My Very First SYTA Summit :)

I’m not going to lie to you…

After my first experience with SYTA, at the annual conference in Orlando, I was an instant fanboy. And so, it was with doe like eyes that I clicked “submit” on my registration for SYTA Summit…the more intimate, and education focused cousin of the annual conference.

Little did I know, I had been swindled right off the bat!

Unbeknownst to me, Summit usually occurs in a lush tropical paradise and involves watching waves roll by while sipping an umbrella drink. The location this year offered a slightly colder approach to relaxation…

Banff, Alberta…origin of the term “Winter Wonderland”.

If winding up in Banff, Alberta was the result of being swindled…then feel free to swindle me anytime. Seriously, this place was otherworldly beautiful. Kudos to the SYTA team for taking a risk and mixing it up. It paid off in spades.

The Arrival

I rolled my suitcase across Calgary’s airport hurried and surprisingly hot. Surely this wasn’t the place where Sanka first saw his own breath.

I reached the Banff Airporter desk, and was truly happy to see some (smiling) familiar faces. After some quick-witted jabs about my pensive headshot, we were off to the Fairmont Banff Springs, and by Fairmont Banff Springs I mean Hogwarts.

The otherworldly beauty of Banff was trumped only by the otherworldliness of my situation. I was on a bus to Hogwarts in Banff, and across the aisle from me was Bruce Bitnoff (Founder of USA Student Travel). For a geek who loves student travel…that basically means Bono was sitting next to me.

That’s the true beauty of SYTA Summit…

You don’t just meet the people changing the world through student travel. You break bread with them, laugh with them, and openly share strategies and philosophies on how to make an impact in our world. No 7-minute appointments. No “pitching”. Just learning with friends.

The Welcome

My initial impression of SYTA Summit crescendoed when I walked up to the registration booth. I was greeted with big smiles, individually, by each of the SYTA Staff. They had their signature hospitality and warmth on display, and made me feel like I was right at home again with my second family.

Not to be outdone, Hogwarts (Fairmont) strutted its stuff from the get-go. From the second you approach the towering castle, you feel whirled away into a novel. Walking into the lobby, I found myself with the same wide-eyed, childlike wonderment that I love seeing in our student travelers so much. That look is worth more than the cost of any trip, in my book.

See? Hogwarts. Now, where did I put my dress robes…

The Conference

First, you should know that Bono wasn’t the only celebrity in attendance. Really, Summit is like getting a ticket to the Oscars of student travel. The guest list reads like a hall-of-fame. It’s worth the price of admission just to hear these peoples’ stories.

Second, you should be prepared for a big dose of educational content. Some of it was hit or miss…like the Selfie Training on the first day, where I felt the presenter failed to connect the content to any meaningful message. For every one of those though, there will be two or three awesome sessions. Imagine: openly discussing and debating the need for standardization in crisis planning, jamming together on the latest social media and brand storytelling ideas, and getting nitty-gritty with tax strategies specific to travel.

Third, there are sponsors and suppliers in attendance, and this may be the best part of all. You get to see them with their “hair down”, so to speak. They aren’t on a 7-minute shot clock to sell you something, and that makes a world of difference. They get plenty of opportunities to share their stuff with you, but in a much more genuine/organic way than any other conference. Suppliers take note: If you go to one conference, it should probably be this.

Finally, be ready for the usual astonishingly cool mix of off-site events.

What kind of awesome stuff did we do?

Piggy-backing off of our fun discussions about what EXP is doing with Snapchat…I figure it’s better just to show you Our Story over 24 hours of the conference :)

Watch it here:

Yes, there was curling (and yes, I fell flat on my face). There was ice canyon walking with hot cocoa, giant fire basking with hoop dancers, and a standup comedy routine from a real-life Mountie. SYTA Summit’s itinerary packs a mean (and diverse) punch, to be sure.

My Favorite Moment & Takeaway

I was lucky to be selected as one of the presenters for the Ignite Session. These are snappy 5-minute TED Talk-ish presentations on anything/everything. Mine was on my trip to North Korea.

The presentation was meant to humorously introduce my trip, the lessons I learned, and then bring it altogether to show why what we do in this business matters so much to me.

Yeah, wrap your head around that one :P

I received some pretty bad news right before the presentation, and almost bailed. Luckily I was surrounded by the positive vibes and smiling faces of the SYTA family, and that lifted me up. I gave the presentation, and what happened next was the true highlight for me…

Everyone loved it! All sorts of amazing people that I respect a ton said how clear it was that my heart, and EXP’s mission, is in the right place.

I came to SYTA Summit with a goal of figuring out what I could give to the industry. I walked away with a clear answer.

It seems my love of storytelling was the answer. Whether that’s through creative brand and marketing strategies, or through heartfelt presentations. I’m so happy to have not only found deeper and more meaningful connections with the industry, but also my place within it.

That’s all because I decided to take a risk, and clicked “submit”.

Happy moments underneath the stars.

I hope whether it be for SYTA Summit, your own industry conferences, or something completely different…you’ll all take a leap. Life happens when we are moving, risking, and experiencing. Race towards that stuff, and the universe will pay you back.

Thanks SYTA , for another amazing experience.

PS Banff has the cutest snow puppies in the world :)

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