Ask Us Anything: Fabiana Martilotta, Viajeros Sin Fronteras
Find out what’s going on in the student travel market of Uruguay in this interview with Fabiana Martilotta, Director General and CEO of Viajeros Sin Fronteras. Fabiana discusses the most popular experiences and destinations for high school and university students in Uruguay, visa challenges and the international youth traveller’s view on safety and gun violence in the USA.
Also, in this edition of WYSE Travel Confederation’s Ask Us Anything podcast, you’ll learn from a WYSE Buyer Member why it’s critical to be at this year’s World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC). You’ll also hear:
- What’s changed for buyers of student travel experiences since the pandemic
- How buyers approach their time meeting potential business partners at WYSTC
- What buyers are looking for at WYSTC this year.
Listen to the podcast and/or read the transcript of the conversation below.
Interview by Wendy Morrill, WYSE Travel Confederation.
(WM) Fabiana Martilotta of Viajeros Sin Fronteras, thank you so much for joining me via Zoom all the way from Uruguay.
(FM) Thank you. It’s very important for our industry to be in touch, to talk about all that happened. I’m really happy to have this opportunity.
So, you are the Director General and CEO of Viajeros Sin Fronteras, tell us what your company does and what are your core travel products?
Yes, I’m the CEO and Director General and the company is 18 years old. Our main objective is youth and students, for whom we develop different kinds of programmes. Now we are working very closely with high schools and universities. We develop for them special trips for their students. Some of them choose academic programmes, some of them cultural routes.
You are working mainly in Uruguay, correct?
We are working in Uruguay. It’s a small country where the total population is 3.5 million, but over the years, it’s more popular for young students to make an experience abroad before, during and after their university time. In the world there are a lot of different kinds of programmes to offer young people and these contribute to understanding and to grow the CV for the future. It’s very important for young people to have different kinds of experiences abroad.
About one year ago, we talked a little bit about the situation in Uruguay, and of course it was devastating like in many countries around the world. You had mentioned that the experience of living abroad was very important to young people, even though it was limited as to who could actually do that last year. But that’s starting to open up again. How long are students looking to live abroad? What’s most popular at the moment?
Well, it depends on the age and the programme because you know, when the high school prepares a trip for their students, maybe they are thinking of two or three weeks. It also depends which kind of programme because for some of them the experience is to speak English, for others it is a sports experience making a tournament abroad with other students or some of them prepare cultural programmes with different topics. We also have a lot of students that they really want to make an experience working abroad – that is beginning to be popular with our young people. For example, in the USA they take three or four months. The last season was a great season for us. Also, there are a lot of students that really want to make a working holiday trip in New Zealand or Australia, so they are thinking to take a year. It’s beginning to be very popular with our students. Now that the borders are open again, it’s very nice to know that they can go ahead with a programme in these areas.
What’s the most popular destination for the high school traveller?
Well, the most popular destination is the UK. They are always trying to go to the UK because of the language. British English is most popular here. Also, Ireland is beginning to be very popular because some high schools share a patron saint with a city there and then want travel to Ireland.
There are other high schools, for example, that really want to make different kind of programmes to the USA and Canada. We also have two high schools that are traveling to South Africa, but South America doesn’t yet have good connections to South Africa. That is really important for our market.
And how is the visa process for international student travellers? What’s been going on with that lately?
Well, it depends on which country, you know. Each country is really different with the restrictions and needs for a visa. We have a population that have European passports, so it is easier for these students. We listen to the news that there is going to be required a visa for a Uruguayans to travel to Europe. They are going to begin at the end of this year. But for the USA now, travel as a tourist or as a student that really wants to stay two, three or four weeks, it is very difficult because they need to know at least eight months before travel. It takes a long time to have the interview for the visa that is really the problem. But in the case of Work & Travel is a little easier because it’s less people that are requiring the J1 visa. In that case is not so difficult, but we need time because now it’s a little slow to find the visa. In the case of the UK because they travel two or three weeks, they don’t need a visa. But, for example, Canada, we need to travel to a site for the visa. We also need a long time. That is something that we need to try to, I don’t know how to say…
Yeah, it sounds like that’s a good spot for improvement.
Yes, because you know, now with COVID, we also need extra documentation to travel, to have everything before travelling and everything is changing.
Are there non-English speaking destinations that are popular with your market?
Some high schools really want to go to Europe because most of our population are descendants of European people. Spain is very interesting, Italy also. Also, Argentina. These are destination that people want to travel and visit because of the shared history.
