Toronto’s reputation as a student and youth travel destination is well established – in fact the city is amongst the top 10 destinations in North America for student educational travel.
A multi-million dollar industry, there is no question that increased student travel to the city helps support a thriving visitor economy.
As the segment continues to show positive gains post-pandemic, we spoke to five industry leaders about how and why they target the student and youth travel market.
Maxine Morrell-West, Sales Manager, Travel Trade, Destination Toronto
“If you can demonstrate a match to class curriculums and/or offer educational components, then your business is more likely to find success.” - Maxine Morrell-West
According to Destination Toronto’s North American Travel Trade Sales Manager Maxine Morrell-West, Toronto remains a sought-after destination by students, educators, school boards and their families.
The destination has an abundance of products geared towards the student travel market and has new offerings on a regular basis says Morrell-West, “We share this information through Destination Toronto’s targeted sales efforts with student travel buyers and through our participation at the annual Student & Youth Travel Conference, which provides tremendous business development opportunities to inform student travel planners on the depth and variety of student educational and performance offerings during one-on-one business meetings.”
And travel as a value proposition is an easy sell to students and their families, notes Morrell-West, “whether it's the desire to travel, increasing their self-esteem, or learning about different cultures and ethnicities—as one of the most multicultural cities in the world, Toronto can showcase all of these benefits to students and more.”
However, Toronto businesses can’t assume student travel planners will see the city’s value out of the gate. Successful pitches tie the city’s attributes with the applicant’s offerings, demonstrating benefits directly to student educational needs.
“If you can demonstrate a match to class curriculums and/or offer educational components, then your business is more likely to find success,” says Morrell-West.
Marcie Ellison Outerbridge, Board Director, Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA); and General Manager, Group and Sales at Ellison Travel & Tours
“Working with a SYTA tour operator also assures parents there is a risk management plan in place to handle any issues or trip disruptions that may occur.” - Marcie Ellison Outerbridge
Marcie Ellison Outerbridge notes that it’s easy for Toronto suppliers to demonstrate an overall tourism offering. “For students, Toronto is a draw as it offers world class museums, theatre and sporting events mixed with cultural experiences that many are surprised to find in a Canadian city.”
Ellison Outerbridge says that one of a tour operator’s roles in a post-pandemic world is to acknowledge concerns parents may have about travel insurance and health considerations, and that preparing for contingencies is key, including “health checks, accounting for an extra room in case of illness during the tour and also ensuring they have trip protection (insurance) in place prior to travel”
She also notes, “Working with a SYTA tour operator also assures parents there is a risk management plan in place to handle any issues or trip disruptions that may occur.”
Matthew Desira, Senior Sales Manager, Chelsea Hotel
“Many Student Groups are extremely focused on Force Majeure documentation, ensuring that they will not be penalized in case we see a resurgence in COVID exposures.” - Matthew Desira
Matthew Desira, Senior Sales Manager at the Chelsea Hotel says Canada’s largest hotel has consistently attracted the student market because they’ve ensured that their Operations Team is prepared to meet student needs.
“We do a great job of ensuring that boys’ rooms are separated from girls’ rooms with chaperones placed in-between them, additional linens and supplies are placed in rooms with triple & quad occupancy, and key cards are pre-registered and organized in packets according to the rooming list in order to present them to the chaperone when they arrive at the hotel,” he says.
For Desira from the Chelsea Hotel, quelling post-pandemic jitters also means increasing direct communications with tour operators and student group organizers at the planning stage. For example, some school boards have asked to eliminate student bed-sharing. Chelsea also ensures that cleaning methods are stated clearly on agreements, and Desira willingly explains important contractual terms like their extensive Force Majeure clause.
“We are now heading into the colder season,” he says, “Many Student Groups are extremely focused on Force Majeure documentation, ensuring that they will not be penalized in case we see a resurgence in COVID exposures.”
Sandra Woloschuk, Director of Sales, Marketing & Events, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
“Most of our guests tend to visit both ourselves and the CN Tower. We always ensure we can accommodate the group booking so the timing works for all parties involved." - Sandra Woloschuk
At Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, offering a fully accessible space (and complimentary wheelchairs) for hands-on learning has been an added selling point as it allows for everyone to participate, says Sandra Woloschuk Director of Sales, Marketing & Events.
“Additionally, the aquarium prioritizes education and conservation messaging throughout. We provide informative exhibits and interactive displays, promoting awareness about marine ecosystems and their preservation,” says Woloschuk. “Such efforts align with the public interest in environmental issues and our knowledgeable staff members enhance the journey with insightful information.”
Any student group that visits Toronto is a win for everyone, so touting the benefits of yourself and your neighbour is always going to be a good idea, adds Woloschuk.
“Most of our guests tend to visit both ourselves and the CN Tower. We always ensure we can accommodate the group booking so the timing works for all parties involved. Even when selling the product at tradeshows, we always ensure we include our location and proximity to our neighbours,” she says.
Denise Anderson, Education, Outreach & Accessibility Manager, Mirvish Productions
“This past school year and travel season I've been overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of the groups. You can really feel how much teachers and students have missed coming to the theatre.” - Denise Anderson
Every year, tens of thousands of students walk through the doors of the four Toronto theatres that make up Mirvish Productions, Canada’s largest commercial theatre production company. It’s Denise Anderson’s job to make sure the kids have access to curriculum-friendly entertainment and experiences.
“My role has really grown over the years,” says Anderson who is the lead liaison between the shows and student travel groups. “This past school year and travel season I've been overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of the groups. You can really feel how much teachers and students have missed coming to the theatre.”
Most recently she’s strived to build programming that is as appealing to business and history students as it has traditionally been to arts students.
“More and more, we have been building programming that centers around what I call ‘the business of show business,’” says Anderson. Historic theatre tours and discussions about the careers supported by show business are highlighted alongside opportunities for choral groups to take to the stage for a pre-show or have a Q&A with the actors. “It's been wonderful because it helps to shed light on the area of curriculum in a different way.”
Ready to add your name to the list of potential hotel, restaurant, or attraction inclusions for the next batch of student travel visitors? Learn more here or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.