of its keynote speaker, Taleb Rifai, the Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization. The Secretary General used the forum to assert the UN’s growing interest in the value of youth travel as a global cultural and economic asset. Last year UNWTO co-published with WYSTC organizers “The Power of Youth Travel“; this year, Rifal shared UNWTO’s intention to build wider appreciation and support for youth travel among national governments. He encouraged WYSTC members (like HI-USA) to advocate for its value, especially when well supported by market research that proves the point.
Market research was already on my mind as I prepared for the conference. With a view to better representing the youth travel segment in our own domestic advocacy, HI-USA earlier in the year supported WYSTC in gathering hostel and consumer research for the US market. A special WYSTC seminar, “The Value of the Youth Travel Accommodations Industry”, was dedicated to sharing the global research results, and I shared as a panelist the scope of potential HI-USA uses, for both advocacy and operations. (Interest in HI-USA’s “Travel Continuum as a Life Long Journey” resulted in the second seminar session.)
The event also is an opportunity to build visibility for HI and hostelling. With hats off to the HI-San Diego Council, HI-USA is hosting tonight a reception at the San Diego hostel for conference participants.
WYSTC found a deeper voice this year, with the enthusiastic endorsement by the United Nations of youth travel as a cultural and economic force. It’s a good sign for HI-USA, and our efforts to bring hostel travel into the mainstream consciousness of American life.