Associate Board of Director: Keith Stiff
Senior Manager, Youth Group Sales & Programs, Universal Orlando Resort
Please describe your experience as a volunteer within or outside the travel community.
Universal Orlando has a public high school on its property. The students split their day between the classroom and working in the parks. Each student is partnered with a mentor and I have had the privilege to volunteer my time and energy to this program on multiple occasions. I was with my most recent mentee for his Junior and Senior year and he graduated in 2020. He and I would meet a minimum of once per week, attended various school functions and periodically visit him at his work location. The main goal was to support and guide him through his high school years while working at Universal Orlando. He is now in the Army Reserves and a full-time security officer at Universal Orlando and we talk frequently.
Universal Orlando has a very robust volunteer program called Club 52. This program encourages team members to volunteer a minimum of 52 hours within the calendar year. Those who successfully do this are given the opportunity to provide a charitable donation of anywhere from $500-$750 to the non-profit of their choice. While I strive to reach 52 hours each your, I have been able to do this on one occasion. This was accomplished by coaching my daughter’s soccer team and volunteering at food banks and Give Kids the World.
I volunteer annually in some capacity with DECA. I believe so much in what they do to build future leaders and entrepreneurs that I make it a point to be involved. Typically, this is judging students’ projects and/or their response to a given challenge.
Finally, my family and I are active in our local church. For the past 2 years, I have volunteered to be an on-line Sunday morning service host, once per month. I have also worked on the Events Committee to plan Easter, Spring and Fall Festivals and served on the School Board Committee and Personnel Committee at our church. I am currently the Chairman of the Personnel Committee.
Please describe your professional experience in the student travel industry.
I have been on the Universal Orlando Youth Sales team for over 15 years, but my professional experience in the student travel industry really began in 1994 when I joined the opening team at Nauticus, The National Maritime Center in Norfolk, VA. Once opened we were a hit with the local elementary and middle school market and groups visited in large numbers. I was the Operations Manager and had to work closely with sales to ensure a positive experience from arrivals to departures.
I joined Universal Orlando in 1996. In 1998, I became the Manager of Admissions and once again found myself working closely with the Youth Group Sales team and their clients to ensure a positive arrival and entry into our parks. Once I joined the Youth Sales team, my eyes were opened to the diversity of the industry, the economic impact of the student market, the positive impact on students as well as the potential opportunity for growth. I have grown my career from a Group Sales Manger to the Senior Manager of Sales, working with and leading a group of 12. During this time, I have worked with many Tour Operators and Event Producers and I believe I have made many solid personal and professional connections within the industry.
Please describe other professional or personal experience that would benefit you as a Board member.
I was recently nominated to be part of the inaugural class of Emerging Travel Leaders for US Travel Association. As such, I was able to attend Destination Capital Hill where we met with elected officials and discussed the importance of travel. I also attended the US Travel Association Board Meeting. I found it very interesting learning about the key topics that USTA is focused on and how they work to influence policy to support the travel industry. Gaining this level of insight and knowledge has broaden my knowledge and perspective and could help if I were elected to the board.
I believe that my experience on the committees at my church (School Committee and Personnel Committee) will be of benefit to me. Our church has a K-12 school and I have been on two 3-year rotations for the School Committee. I have also been on the Personnel Committee twice, each time for 3 years. I am currently the Chairman for the Personnel Committee.
I feel that my 2 years as a Board Member on the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council will be of benefit to me. This is one of the largest councils in the US, made up of 15,000 girls and 7,000 volunteer adults from six Central Florida counties. Our mission was to guide the various councils to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who would make the world a better place.
Please describe why you would like to serve as a Board of Director (Associate).
After serving on the board for the past year, I want to do more to impact student travel and support/guide our membership and the SYTA staff. I feel that we have just scratched the surface on the DEI & Sustainability front and there is so much more to do, and I want to be part of that. I also want to be part of shaping the future of SYTA as we come out of the pandemic and continue to grow our membership and influence on student travel.
I am a firm believer that travel changes lives. Not only does it change lives, it opens one’s eyes up to other cultures and other possibilities. To have the greatest impact the ideal time for travel is when someone is young and, if done correctly, they will never forget it and it could possibly become a catalyst to their future. I want to have a greater role and contribute more to an organization that understands the importance that travel plays in developing students and is also willing to help those that lack resources to travel
What do you see as the challenges facing the student travel industry? What can SYTA do to meet those challenges?
I believe that the main challenges are international travel (in bound and out bound), bus driver availability, lack of workforce at attractions/hotels/restaurants, and lingering Covid concerns.
SYTA needs to have a voice at the table and be a resource for its membership when these issues arise. SYTA should continue to engage its membership with virtual sessions, social media posts, strong content through Teach and Travel, membership email communication and conversations with key partners. Letting your membership base know that you are aware and working for them is key.
SYTA should also continue to look at other travel industry associations to understand their challenges and how they are addressing them.
What initiatives are you passionate about that you would like to see further implemented in our industry?
I am passionate about inclusion and would like to see a more diverse, equitable and inclusive Student Travel industry.
I am also passionate about being part of an organization that is a leader in Student Travel and positively impacts its membership and works hard to be a trusted voice for all things Youth Travel related.