21 July 2020. Emma Cook - the Content Editor of the Telegraph Travel writes:
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In 2018, some 230,000 18 to 25-year-olds took a gap year, according to research by gap year company, The Leap. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, however, many students have been forced to put their plans for this travel rite of passage on hold.
Now Europe is beginning to reopen to tourists, the question is whether these young would-be travellers will change their destinations of choice and squeeze in a grand tour of the Continent before university starts in the autumn.
With quintessential gap year destinations like Thailand, Australia and New Zealand firmly off the table, will Italy, Spain and France find themselves full of backpack-wielding youngsters? The answer for now, appears to be no.
To be honest, I think there is gap year fatigue,” said Milly Whitehead, a spokesman for The Leap. “They got overseas then in March there was an emergency rescue to get everyone back. They’ve literally had the wind taken out of their sails. Now they are very happy going camping in Cornwall, seeing their friends – there’s no festivals – and I think they’re just happy mooching about. They might be going on a family holiday or doing a little bit of interrailing in Spain, but nothing substantial.”
The Leap has been making efforts to try and entice gap year students into the domestic tourism market this summer. “We’ve been trying to do a gap year experience volunteering within the UK, but there’s been very little uptake despite it going to a huge database of four companies.” The domestic trip will only go ahead if enough bookings are made – the jury is still out.
For many would-be gap year trippers, the issue is that Europe doesn’t match the expectations they have for a big, pre-university trip. “In their mentality, a gap year is dramatic. Interrailing in Portugal doesn’t really cut the mustard,” pointed out Whitehead. “They had Peru, Machu Picchu and the Amazon on their horizon, so me offering them something in Scotland doesn’t quite do it.”
Instead, it seems many are opting to postpone their trips instead of turning to Europe as an alternative. “There’s been a realisation that their university summer holidays are enormous,” agreed Whitehead. “The majority of the students we couldn’t send from April through to August have all just deferred until next year.”
While bookings right now may be slim on the ground, bookings for the end of the year onwards are doing better than ever. “There’s a huge upsurge in bookings for next year. You wouldn’t believe it,” said Whitehead.
“We’ve had a surprisingly good number of bookings given the current global news,” agreed Roger Salwey, founder director of Oyster Worldwide. “This demographic are very keen to continue with their travel plans.
“They are not deterred by the new safety measures that will have to be put in place – this age group have plans and they want to see them through, despite having to possibly postpone or change destination.
For Oyster Worldwide, however, there are still many young people who are still searching for a gap year experience they can do in 2020. Salwey puts this down to youngsters turning to travel while they wait for university life and the graduate job market to return to normal.
“We have new graduates telling us that they would rather take a gap year now than have a fruitless year chasing the few graduate jobs on offer,” said Salwey, “and lots of students who were planning to go straight to university are also now considering taking a year out, to put the disappointing end of school life behind them.
“The idea of online-only university classes isn’t appealing, as they want to experience the lifestyle as well as the study. They seem happy to wait and defer their course until this becomes a reality again.”
Of course, for those based in the UK, the only reasonable option is Europe. But for Salwey, the adaption hasn’t been difficult: “Europe can offer just as much as our partners further afield.”
“We have already switched quite a few of our long-haul animal welfare and conservation volunteers to Spain, with the hope that Portugal and Romania will follow suit. Our paid ski season jobs in Canada have just been cancelled, but our participants seem more than happy to continue with their plans to qualify as a ski instructor in Austria, which offers a well-regarded qualification that they may not have considered before.”
Whether they’re happy going to Europe now, or holding out for a showstopping trip to Costa Rica next year, both companies are in agreement however, that the kind of travel gap year students are now looking for has changed post-Coronavirus.
This time last year, everyone was saying, ‘send me off-grid, send me without a mobile phone, send me anywhere that’s really remote,” said Whitehead. “Now it’s completely reversed. They want to go abroad, but they will only go where there’s good communications, a choice of flights to get them in and out, good roads, good hospitals and health facilities where the virus is being managed.”
“So countries like Costa Rica are really popular in comparison to countries like South Africa which haven’t got a handle on the virus and where there’s been no good intel coming out.”
Young people looking to plan their gap years are also now much happier being directed, report both Oyster Worldwide and The Leap. “There’s much more parental involvement than normal, and more appreciation from parents of first-hand destination advice,” said Salwey.
The kids used to be so happy to book themselves on the programs online. “My son would say, ‘oh yes, I’ve booked Machu Picchu online’ but ask him if he’d do that now and his answer is ‘no way’, because if he can’t get there, there’s no way he can get his money back”
“So, they’re all looking for their home country-based tour operators, who have the insider track and can help them navigate the unknown, tell them what paperwork they need pre-departure, and which flights are the best value.”
This also signifies a need for travel companies to become even more well-versed in border requirements and on-the-ground information. “It will be more challenging to know when to book flights, make final program payments and where to find suitable insurance,” said Salwey. “People may become much more reliant on companies like Oyster to give them trusted information about how to navigate these challenges, so we must become experts in these fields.”
For many hopeful gap year travellers, a new issue to navigate will be supply and demand. According to Whitehead, many of The Leap trips are getting booked up much further in advance than usual. “Usually people book three months before they do, but now they’re booking so far ahead. Our Costa Rica trip in January, which we can only take 45 people on, already has 25 people booked in.
“I think people know we can’t take as many because of social distancing and don’t want to miss out.”
As demand for trips with smaller, more responsible gap year agencies surges, and places become limited due to border restrictions, trips to traditional gap year destinations could become far more scarce commodities.
Europe or no, it seems more tailored, meaningful travel is set to have a post-Covid moment. “Responsible travel may be very significant following the pandemic as overseas adventures become more precious, environmental, conscious and meaningful,” added Salwey.
To read online: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/europe-gap...
on 24 / 07 / 2020