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We are delighted to welcome Jason Merrithew to the WYSE Travel Confederation Executive Board from 1 January 2015.

Jason, who was elected at our Annual General Meeting during WYSTC 2014 in Dublin last September, is Vice President of the Merit Travel Group – the largest independent specialty travel company in Canada – and Managing Director of Travelcuts, one of Canada’s leading Millennial Travel Agencies.

We caught up with Jason while he was in Amsterdam recently to find out more about him and how he plans to contribute to WYSE Travel Confederation.

Welcome to the WYSE Travel Confederation Executive Board, Jason. Could you tell us a little about what your new role involves and what you will be bringing to the position?

Thank you! As the new guy I am looking forward to gaining a better understanding of WYSE Travel Confederation, and of course getting to know my fellow Board members. I’m looking forward to bringing a younger generational perspective to the Board and to representing a diverse range of travellers and types of trip.

I’d love to see more members benefit from the knowledge sharing and insight that WYSE Travel Confederation provides, so I will be working to increase awareness of our benefits and the profile of the Confederation as a whole.

What are your observations about how the youth travel industry is developing?

The youth travel market is evolving faster than ever before and it’s not about new travel styles or itineraries anymore; it’s about whole new outlooks on why people travel in the first place. Travellers are looking for unique values and inclusions, typically in the form of VIP access to tourist attractions, local dining experiences and semi-structured experiences. We’re definitely responding to this trend for looking for new and innovative partners to bring clients what they are looking for.

Personalisation is also a key trend we are seeing – the need for unique experiences for travellers that provide an element of cultural immersion. In addition, it’s not enough anymore to just take the hop-on-hop-off bus, there better be an opportunity to Instagram a meal you had with a local, or it wasn’t memorable enough.

With this in mind it’s very much our responsibility to ensure that we have knowledgeable consultants in place to help travellers find their perfect experience. A travel consultant that has learned a traveller’s preferences and typical budget seamlessly delivers travel options that seem as though you could have picked them yourself. That’s the kind of ‘personalisation’ that drives that we do at Merit Travel and to the client, it’s invisible, but it feels comfortable and builds ‘stickiness’ – and in turn increases the chances of repeat business.

Those consultants also need to have multiple points of contact through which to connect with travellers, including social media, blogs as well as in person. Loyalty programmes also play a big role in that and encourage travellers to direct their spend towards brands that ‘know them well’.

How was WYSTC 2014 in Dublin for you? Was it your first WYSTC?

WYSTC 2014 – my second WYSTC as I was also in Sydney in 2013 – was a really great experience. It provided me with fantastic opportunities to network with a large number of potential and existing suppliers under one roof without having to travel around the world to meet them individually. It therefore offers great value in terms of time out of the office and money spent.

What are you looking forward to most about WYSTC 2015 in Cape Town?

I’m looking forward to a great calendar of speakers discussing current youth travel topics, and of course to reaffirming relationships with telephone connections and contacts I met at WYSTC 2014, to meeting our members.

Can you tell us a little more about what Merit Travel Group does?

Merit Travel Group is a privately held, owner-managed company established in 1991. Since then, Merit has grown to become the largest independent specialty travel company in Canada. More than 475 Merit travel professionals located at more than 30 offices across the country provide advice and services to more than 400,000 travellers every year. We own and operate some of Canada’s most well respected travel brands including MeritBiz, Travelcuts, Exclusive Tours and our flagship, speciality retail brand, Merit Travel.

Merit Travel has recently had a reorganisation; what is the impact so far?

Our reorganisation is already having the positive impact that we hoped it would, both internally and externally.

We have consolidated nine speciality brands to create a unified team, Merit Travel. Spinning off and modernising Travelcuts as a high quality online agency allows us to service clients across two brands, in any age category and in any booking method they so choose.

Our Merit Travel team now has cross-sector brand knowledge, so regardless of whether a client is looking for a golf or skiing holiday, they now have one point of contact, rather than having to speak to different consultants for different holiday types. Booking online with Travelcuts brings us strongly into the online booking segment, opening up whole new ways to help our clients travel.

On your website you state that you target travellers aged 18-40 – that’s five years older than our age bracket for youth travellers. What’s the thinking behind that?

Our website is simply aligned with the fact that many youth travel – or ‘youth style’ – tour operators now cap youth travel at 40.

However, I also agree with WYSE Travel Confederation’s observation that youth travel is now less about age are more about a state of mind, which is also reflected by the fact that suppliers are offering ‘youth style’ travel options for those who aren’t technically classed as youth travellers but still like to travel as young people are perceived to.

Where was your first trip as an independent youth traveller?

I’m very lucky to have been travelling for most of my life and I have had a range of truly memorable travel experiences.

My first trip as an independent traveller was a month-long biology trip to Ecuador, with a group of 40+ kids my own age.

What do you never travel without?

I never board a plane without noise cancelling headphones and clean socks.

I also carry a paper travel journal where I note down good restaurants – food is an integral part of travelling for me – museums, cool events etc. so that I can remember them in the years to come.

Do you have a message for our members?

Never forget what we do as youth travel providers; we help people take their first steps into the world on their own and with their friends. Remember the impact that had on you and don’t lose that passion!

I wish you all a successful 2015 and look forward to meeting many of you over the year ahead.