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“I believe it was the most spectacular event ever organized in the world.” José Carlos Hauer Santos of STB reflects on WYSTC 1992 and the evolution of student travel

10 June 2016
10 Jun 2016 -
This year marks the 25th year of the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC). A lot has changed since WYSTC 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. How has the event evolved alongside student travel itself? WYSE asked José Carlos Hauer Santos, Chief Executive Officer of STB, Brazil’s largest student travel agency with a significant global presence, to share his story of organising the very first WYSTC as we know it today and his thoughts on how the industry and student travel have evolved over the decades.

How did STB become the local host organisation for WYSTC in 1992? Are you glad that you did it?

One of the reasons is that I wanted to do it – the first conference to include all three organizations, FIYTO, ISTC and BITEJ.* At the time these organizations organized three different events, FIYTO being the largest, but with a large number of providers, ISTC was basically buyers, and Bitej was small, but important in the social context. I am very glad I did it and believe it was the most spectacular event ever organized in the world. I knew that the event needed to be a success in order to guarantee continuity and not go back to the old model of three events per year, so we worked hard to guarantee the success.

What was so special about WYSTC at the time? 

The event was thought out in its minimal details: the quality of the venues, we had two hotels in Rio, the Intercontinental and the Sheraton, the meeting rooms, social events, parties, food and all relevant services. I believe the social events were very unique.

What is your favorite memory from WYSTC 1992?

My favorite was the Carnival party at a Samba school. We had 300 people on the drums and our guests went wild, caipirinhas and feijoada, it was a big night and the ones attending have very good memories of it.

WYSE has many historical documents from the 60+ years of business that it and its predecessor organisations, ISTC and FIYTO, have accomplished. One such letter refers to the staff in both Brazil and and Denmark ‘burning the midnight oil’ in the final weeks before WYSTC 1992. Do you think it required much more effort to organize an event like WYSTC back then than it does today?

There were many obstacles at that time that do not exist today. Airline tickets were pretty expensive at that time, so a deal with the national airline was imperative. Communications were a nightmare; we had to basically work with fax machines and mail, mobile phones were just starting and very expensive. There were many site visits before and many meetings required with hotel managers and land service providers. I remember we used to produce on site over 300,000 pages of copies of documents- imagine organizing such a facility!

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Is there anyone in particular that served as a mentor to you at that time or people that were instrumental to ensuring the success of WYSTC 1992?

Being the first joint conference, at the time Roger Charles, Director of ISTC, and Peter de Jong, Director of FIYTO, were very instrumental to getting things properly done. The boards of both organizations were pretty helpful, though their requirements were a bit stressful.

Is there someone that you think deserves to be acknowledged for his/her role in bringing together WYSTC as a joint event of FIYTO, ISTC and BITEJ at the time?

Christina Bicalho, Marketing Director of STB and my wife, Roger Charles and Peter de Jong.

How did WYSTC delegates react to Brazilian culture?

Rio de Janeiro is and was at that time a very “international” city, so it was very easy for them to go around and explore the city; we offered them to experience our diversity via different shows and dinners. Many of them took the opportunity to travel around Brazil visiting Bahia, the Iguaçu Falls and the Amazon.

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If you were to organize WYSTC in the context of the travel industry today, what do you think the biggest and most important changes would be?

Events such as WYSTC 1992 lost appeal due to lots of different factors, communication being the most important one followed by much easier travel possibilities. The biggest change is perhaps on the format, much more to spread knowledge than to provide business contacts.

You had a good number of years of experience in the travel industry before hosting WYSTC 1992. What advice would you offer to future host countries and organisers of WYSTC?

I bought STB in 1986, though it was founded in 1971. I believe content, information, market trends, technology trends, customer behavior is very important and I would advise to organize as much content as possible. I like round tables with industry specialists, any industry that relates to our business. There are some very nice provocative speakers that make you think.

What made you decide to focus on student travel back then? What would you say to someone today that is considering going into the student travel business for the first time?

Service needs. I always believed that consultancy services could add value for the customer and allow you to increase fees charged. Nowadays this is almost impossible. I believe the advice would be to focus on specific services. Student travel organizations in the past could afford to embrace lots of different products and services, but not today.

What is critical to understanding youth travel motivations today that was different 25 years ago?

We see they require today more content to their travels rather to only have a good time. Volunteer and Global Citizenship programs are in fashion.

 

In June 1992, months before WYSTC took place in Rio, Brazil hosted the United Nationals Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) a.k.a the “Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit” or “ECO92.” This conference on development impacts on the environment led to several import global agreements, such as the Climate Change Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. Do you remember ECO92 and did it have any impact on the travel industry at the time or organizing WYSTC?

Yes I do. Easier to sign protocols, difficult to enforce them. We have had a discussion and I remember that we all showed concern on the environment, but as hypocrites- as a lot of other industries- we continue to sell airline tickets to help pump gas into the atmosphere. What to do? Some campaigns were created such as how to pay or erase your foot print when travelling, providing information on behavior such as not leaving your garbage at the sea shores and forests.

Brazil is facing a variety of political, economic and social challenges of late. The media are suggesting that the Zika virus could potentially to disrupt the summer Olympics. Serbian tennis player, Novak Djokovic recently said that cancelling the summer games would be ‘unthinkable’ and that he is still planning to play. And very recently social media has put the spotlight on a teenage gang rape case. Do you think these types of issues make young travellers think twice about visiting or are they still planning to visit Brazil?

I believe it will. I was in Toronto two weeks ago attending the ISIC Conference and a few organizations are already dropping airline seats and hotel beds, though I think the Zika virus is well under control and security will be reinforced during the Olympics.

What do you think about some of the new peer-to-peer business models that offer cultural exchange, skills exchange with travel lifestyle? Do you see any issues with direct booking platforms for these types of experiences – booking platforms that bypass experienced travel agents?

I believe in the past what travel agents had to offer was consultancy services based on knowledge through pertinent information that was difficult to obtain – opportunities such as fam tours commonly organized by airlines and tourism departments of various countries allowing the establishment of connections with travel service providers, feedback from customers and lots of research. So, in the past we used to control information. What is the reality now? Social media and internet-based companies changed the whole environment, and yes, for companies such as ours we have to learn how to compete as these services will become more and more applied to any area of our industry.

The world wide web and mobile phones, social media, plus credit cards transform everything. Reference is much less from travel agents, but from their peers; they consume from music to travel on their wireless devices, so I think unless you are a very complete and strong B2C organization, or a tour operator focused on specific programs, you will see your customers vanishing quickly. At that time (1992), it was difficult for young travelers to travel more than one time per year. Now, especially because of low cost carriers and low prices, travel become much friendlier so they can do multiple trips in one year instead of just one. There are innumerous changes in the consumption behavior of young travelers that are related to spend less to stay longer.

WYSE research in the last few years has shown that young travellers from South American countries are particularly active with social media when it comes to booking travel – especially hostels – any ideas as to why this is?

For that age group everything happens in their mobile phones – my 17 years son forgets sometimes that we own a travel company and book few things directly into his mobile – the other day was a software event in Portland Oregon, a ticket from Portland to NYC, and so on, so I have this experience in my house!

WYSE Travel Confederation would like thank José Carlos Hauer Santos and the STB team for the work put into the World Youth and Student Travel Conference and the 300,000+ photocopies they made possible at WYSTC 1992 in Rio, but most importantly for their commitment to serving the student traveller. 

BITEJ was the Bureau international pour le tourism et l’echanges de la jeunesse (International Bureau for Youth Tourism Exchanges).

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.