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Looking Back on 25 Years of SYTA

July 1, 2022

The Student and Youth Travel Association formed in 1997 in an effort to change the way the world sees student travel. Now, 25 years later, SYTA is still going strong and is more necessary than ever.

In the early years of seeking out volunteers and meeting in spare moments between work, SYTA quickly had to adjust to big travel changes when 9/11 occurred. They learned how important it was to spread their message to anyone who would listen, whether it’s educators, administrators or politicians.

They helped schools navigate TSA with students, something that seems commonplace now but was a brand-new experience at the time.

Since then, even more has changed. As we celebrate 25 years of student travel, we have seen the industry certainly grow and evolve, with students experiencing unique programs that didn’t exist all those years ago.

Travel is more experiential now, with students learning about STEM at theme parks, taking part in unique performance trips, going on Girl Scouts educational experiences, and more. Plus, technology has clearly taken a much bigger role, from cameras to apps to pre-trip research.

Over these 25 years, we’ve not only seen the social impact travel has, SYTA has shouted it from the rooftops. We now know how the world can be your classroom, how travel opens students’ eyes to other people and other cultures, how one trip can change the direction of someone’s life.

To recount all of SYTA’s history would take a book, so instead, here are some big moments and great memories over the last 25 years:

– SYTA is formed in 1997 with Bruce Bitnoff as the first SYTA president, and the first conference was in Cancun, Mexico.
– In 2000 was the first issue of SYTA’s Student and Youth Traveler, a publication launched to help make SYTA (and its logo) the good housekeeping stamp of approval.
– Shortly thereafter, Ripley Hunter and Cindy Brown co-founded the SYTA Youth Foundation, which has awarded over $1.5 million in scholarships since giving out its very first $1,000 Road Scholarship.
– Following 9/11, the anthrax scare hit. SYTA was the first big group to come to Washington DC, and they took this emotional picture together with everyone holding candles.

– In 2003, Doug Ellison became the first international President of SYTA.
– Some of you may remember Judd Gerber, President in 2004, coming into the conference as Indiana Jones.
– In 2005, Nicole Asquith became the first female President of the association.
– In 2008, the SYTA Student and Youth Traveler was officially renamed Teach & Travel.
– In 2009, the SYTA board of directors agreed to support the SYTA youth foundation financially. Up until that point, SYF was basically operating on its own.
– In 2010, Carylann Assante came on as the executive director of SYTA.
– In 2012, Shannan Carter was the first president of SYTA from outside of North America. She also actioned the major research project, the Student and Youth Travel Digest.
– In 2017, SYTA partnered with the Center for Student Travel Safety to develop the Certified Student Travel Organization (CSTO) certification program, and has since created the Certified Student Travel Professional (CSTP) program as well.
– Around this time, SYTA also began expanding its international committee, leading the association to be a truly world-wide organization.
– In 2019, the Student Travel Business Barometer was created, becomingthe only data resource of its kind for domestic and international student group travel and student travel research.
– In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, but SYTA stuck together and powered through nevertheless.

And now, in 2022, we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary. We hope to see you at SYTA Conference this year in Washington, DC, where we can recount all our favorite memories in person together.

Going forward, SYTA will continue to be the premier association of businesses dedicated to providing life enhancing travel experiences to students and young people. As our mission states, we instill confidence in our travelers by establishing quality and safety standards for travel providers, and we empower our members through advocacy, education, training and networking opportunities.

And we will do all of this, of course, together.

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