The student travel sector is polarising into two groups ahead of the introduction of university tuition fees of up to £9,000 from next year, according to STA Travel.
Youth travellers are either waiting for A-level results before booking travel while those who are booking now are taking a ‘mini-gap’ trips of several weeks rather than months.
Asia and North America are the most popular destinations among those opting for a ‘mini gap’ with sales up 28% and 17% respectively for the summer compared to the same period last year.
Group managing director John Constable said: “Recent reports have suggested that more than 700,000 applications have been received for just under 480,000 university places, meaning that there will be 220,000 students wondering what on earth to do next.
“We are expecting a higher than usual number of late bookers for gap year travel this year once the A-level and Highers results are released. We will have all our branch staff and call centre staff ready to advise them on the very best way to plan their travels.”
The wide availability of direct flights has helped the rise in popularity of Asia and North America trips.
Constable said: “Asia is our fastest growing area in terms of sales, The myriad of travel options from a city such as Bangkok is very enticing to our customers.
“It’s a great starting place for a trip, however others such as Beijing, Singapore, Delhi and Hong Kong are seeing high double-figure growth against this time last year as secondary hub cities from which to explore countries including China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, India and Thailand.”
STA Travel has gained access to exclusive youth and student fares with Virgin Atlantic giving a lead in of £375 return from Heathrow to New York for students or under-26s; £459 return from Heathrow to Los Angeles, and £465 return Heathrow to Miami.
Constable added: “New York is consistently one of our most popular destinations however we are seeing increased interest in the West Coast for this summer with San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego all seeing significant growth. Plus party cities Miami and Las Vegas are doing well as students want to go and let off steam post-exams.
“Miami is renowned for its clubs and of being at the heart of the dance music world, plus it’s an excellent gateway to South America, one of the most poplar places for gappers.”
Volunteering projects are also gaining in popularity, Constable said..
“We are seeing young people really focus on planning their gap year into pretty great detail. They want to know where to go and when to see a place at it’s best, or for a particular event of festival for example, or for a conservation or volunteering project.”
The most popular projects include two weeks working with elephants at a rescue centre north of Chiang Mai in Thailand; three-weeks volunteering with underprivileged children in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro; and two weeks working alongside an experienced orangutan conservation team in Borneo.
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