As we head into 2015, we sat down with StudentUniverse CEO, Atle Skalleberg, to discuss trends in travel and study abroad. From top study abroad locations to the possibility of studying abroad in Cuba, Atle shared his thoughts on the trends and changes in study abroad:
Where are students traveling abroad in 2015?
Currently, 65 percent of American students who study abroad, study in Europe. Although we are seeing travel to Asia and Latin America pick up, we would love to see it move even faster.
London, Madrid, Paris, Rome and Barcelona (in that order) remain the top destinations where students studied abroad in 2014. Based on our booking data, we see some new “breakout” travel destinations for students. These include Buenos Aires, San Jose (Cost Rica), Istanbul, Budapest and Cape Town.
How are student travel patterns changing?
What we have found is that what used to be considered adventurous is now becoming the norm for student travelers. Patterns have been changing for the last decade and they will continue to do so this year. This means that students are not only going farther, but also changing their main reason for travel. We believe international leisure travel will continue to grow this year as students go farther than ever before for what used to be in-market events.
Where visiting landmarks used to drive decisions, experiences have overtaken as the primary driver. Events such as backpacking in Asia, extreme sports in Australia and volunteering in South America are increasingly becoming commonplace.
Additionally, students are making a kind of temporary home within the culture they have chosen to experience. Students are increasing their average length of stay and spend in-destination (fueling local economies), and are more likely to return in the future. They are crossing borders for language immersion and engaging in jobs and internships while abroad. Additionally, nearly half of those who have studied abroad engaged in international work or volunteerism after their studies were over.
Recently we have seen several currencies weaken against the USD. Should this continue, we believe this might impact the appetite for incoming US tourism; however, also further fuel the trends previously described, for American students. Why go to national beach for Spring Break if you can go abroad and get 20%+ more for your dollar?
Will the White House Directive influence study abroad locations?
In 2015 it will be very interesting to see what changes the new U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has on the awareness and frequency of students studying abroad, and the locations they travel to.
The purpose of the Bureau is to encourage more students to study abroad, provide information about the grants that are available for students to study abroad and encourage travel to new destinations, including South East Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.
We are very pleased to see this initiative go live as we fundamentally believe travel should be part of any modern education.
Will students be studying abroad in Cuba anytime soon?
Normalizing relations with Cuba is just the first in a series of steps that need to be taken before Cuba is a popular tourist destination. This recent announcement of normalized relations still only grants specific groups of people (including educational groups, humanitarian groups and students seeking course credits in various subjects) the ability to travel to Cuba. The embargo against travel to Cuba is still in effect and is something that Congress will need to eliminate, so it is hard to say when this would be a reality.
Destinations typically invest millions of dollars and spend years developing an infrastructure that is conducive to an influx of travelers. Budget accommodations, affordable airfare, tours and activities, nightlife, safety and educational and cultural immersion opportunities are all factors. Even after the political hurdle is crossed, there is a lot of development needed on the tourism front. We will certainly see some early adopters (often students and youth lead the pack on making new destinations popular) wanting to go someplace that others haven’t been, but it will be some time before we expect Cuba to top destination lists.
Boston-based StudentUniverse is a technology company that operates the most visited student deals website/service in the United States. By verifying student status, the company is able to offer its members access to exclusive deals and experiences.