Delegates have arrived for World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) 2017 in Montreal, Canada. Here they will discuss a range of issues affecting global youth tourism, these include visa changes to youth mobility, the changing international student landscape, and also the maturing of youth travel within the larger travel context. Youth travel to now be an integral part of tourism and no longer a niche player.

David Chapman, Director General of WYSE Travel Confederation offered the welcome to delegates of the 26th edition of this international event. Hundreds of participants are gathered from companies around the world and across the whole youth travel sector. This four-day event is being held at Palais des congrès de Montréal.

Mr Chapman thanked WYSE Travel Confederation members for their continued support of this important gathering and also thanked host destination – Canada for bringing the opportunity for business and cultural exchange to one of their key youth travel and educational exchange cities – Montreal, Quebec. He went on to say that “Long-time members know that WYSE and its predecessor organisations have been rallying for youth travel for decades – forging opportunities for young people to travel and learn – for youth travel to be recognised as a critical instrument in cultural understanding and world peace and as a bedrock of tourism. Our work is recognised by the UNWTO, UNESCO, European Commission, governments and tourism authorities around the world.”

He also contested that while destinations need to work together (when appropriate) they are also better for their differences. He used the host destination in this analogy. How can distance in Canada be measured here in kilometres, but the speed one travels to get there is measured in miles per hour. Why is a wine bottle 75cl, but the glass the wine is put into measured in ounces? Ours is not to wonder why, we should just wander the paths and walkways of Montréal and enjoy.

David Chapman then introduced the audience to this year’s keynote speaker – David Turnbull from SnapShot – a big data aggregator. While this year’s presentation was not intended to ’scare’ delegates about the potential cost of operating blind, David (Turnbull) did want to wake up the youth travel sector to the costs associated with not sharing and mining data well. He suggested that most companies have 10-20 mins with a customer (using retail and cafes as examples) and yet a hospitality businesses (David comes from hotels and speaks best from this sector) will get 24 hours or more.

However he contends retail (department stores and or supermarkets are examples) mine data better than hospitality, but why? He suggests because most hospitality (you can insert tourism here) are not storing, sharing or mining data well.

He went on to reference the major IT players in the hospitality space (e.g. Priceline and Expedia) who because they understand the value of data were doing much better and are then better able to offer customers a great online customer experience. This in part due to their capacity to accurately create, store and analyze  customer data.

He asked the audience not to be scared of the term ‘big data’, the real meaning of big data was only that it had become data that had gotten too big to deal with and that data warehouses (structure) had become data lakes (unstructured). He also suggested by passing your data (and making it big data) to an aggregator then some of the stress of what to do with it is removed.

David Chapman came back for an excellent question time to add that there is a danger for the youth tourism sector of being relegated to a commodity, with third party organisations running the show. He put out a challenge to those in the audience, he said that they need to find ways of sharing data for the benefit of our own businesses and the wider youth sector, because without sharing data our sector will continue to lack control.

Note: inbound youth travel to Canada averages 157 days, is primarily for holiday and study and includes an average per youth traveller spend of EUR 4800.