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Peter de Jong, travel industry expert, USA/Thailand

Peter de Jong has had a long career in travel and tourism. Previously Director General at FIYTO and then President at PATA, he is now a Senior Partner at Travel and Tourism Strategies Inc. and VP, Business Development at STB in Brazil. He talks about the evolution of youth travel and Asian spending power.

The PIE: I’m interested in your history. How did you originally get involved in the study abroad industry?

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"A maturing of the youth travel market towards education is probably the single most important change"

PdJ: Well really early on, I was a 17 year old exchange student, a young impressionable Dutch lad. I went to the States for a year of high school as was quite customary in those days. Then I ended up working for YFU, Youth for Understanding, the company  that I had been an exchange student with.

The PIE: When did the globe trotting take off?

PdJ: After a decade in Vermont, USA as Secretary General of The Experiment in International Living, I moved to Brazil, sort of on a fluke. I didn’t have anything to go to but I had a real desire to go to South America. I ended up working here in the travel business again but not exclusively in youth and student travel. But I also got asked by ISTC (International Student Travel Confederation), which was then based in Switzerland, to research the Brazilian market to see who might be the suitable company to market the student identity card ISIC.

After some research, I chose STB as the principal issuing authority for the card. That proved to have been sort of a golden choice, as [owner] Jose Carlos Hauer Santos immediately saw the potential and put a great deal of effort into the card and became the world’s largest seller of the ISIC, up to about half a million cards a year.

The PIE: The ISIC card enabled global discounts for student travellers…

PdJ: Yes and what’s curious about that is that there weren’t half a million students travelling abroad [from Brazil] via STB. The ISIC was meant for travelling abroad because it was the key to cheap tickets and discounts. But Jose Carlos very wisely realised that it was an inspirational product for Brazilian students who didn’t yet have the means to travel but would have the future desire, so he invested very heavily into local discounts in this country.

“Jose Carlos very wisely realised that it was an inspirational product for Brazilian students who didn’t yet have the means to travel”

So discounts on your sneakers, half-price entry on Wednesdays into movie theatres in major cities; all sorts of very smart things that any Brazilian student, even those of modest means, would see the value in. Perhaps someday thay might travel to Argentina, Chile, Miami and it might actually be a good thing to have, but at this point it was mostly a student identity document and a trophy. There weren’t that many plastic cards in the market in those days so this was very aspirational.

The PIE: What year was this? 

PdJ: This was in the 80s. So after about four years in Brazil where I mostly worked in the mainstream travel business, I moved from Brazil to Copenhagen when I was lucky to get the job as Director General of FIYTO (now part of WYSE Travel Confederation).

After about a decade there, I threw my hat in the ring for the presidency and CEO position of PATA, the Pacific Asia Travel Association, that has its headquarters in Thailand. And that’s a much bigger organisation- it has offices in Dubai, Beijing, Frankfurt, San Francisco, Sydney and all around the world so that was a big jump.

The PIE: What was your remit at PATA?

PdJ: To forge relations between the private and public sectors of travel for the benefit of both, really. We had about 1,200 fee-paying member organisations and companies: airlines, airports, tour operators, hotel chains, all at very high level. Executives, presidents of airlines, presidents of hotel chains with Asian Pacific responsibility, and, importantly, the governments: the heads of tourist boards at the city, state and national levels. Or ministries of tourism. Establish a productive dialogue between the operators and the regulators, so to speak. So it was a very interesting job. And I loved living in Thailand.

“The more relevant content you can offer the market, particularly in these emerging nations, the more success you’ll have”

The PIE: What are you doing now?

PdJ: Well after my eight years were up- which was three years ago now, I founded a small consulting group TTSI- Travel and Tourism Strategies, Inc. and invited about 14 or so friends of mine, each with very deep specific knowledge of a particular industry sector, to join me. My job was to broker connections and then get competent consultants in to do a job needed, so I used my name and my contacts to get the jobs and then have better qualified people execute them.

The PIE: And how did you get involved with STB?

PdJ: So, I was happily doing that when Jose Carlos [owner] at STB said, how about helping me look towards the future, see where we’re going and give your input and ideas – think outside the box, come in with a fresh pair of eyes and help me think of some new strategies for the company. So that intrigued me. It appealed to me.

I moved to New York for much of the year; North America being a very important part of the market for STB, and also a very happening part of the world for new things to be tried and found and tested.

The PIE: And how have you seen the study abroad industry change? Or the consumers of study abroad, how have they changed?

PdJ: I think in this particular niche, youth and student travel – educational travel, language travel – I think it’s a lot more about content than it ever was before. It’s no longer first about travel, it’s first about education, about acquiring life skills. And the more relevant content you can offer the market, particularly in these emerging nations and regions, the more success you’ll have. The travel element itself is important, and leisure and fun is important, but they’re sort of a given these days. [more>>]

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