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.
As I have progressed in my career, both personally and professionally, it has become more important for me to give back to others and the community around me. 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. 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.
Universal Orlando also has a high school on its property where 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. I would meet with him 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.
Each quarter, my team does a team-building volunteer outing within the local community. This could range from sorting food at a local food bank (Second Harvest Food Bank) to organizing donated items for teachers (A Gift for Teaching).
The Youth Group Sales team at Universal Orlando is responsible for working with and assisting groups with special needs that visit our parks. My team and I have volunteered to assist with arrivals/departures and, on some occasions, assisting with lunch for groups such as Dreamflight.
I volunteer annually in some capacity with DECA because I believe so much in what they do to build future leaders and entrepreneurs. Typically, this is judging students’ projects and/or their response to a given challenge.
Finally, my family and I are heavily involved in our local church and during the pandemic 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.
Please describe your professional experience in the student travel industry.
I have been on the Universal Orlando Youth Sales team for 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 impact of the industry on the economy and the students it serves as well as the potential opportunity for growth. I have grown my career from a Group Sales Manager 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 I believe I have made some solid personal and professional connections within the industry.
Please describe other professional or personal experience that would benefit you as a Board member.
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 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.
In my 15 years of sales at Universal Orlando, I have developed some strong relationships within the industry and gained knowledge that would be beneficial as a Board Member. Finally, I have two very strong resources at Universal Orlando, Eric Marshall and Teresa Crews, whom I have great relationships with, respect immensely, and work with almost daily.
Please describe why you would like to serve as a Board of Director (Associate).
As I previously mentioned, it’s time for me to give back to the industry that I love and the very best way would be to help navigate the number one youth travel association, SYTA, through the next few years by providing my time, energy, effort and insight.
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 most immediate challenge is understanding what travel will look like coming out of this pandemic. What will it look like from a school, county, state perspective? Where are Youth Groups willing to travel to? Which states and cities? What about international groups? Currently, these are difficult questions to answer.
Another challenge may be membership face-to-face engagement. Are people willing to travel to a meeting/conference or attend group gatherings in person? What are people comfortable with and what will their companies allow them to do?
Finally, I think that remaining flexible could be a challenge for schools, operators and suppliers. People have had to adapt and be flexible like they never have before. Many have been successful in this area, but others have struggled. We will have to continue to remain flexible into the future. For example, Tour Operators will have to be more flexible on payment schedules, the suppliers in turn must do the same.
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 here and working for them is key.
SYTA should also look at other travel industry associations to understand what they are doing and how they are interacting and engaging with their membership.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Nominating Committee?
My father was in the military and I traveled a lot because of that. I had the great fortune of spending 6 years in Germany when I was growing up and I cherish that time and the experiences that I had with my family and field trips that I took with my classmates. Trips such as going through the locks on a cruise on the Rhine River and the beautiful scenery, visiting Garmisch-Partenkirchen and seeing the beautiful mountains and ski resort where the Winter Olympics were once held.
Today, my wife and I are the parents of a 16-year-old who is very active, and she loves the arts, sports and traveling. We encourage her school to travel and allow her to go and have experiences that will last a lifetime. She will look back on these experiences with fondness and they will shape her future in a positive way.
I look forward to becoming an Associate Member of the Board of Directors and bringing all that I am to make SYTA the best it can be in having a positive impact on youth group travel and its membership.