“We want to break all of the negative stereotypes around student travel…” Interview with Eugene Winer of I Love Travel
This year’s winner of the Best Youth Tour Operator Award is the Canada-based I Love Travel, a family of travel brands offering the best and most innovative youth and student travel experiences around the world.
Since opening doors in 1976, I Love Travel has helped more than 150,000 travelers to visit destinations around the world today operates eight brands including S-Trip!, Campus Vacations, The New Breakaway Tours, Unleashed and Stoke Travel.
Eugene Winer, President and Chief Operating Officer of I Love Travel, talked with WYSE Travel Confederation about their coveted win and why I Love Travel stands apart from other tour operators in the youth and student travel space.
In your opinion, what are the main reasons that led consumers to vote for I Love Travel?
We think that people voted for us because we offer a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel with all of their friends, sometimes for the last time, as many go off to different schools, or move all around the world. We create an experience that students and youth will remember for the rest of their lives no matter what the next chapter has in store.
With that in mind, we gave our travelers the option to vote for us as the Best Youth Tour Operator after they had returned home from their trip. This process was completely voluntary, and we were thrilled with the overwhelming support from our community.
Can you tell us something about the ‘Happy Traveler Standards’ that I Love Travel works with?
Our Happy Traveler Standards were created through an internal brainstorm and workshop process where all destination and operations staff members contributed. The standards are how we ensure that travelers have an incredible experience, but they are also a representation of I Love Travel – they go to our core. Safe, seamless, inclusive and exciting; these are always top of mind in the planning, communicating and execution of our tours.
What does it take to stand apart from other youth/student tour operators at this point in time? Is this different than in the past? How do you see it changing in the future?
Student and youth travel is constantly changing and has really changed in the past 10 to 20 years, almost out of necessity. We stand out because we have made an emphasis on adapting to that change. We want to break all of the negative stereotypes around student travel, and create experiences that are not only fun, but safe.
We have seen a huge trend in the past 10 to 20 years from the “party” trips, to students wanting a more inclusive, cultural based travel experience. They want memories to take back home that are unique. They want to volunteer in local communities, and give back to the places they are traveling to. We only see this trend continuing, and we plan on adapting our product towards those incredible culture based memories.
How does I Love Travel track trends in student and youth travel? Do you rely on mainstream tourism intelligence or do you look a bit outside of the travel industry for clues about what is changing and how it could affect travel behaviour and preferences?
I Love Travel exists in a niche market within student travel and while we look at trends in mainstream tourism and youth travel, we don’t always see a correlation. For instance, in 2001 during 9/11, while the entire travel industry stood still, students were booking Grad Trip, unaffected by what was taking place. Our trend tracking tends to be focused around what is cool, what is new, and how we can connect our brand and vibe to this. Of course having an office full of Millennials and even younger helps this a lot!
How will I Love Travel showcase its award in the coming year?
Everyone at I Love Travel was ecstatic to hear the news that we had won for Best Youth Tour Operator. We are very excited to share with our community, past and present, for making this happen. We’ll also be sure to include in all marketing materials in the upcoming year.
Will you rally your customers again for next year’s awards?
We will always encourage our community to share their stories and their support for amazing student and youth travel. We hope we can meet or exceed our goals for 2017, and look forward to next year’s awards!
Please tell us about a new project, programme, product, or initiative that I Love Travel is working on.
We are championing a new project called Youth Initiatives. This is an opportunity for us as leaders for youth (not just youth travel), to engage and lead the discussion around important issues to youth, including mental health, alcohol & drug abuse, and sexual health. We have introduced a position VP of Youth Initiatives and started to engage our staff to start the conversation and research how we as youth travel leaders can affect and engage young people on these important issues.
This sounds very interesting. How will it tie into travel and the products and experiences that you offer or is it the basis of a corporate responsibility programme?
We don’t know how this will evolve or tie into our existing travel and products. We believe that these issues are important to young people and will resonate, but they must grow organically, we are not forcing that these become components of our tours. However, this is not just a CSR piece so that we can say we are trying to help out youth. We are leaders in youth travel and can be influencers in the tough conversations that exist around the many issues young people face in the world today – we can be a positive force and a method for communication.
See the Hall of Fame to learn more about other winners of the Global Youth Travel Awards.