Now through May is peak travel time for students—many taking spring break and class trips. With virus fears prevalent, Student and Youth Travel Association members are making adjustments to give students a safe travel experience.
The global coronavirus outbreak came at a bad time for students planning to travel. Student travel reaches its highest level in the spring, says Carylann Assante, CAE, CEO of the Student Youth and Travel Association (SYTA).
“We are seeing most of the activity around the next three months,” Assante said. “For a lot of these kids, they have fundraised for these trips; this is their eighth-grade trip or the senior class trip.”
However, the arrival of the coronavirus is forcing schools and students to change those plans. Travel to and from China halted due to travel bans. A major outbreak in Italy created travel angst about the rest of the continent.
“One of the most dramatic shifts is European travel,” Assante said. “One challenge is whether the attractions you want to visit will be open. The Louvre closed, the Vatican catacombs are closed. What are you going to be able to see when you’re there?”
Because students have planned these trips for months, SYTA members—who include tour operators, travel agents, and suppliers—are working to ensure that students still get a travel experience, even if it isn’t the one originally intended.
“Many [members] are rerouting their groups, looking at an alternate destination that may not have a travel advisory,” Assante said. “Our members have crisis contingency plans in place, and that’s part of their requirements as members. Their knowledge of destinations and what’s available is part of their expertise.”
Because there has been so much media coverage about coronavirus, some schools are considering cancelling travel, even if there are no advisories for their destination. SYTA members are trying to help schools make informed decisions.
“If they decide to cancel, [they’re] looking at how much money was already expended in the deposit and what the ramifications are,” Assante said. “One group decided to cancel, and they are working to see: Can they do a travel voucher? Can they switch? What can they get back?”
SYTA checks in daily with other travel associations and government agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. State Department, to stay updated on the status of the virus and guidance for travel. “We are using them as our trusted resources in communicating with our members and their customers,” Assante said.
Assante stressed that facts should be key in the decision-making process. “In the United States, because there are no travel advisories, some of the decisions are based on fear, not data,” she said. “A lot of spring break trips are going to Washington, New York, Orlando, Chicago, and all of those [convention and visitors bureaus] have updated toolkits for traveling to those destinations.”
While the coronavirus is new, SYTA is no stranger to crisis response. “We have gone through 9/11, SARS [virus], a variety of situations that have impacted student travel,” Assante said. “Our focus is always on the traveler and their safety and to help them continue their trip.”