You are planning to attend the World Youth Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) that’s in September in Lisbon, Portugal. What will you be looking for there this year?
Well, this year especially, it’s really, really important to participate face-to-face because it has been a long time that we don’t see each other. We really need to know who is who, who continues in the market, how they continue in the market and how we can plan for our future in the industry. It’s really important because we have had a stop and a shock in our industry. Also, I suppose we are afraid because we never could imagine that the world would really stop for a long time. And now this kind of scare is really in our skin. And because of that, for me it’s really important to participate, to talk, to know, to see again the people that we used to work with and know what we can plan for the future. If something happened again, how would we behave? Because we never imagined this situation, and I suppose each one does their best, but we were never prepared for a situation like that. I think that now we need to be prepared for any kind of situation in order to continue in the market. It is very important.
What do you think is the most useful thing about attending WYSTC?
To talk, to see our partners, to know what is happening in the market because what is happening here in the South is not the same that is happening in Europe or in South Africa or in India. It’s very important to know exactly what is happening in the world because we need to know everything within different markets and with the young people and where they are aiming to go.
Is there an activity that we offer at WYSTC that’s particularly helpful? We have business appointments and educational sessions. There are informal networking events in the evening… what’s your favorite thing to do there?
Well, I suppose all of them are really important. The face-to-face meetings are important because it’s when you get to know the company that’s offering the product. It’s really important because sometimes you read, but you don’t know exactly what the company is doing. Also, during the lunch and during the evening, sometimes you don’t have time to meet people in the meetings, but they talk about their company and you say, “well, I need to contact you because it’s really interesting for us!” Sometimes I make very good contacts during lunch and breaks.
And the educational sessions are interesting because you listen to other opinions, you listen to what is happening – that’s really important. When I participate, I try to go to all the parts because they are all interesting for us. This year, especially, it is going to be very important.
If you could tell me one thing that is so very different now compared to before COVID, what would it be?
In our case, we have direct clients that are young people or students, but also high schools and universities and the trust changed a lot. They always want to know what will happen if something like the pandemic occurs at the moment of their trip – what is going to happen with their money if they make an advanced cash payment for the trip. That is difficult because we need to be more flexible.
Ok, so particularly on financial security. In terms of physical safety in destinations. do travelers have any concerns about that now?
Yes, of course. Sometimes the news is not good for people who want to travel because the news is talking about the terrible situation in in all parts of the world. You know, the news is not so in the moment of travelling. I feel now it’s a little better because now people feel better. It’s something for good and they really want and have the need to travel, to go abroad. The parties are all full, the bars, the restaurants, the airports are so crowded now. That is good because people really want to travel and go abroad and see their family and do a programme, especially the young people. They know if they don’t do the experience in this moment, it’s not possible to do because life is continuing.
And what about parents? Are they concerned about anything?
Our first big group was last November. They traveled to Ireland and the UK. It was a challenge because in that moment, the borders began to open, but the regulations weren’t very clear. With embassies, consulates, with people in the schools and in health. We need to work very hard to have everything correct in that moment. It was really a challenge in November. Now we we have a lot of students travelling in July. Now the parents are really trusting that the world is okay about the pandemic situation and regulations. The regulations are changing and we need to check every day what is happening. Everything is changing, but now I feel that the people are more convinced about going abroad and going out.
You mentioned the news and media… there’s been quite a bit of media attention for gun violence in the US, which is a very popular destination for Work & Travel. Is that of concern to any of the travellers that you work with or parents?
Yes, of course. All people are concerned about the situation. They also know that it’s a big country with a large population. The parents are always concerned before their kids make a trip. Because we work with Sponsors and with employers, we know they are going to be safe. As in our country, they need to have good behavior during their stays, in the USA or not. Today, with the media, all people know what is happening in other parts of the world.
If you could tell everyone what you’re looking forward to at WYSTC and give them a message right now, what would it be?
Try to meet all the people, stay all the time during the activities, take advantage of the time. It’s like a marathon, but you need to be in touch with many more people. Because when you arrive in your own country again, you always have things and new partners to work with. We are really developing other countries, for example, volunteering programmes in South Africa, insurance, everything. You always need to know exactly who is who, so take advantage of the time and meet the people there to talk about the programmes.
I guess your advice is to definitely go to lunch and the bar in the evening to talk to everyone.
Yes. That is true, of course, we also have a fun time.
Okay, well, thank you so much, Fabiana. I look forward to seeing you in Lisbon in September at WYSTC.
Okay, thank you very much and good to see you in Lisbon.
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