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From Rio to Belgrade, a 25-year journey traversing the globe

17 August 2016
17 Aug 2016 -

Callum Kennedy, Partner of Kennedy Mears Consultants Ltd, is a long-time member of the WYSE Travel Confederation community. He has attended many of the World Youth and Student Travel Conferences, so its fair to say that he has some good stories and useful advice for making the most out of WYSTC. Here’s what he has to say about our ’24-year old traveller’ WYSTC.

Six continents, 16 countries and 25 cities. What a trip the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) has been.

It is true to say that WYSTC lost a few travelling companions along the way. Some chose a different destination and others simply preferred to be independent travellers. But then again, many new individuals and organisations have joined the journey and it has been fascinating.

1992 (Rio de Janeiro) saw the coming together of two huge industry umbrella groups, ISTC and FIYTO. In a sense, it was the engagement party to see how the families got on with each other prior to announcing a wedding date. It took some years to get used to each other’s quirks and habits but, in the end, a strong union formed combining the strengths of each to form WYSE Travel Confederation. Arguably the direction and speed of travel in the early days (the 90s) was hampered and disproportionately influenced by large organisations and individuals and too focussed on the composition of committees and boards.

Large city centre venues for WYSTC like Paris (1997) and Madrid (2004) have been juxtaposed with smaller venues like Sitges (1994) and Rhodes (2002). WYSTC Dusseldorf (2000) was …well, industrial… and the delegates were spread across many hotels.
WYSTC 1997 banner

The Vienna (1993) conference was hot – set in a huge hot sauna/spa creating a rain-forest-like ambiance and humidity. The two conferences in Thailand could not have been more of a contrast; one in the super-congested city of Bangkok (1999), the second in the beach resort of Pattaya (2003). Cancun (2001) in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and a local hurricane provided sober food for thought for the few delegates who made it to Mexico. Everything about Beijing (2010) was exciting and new to those of us who were having a first taste of China. Admittedly, it rained non-stop in Vancouver (1994), but TravelCUTS provided boundless hospitality and umbrellas for all attendees! Toronto (2005) was remarkably similar in both respects! Brooklyn (2008) made us explore less familiar, off-the-beaten-path areas of New York. Dublin (2014) was simply great craic and who could forget Sir Ranulph Fiennes as the closing speaker?

Although each WYSTC is unique, there are, however, commonalities. No matter where – and irrespective of the weather – the local welcome and hospitality are always exceptional. WYSTC provides us with the opportunity to do business within the context of a new cultural experience and of course to let our collective hair down and have some fun in the evenings. The formal and informal networking helps us keep our finger on the business pulse of the industry both by sub-sector and as a whole.

Indeed, one of the bonuses of the conference is the opportunity to “meet the locals”. The presence of large numbers of often small indigenous organisations provides an insight into youth travel trends and development within the host country. This was especially evident and useful to us all in places like Beijing (2010), Sydney (2013) and Cape Town (2015). I am sure it will be the case in Serbia as WYSTC steps into Eastern Europe. The spirit of reciprocity is always at work. It is a two-way process; the local market benefits from the opportunity to showcase their expertise and product.

So how is our 24-year-old traveller? Like many who have undertaken extended trips it is leaner and wiser. It remains open to new experiences, but is perhaps more careful about who to travel with. WYSTC’s parent is less burdened by bureaucracy in 2016, more egalitarian, more approachable and walking with a spring in its step.

The 25th conference in Belgrade (2016) is of course not the journey’s end. We will all set out on new expeditions after having reached base camp.

So, how can you get the most out of the WYSTC experience? Get involved. The success of each conference is fundamentally created by the people who attend, not by the organisers alone. Study the programme in advance. Attend a variety of workshops and seminars. Be adventurous. Use the conference as an opportunity to learn something new. It is tempting to play it safe and go to sessions where you already have experience or expertise. Take a break and get outside the conference. See the city and the surrounding area, if possible. Above all, talk to your fellow delegates during the day and also during the many relaxed social moments!

See you in Belgrade at the 25th WYSTC. It will be stimulating and fascinating and ultimately whatever we all choose to make it.

WYSE Travel Confederation would like to acknowledge Callum Kennedy’s career-long dedication to advocating  the value of cultural exchange and the fact that he has made it to 23 of the 24 iterations of WYSTC across the globe. 

Callum Kennedy is a Partner of Kennedy Mears Consultants (KMCL) and provides consultancy services to organsations in the international student and youth travel exchanges. He has more than 20 years experience in programme development and liaising with government on cultural exchange affairs, including visa and immigration issues, programme evaluation, feasibility studies, quality control, best practices and standards, and safety awareness. Callum worked for BUNAC and its worldwide cultural exchange and volunteer programmes for more than 20 years between 1992 and 2012.


FIYTO was the Federation of International Youth Travel Organisations and ISTC was the International Student Travel Confederation. FIYTO and ISTC merged to form WYSE Travel Confederation.