Vice President: Alex Urdaneta
President & CEO, Viajes A Plus, Inc.
Please describe your experience as a volunteer within or outside the travel community.
Doing community work through volunteerism has always been one of my passions. Beyond my volunteer commitment to SYTA, I’ve been active in environmental conservation and with food distribution for the poor. I’ve learned so much from these experiences and I’ve enjoyed the friendships this work has generated. For years I have been a volunteer for the organization Para la Naturaleza —protecting, educating and raising awareness concerning the balance of nature on the islands of Puerto Rico. This is the island conservation trust. I’ve helped with their annual events to support the protected areas. And I’ve been active in tree planting programs.
Beach cleaning is something that most of the inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands are interested in now. Every year, the Scuba Dogs Society organizes several solid waste collection campaigns on the north coast of Puerto Rico. I participate in these campaigns most every year.
I’m also interested in food distribution and security. I have volunteered with organizations that provide prepared, warm food for disadvantaged and sometimes homeless people.
Within the tourism industry I have been a consistent volunteer at the annual SYTA conferences. I also had the opportunity to co-host the SYTA Summit 2020 in Puerto Rico. This was an unforgettable experience that filled me with great professional satisfaction. And what a thrill to showcase our “Island of Enchantment.”
Currently I’m one of the members of the SYTA Board of Directors.
Please describe your professional experience in the student travel industry.
Student travel; it’s been a part of my life since my college days in Venezuela. It started with a summer job, first as a tour guide, then as a driver in Orlando. After coming to the United States, and working for some years in Orlando and San Juan, in 2008 I opened a student travel agency, Viajes A Plus, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In twelve short years, Viajes A Plus has grown at an unimaginable speed. The agency is dedicated to promoting and coordinating tourist experiences for educational purposes. The company exists to address the educational interests of students –for schools, colleges, universities, and other youth groups where education, fun, culture and imagination are combined. Changing lives for good is our passion, I have a team of hardworking tour guides, operations specialists, and program consultants that work to ensure the highest standards of quality.
Please describe other professional or personal experience that would benefit you as a Board member.
I am a small business owner who has had experience with other travel organizations but has primarily created and grown his own company from scratch. I have grown from my experience of coping with almost constant challenges in Puerto Rico including ten plus years of financial recession, two major hurricanes, on-going earthquakes, ZIKA, and political chaos. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in particular, my colleagues and I have become more creative, optimistic, flexible, and determined. We will need this resilience in the coming months and perhaps years toward recovery from the current medical and economic crisis. This current crisis reminds me that our world is fragile and that we should be more conscious about how vulnerable our work is if world citizens don’t address environmental issues. With the 2020 shock to our world, SYTA will have a critical role to play for our collective membership. Traveling and work in our industry has made me think globally, not just in terms of my own existence and prosperity but realizing that people are now connected worldwide more than ever before, and it is my mission to create awareness among my colleagues and peers.
I know SYTA is an organization created in the USA, but it belongs to the whole world and to help populations in the United States. As a Venezuelan-born American, I may be able to provide some helpful perspectives from the fast-growing Latinx population.
Please describe why you would like to serve as a Vice President (Active).
In SYTA association I have found a community that has not only welcomed me with open arms since the first year we became members but has helped us to better understand the student travel industry, prepare ourselves to be better in the field and on top of everything has expanded our vision and our offerings. I firmly believe that I should give back with my grain of sand with the organization.
The fact of not belonging to a state of the American union, of working in a different social and political culture has given us a different perspective, an approach that we have had to adapt, all of which I would like to share for the diversity and the good of our industry.
What do you see as the challenges facing the student travel industry? What can SYTA do to meet those challenges?
Clearly, the most obvious and the largest challenge is to navigate the on-going pandemic and its profound effect on our world, our country, our membership and SYTA, our schools and most importantly, our young people. A new re-organization of civil society is rolling out with each up and down of this adventure. As companies and as our membership organization SYTA, we will struggle with the menace. We will need to look deeply into the impact the pandemic will have on our members, and how we can best recognize their needs and listen to them. SYTA has done a remarkable job in the past couple of months with regular updates on federal relief packages, and important educational programs concerning legal, branding, marketing, and other topics. SYTA programs and activities must change to suit the times and I am convinced that we will continue to have high impact for our membership. Overall, to address and overcome this challenge, SYTA must follow the same path its been following, that is, guiding and supporting its members, and above all, continuing to create strategies and obtaining all the information that can help mitigate risks and manage chaos and crisis.
What initiatives are you passionate about that you would like to see further implemented in our industry?
For me, being a member of SYTA has meant more than being a part of yet another community. It’s a values-based culture of wonderful, caring human beings. It’s such a tremendous organization, with many challenges and opportunities. And it’s been an opportunity to strength ourselves and our organizational culture through these years. It’s been such an honor to meet and get to know everyone, with these great ideas to share and help each other. If invited to serve as a Vice President of the SYTA Board, I will serve with commitment, energy, and determination.