The conference was officially opened by Mr Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), who hailed youth travel as the primary means to promote the long-term competitiveness and sustainability of global tourism.
“Young people travel with a purpose, to explore and to engage. They mix their travel with study, work, volunteer placements and adventure. They tend to stay longer, and thus spend more than the average tourist, explore new destinations and interact more closely with the communities they visit, making a direct contribution to local economies,” Mr Rifai told conference delegates.
WYSE Travel Confederation, the organisers of WYSTC, estimates that youth travel generates in excess of US$ 173 billion annually, with much of the growth led by young people continuing to travel despite economic uncertainty.
Blain Rethmeier, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations at U.S. Travel Association, also welcomed attendees to San Diego and echoed comments made by President Barack Obama in early 2012, in which he proclaimed that travel and tourism were an essential part of the U.S. economy and a major source of job creation.
Rethmeier’s speech was followed by Tony Espinoza, CEO of CouchSurfing, who made the keynote address. Espinoza highlighted the importance of youth tourism for building a global community, describing how CouchSurfing has built an online system that “drives users to connect offline, where they can share meaningful connections face-to-face.”
The World Youth and Student Travel Conference or WYSTC , the annual global networking event of WYSE Travel Confederation, is taking place this year in San Diego and attended by 750 delegates from around the globe. WYSTC provides attendees access to hundreds of organisations on the forefront of the youth travel industry—in sectors ranging from accommodation and volunteering to work abroad schemes—and the opportunity to gain insight from industry leaders, while building global partnerships.
Says Espen Falkenhaug, Director General of WYSE Travel Confederation, “Due to economic challenges, the tourism industry is going through unprecedented change and young travellers are playing an increasingly significant, positive role. The youth travel industry is a huge, vibrant and resilient market that boosts growth and long-term development. We are excited to have such influential speakers address our conference. ”