SYTA Welcomes the 2023-2024 SYTA Board of Directors Slate of Candidates

The SYTA Nominating Committee presents the following candidates for the 2023-2024 SYTA Vice President and SYTA Board of Directors. Voting opens Monday, August 7th and closes Saturday, August 19th, at 6 pm Central Time.

Votes are conducted electronically through Survey Monkey. The link to vote will be sent to the primary contact of each Active and Associate Member organization. Members can only vote for candidates within their respective categories. All member companies in good standing are eligible to vote. If you do not know whom the primary contact is or believe it may have changed, please contact Katy Summers at [email protected] or 703-672-8530.

Election results will be announced on Monday, August 21st at the 2023 Annual Conference.

Click here to read the 2023 SYTA Election Procedures.

Join us to meet the candidates at virtual town halls.

SYTA Board of Directors Associate Candidate Town Hall

July 10 at 11:00 AM EST


SYTA Board of Directors Active Candidate Town Hall

July 13 at 12:00 PM EST


Vice President

Courtenay Betts

Associate Director of Operations at EF Explore America

When I was first sent to represent EF at a SYTA conference, I found it inspiring to see SYTA’s list of accomplishments and learn that the organization acknowledges that there is still room to grow. Since then, I have ingrained myself in the organization in several ways: attending conference and SYTA socials, sitting on committees, and serving on the Board of Directors since 2020.  Given the opportunity to continue my work on the Board of Directors as Vice President, I would bring years of personal experience and the support of my company, EF, which has dedicated the last 55+ years to innovating educational travel. I would continue to serve with an inclusive approach focused on assisting both the business and personal goals of all members. The best way for this industry to gain strength is through mutual support in our collective mission to enrich students’ lives through educational experiences.

Active (2 Positions)

Brent Imrie

Director at Tour Time

Over 22 years ago, my father handed me the keys to a tour coach and said, “Go and learn the business from the ground up”. Leaving behind my career as a pilot, I embraced a new path as a coach driver, tour manager, and sales manager. I’m now the CEO of our thriving 31-year-old company with offices in New Zealand, Australia & USA.

My journey extended beyond the business, as I became a father to four incredible children. Experiencing the world through their eyes, saw me immerse myself in the vibrant world of youth travel even more.

I’ve been on the SYTA Board of Directors for the past 12 months and am seeking re-election to continue being part of the solution in rebuilding confidence in the Youth Travel Market. I co-founded the School Travel Collective Inc here in NZ, to help rebuild and reset the school travel market post-covid. With this knowledge I wish to continue being part of SYTA’s work on building global health and safety standards, financial stability and sustainability in our market, whilst increasing SYTA’s presence and membership in New Zealand and Australia.

Dave Henley 

Vice President of Operations at Grand Classroom

This year marks my 20th in student travel, yet it remains as rewarding, challenging, and surprising as it did in year one. I can’t envision myself anywhere else. As a SYTA Board Member, I would enjoy not only sharing my experiences with other travel professionals, but also learning from those around me. I want to know not just what we can do better, but what we are doing right, all while diving deeper into the complex processes that make trips flow and building relationships with suppliers and other tour operators. The travel industry relies on multiple partners working together to create a fun and safe experience for our customers – a mission that is even more important as we re-emerge from the pandemic. With your support, I’m eager to partner with tour operators and vendors to provide the best possible experience for our travelers.

Jennifer Deutsch

Vice President, Operations at Educational Travel Adventures

When I first ran for the SYTA Board of Directors in 2020, the world was a very different place than we’d seen before.  We could only hope things would get better and think about how we would get back on our feet.  I ran for the Board of Directors then because I felt that I had something to offer the membership.  I knew that by working together, we could get through that period.  Here we are, three years later and we’ve done that.  Now, the focus can shift to what have we learned and how we keep moving forward with that knowledge.  Instead of how do we save our businesses, we can work on how we can grow as an industry together. I’d like to extend my time since there’s still so much work to be done.

Melissa Ardales

Business Development at Group Travel Network

I started my career in the student travel industry over 20 years ago. Working with students as a tour operator is a joy and a passion that I don’t take for granted. It is the best job in the world and it takes a stellar team of leaders to collectively push this amazing industry forward. As a long-time advocate, contributor and volunteer within SYTA, I strongly believe that my experience and business acumen would be leveraged as a member of the Board of Directors. I served on the Board of Trustees for the SYTA Youth Foundation and co-chaired the 2020 Summit in Puerto Rico, pre-pandemic. This industry continues to be faced with challenges, yet the goal of traveling students to give them experiences beyond their hometown remains steadfast. Together, we’ll move forward!

Associate (1 Position)

Anjuli King

Director, Domestic Group Tour & Entertainment Sales at Visit Savannah

I was instantly captivated by SYTA when I attended it for the first time after joining Visit Savannah. It has a different heartbeat than other shows, and it’s contagious. I try to volunteer at the show every year because I know it’s always appreciated and needed. I can’t wait for Savannah to host this fabulous conference in 2025! It would be an honor to have a greater role in the organization leading up to the event. I wholeheartedly support SYF. Travel is not just about visiting new places and seeing new things. It’s also about learning about other people’s cultures and histories. You never know how one adventure could shape the future president!

Julie DiStefano-Walker

National Sales Director at Tin Roof Bars, LLC

I started my career in youth travel industry under Velia Lee at Hard Rock – a pillar in the industry.  I learned that building relationships is more important than the sale along with the value of community attending my first SYTA in Nashville 2012.  I fell in love with the student market as a coordinator with Hard Rock Cafe and continued my passion at Dave & Busters.  In Orlando I sat on local boards for Autism Society and The Pride Chamber. Through years of professional growth up the corporate ladder and expanding to a national market my dedication to student markets has broadened. Currently National Sales for a growing brand, Tin Roof.

Now some 16 years since I first served a student group not as a sales leader but as a server and 30 years of hospitality experience, I stand among giants in the industry who I call mentors and friends.

Julia Smyth-Young

Sales Director at Visit Williamsburg

As the Sales Director for Visit Williamsburg, I have over 25 years of experience in the travel and tourism industry, working in various countries and cultures. I believe in the power of travel and its undeniable ability to shape experiences and change lives. It transformed mine. 
I’ve been a proud member of SYTA since joining the team in Williamsburg, and I recognize its vital role in our industry. As the mother of two children, I am passionate about creating memorable experiences for student travelers. I have witnessed the benefits of student and youth travel professionally and profoundly through my children’s eyes: enhanced cultural awareness, life skills, and global citizenship.
SYTA is more than just an association; it is a family of dedicated professionals who share a common goal: to provide safe, fun, and educational travel experiences for students and youth. I would be honored to join the SYTA Board of Directors and help contribute to continued growth and success.

Mike Stoupa

Tourism Sales Specialist at Visit Prince William County

Growing. That’s what we’ve all done the past 3 years as the pandemic impacted us both personally and professionally. Our travel family is no different. While serving on the SYTA Board of Directors for the past three years, I was involved in keeping you a part of the SYTA family and setting us up for success. I am proud to say that SYTA continues to expand, and I would like to be part of the team responsible for helping guide that growth. I would be honored to continue to be your representative on the SYTA Board of Directors and make progress in growing your business and our SYTA family.