When StudentUniverse first surfaced in 2000, travel agencies were clinging to their brick-and-mortar roots and booking trips online seemed as foreign to people as the destinations themselves. With students stuck inside their dorm rooms, however, credit card-less and their parents open-walleted at home, the company saw an opportunity to service an untapped market.
“Students are tomorrow’s business travelers,” says Paul Jacobs, vice president of marketing at StudentUniverse.
The fact had gone unacknowledged until American Airlines became the company’s first partner in 2001, offering student airfares at an affordable price.
In the decade to come, StudentUniverse brought on 64 additional airline partners and started providing deals on hotel and hostel bookings, travel insurance, tours and activities, as well as coordinating with airlines to give groups of 12 or more students the ability to not only be on the same flight, but pay the same price for it.
As they started to roll out new features, Jacobs says the StudentUniverse team kept one word in mind: “relevancy.” The goal has always been to give students what matters most to them, whether that be cheaper airfare, student deals or the ability to earn cash on textbooks.
And the focus has paid off.
“We’re in a fantastic growth period,” Jacobs says, reporting that website traffic has been up 50 percent year over year and that, in April, StudentUniverse saw its best month ever for new members, with tens of thousands of new students signing up.
“The student market is a little less sensitive to economic changes,” Jacobs acknowledges. “College is the time when you have limited opportunities to take those once-in-a-lifetime trips.”
Students are less likely to skip taking a trip to Cancun for spring break, or journey out to Europe for a semester abroad. Parents also feel more comfortable booking travel online, and not just the flights that get them from point A to point B, but their entire itinerary, from the hotel where they plan to rest their head to the various activities they hope to indulge in abroad.
For students, this shift in perception has been crucial, as employers are starting to look more closely at time spent abroad.
“Employers want to hear you were put in a situation you were uncomfortable in and that you got a positive experience out of it, because you went with it and made the most out of it,” Jacobs says.
Jacobs, himself, caught the travel bug years ago after a trip to Italy. It was there he gained a sense of self-reliance and independence, no longer feeling the need to call mom and dad whenever he had a question. The experience boosted his self-confidence – a benefit he sees as part of studying abroad.
“You believe you can handle new situations,” he says. “You’re able to look at projects or situations from different perspectives.
Jacobs also highlighted other benefits of studying abroad, including improved cognitive and interpersonal skills, as well as an increased tolerance for ambiguity and stronger cross-cultural sensitivity.
Trips abroad can be life-changing, and Jacobs joined StudentUniverse because he wanted to be a part of bringing those life-changing experiences to other people.
Moving forward, the company will continue to provide value to the country’s more than 18 million students, ranging in age from 18 to 25, who may be traveling over the course of a few semesters, during gap years or in the months following graduation. StudentUniverse will also continue to offer cheaper flights and more tours. As Jacobs coyly hints, “I would say that you should not be surprised to see us in other markets outside the U.S.”
Keep your eyes peeled to see what’s in store.