Illustrating an enormous generational shift in what today's school-leavers now look for in their rite of passage – Schoolies Unleashed Travel has experienced unprecedented demand for its first ever alcohol-free holiday package, with their trip to Hideaway Island selling out in less than two months.
As Australia's leading provider of overseas school-leaver experiences, Unleashed Travel created its first alcohol-free holiday package after listening to demands from both students and parents for new luxury based holidays complete with recreational activities, parties, music and DJs, but free from alcohol.
'Today's Schoolies' preferences have evolved from the out-on-the-streets pub crawls to a more luxurious, exclusive celebration shared with only the close friends of their school years. In fact, when we offered this same island package last year, as an experience which allowed alcohol, we sold less than half the bookings we have this time around," said Jot Lynas, Unleashed Travel CEO.
Following this year's overwhelming response, Unleashed Travel is currently looking for an additional luxury location to accompany Hideaway Island, anticipating demand in 2014 to be even stronger. 'Alcohol-free is here to stay and, if 2013 is anything to go by, we will again experience triple-digit growth in 2014. We've already had maximum bookings and many more enquiries for our alcohol-free packages, even though we're one year out of next year's celebrations."
This unprecedented demand for a new sober Schoolies experience isn't isolated to a niche crowd. Unleashed Travel prides itself on being across the latest trends to ensure its holiday experiences meet the preferences of school leavers. Jot explains that a major drawcard for most students is that the travel provider's trips always exceed the expectation of the average fun-loving teenager.
'We have a brilliant reputation amongst students for creating a fun, dance-party focused holiday experience. The teens that buy our alcohol-free packages aren't stereotypical board game fanatics or video-game playing nerds. They're party-loving fun school-leavers who enjoy a good time with their friends but want their holiday experiences alcohol-free. With Josh Moore from TV's Big Brother as our resident DJ, our teens definitely won't be in their rooms with lights out by 9pm," said Jot.
Hideaway Island is strictly controlled to ensure Schoolies preferences for an alcohol-free experience are maintained. The destination was carefully chosen by Unleashed Travel, for its separation from mainland Vanuatu and the opportunity to designate the entire island as 'Schoolies Only". Located a five minute boat ride from any other resort or facility, both supplies and guests coming onto the island can be strictly monitored and controlled.
As with all Unleashed Travel packages, the trip is chaperoned by the Unleashed Travel crew made up of supervising staff, security personnel and Schoolies safety advocates, the Red Frogs. Each trip is also managed by a ratio of one Unleashed Travel staff member to every seven students, with staff on call around the clock.
The all-inclusive Hideaway Island Schoolies package featured a range of accommodation options including luxurious two-bedroom villas with private pools, one-bedroom bungalows and twin or quad-share rooms. Packages started at $1,399 per person.
Question: What inspired the creation of alcohol-free Schoolies events?
Jot Lynas: We work very closely with the teens on the packages and noticed that schoolies was evolving. There are groups out there who are looking for variety as well as others who like to indulge in luxury without any involvement of alcohol. As a result we decided that creating packages specifically for these groups would be a good option.
Question: Was the demand more so from parents or students themselves?
Jot Lynas: Students! Over the past six years we've been asking students what they want from their holiday with a large portion saying that an alcohol-free environment would be a best for them. It's these students that are purchasing our packages.
We also conducted a survey with the teens on last year's packages. Drinking and going to bars was listed as lower in priority (50 per cent and 38 per cent respectively), than relaxing by the beach/pool (62 per cent) and quality time with friends (53 per cent). As 'partying" was still high on the list (74 per cent) we ensure we live up to our reputation with a hot list of DJs and club nights.
Question: Is this the first alcohol-free schoolies trip in Australia?
Jot Lynas: Yes, to my knowledge we are the first and only completely alcohol free schoolies trip in Australia.
Question: Why do you believe Alcohol-free schoolies are in high demand?
Jot Lynas: 1. It's never been an option before and people are excited about the fact that it's now something that's open to them.
2. This is a generational shift. Students are no longer afraid to go against the grain and admit that they'd rather be spending time quality time with mates than drinking.
3. Students are better educated on the effects physically and socially from drinking than ever before.
4. Schoolies itself is changing. You can now opt for a variety of holidays.
Question: Can you tell us about the schoolies who are choosing alcohol-free Schoolies events?
Jot Lynas: These teens aren't stereotypical board game fanatics or video-game playing nerds. They're party-loving fun school-leavers who enjoy a good time with their friends but want their holiday experiences alcohol-free. With Josh Moore from TV's Big Brother as our resident DJ, our teens definitely won't be in their rooms with lights out by 9pm.
Question: Do you think alcohol-free Schoolies holidays are here to stay?
Jot Lynas: Definitely. As this year sold out so quickly, Unleashed Travel is now on the hunt for a second island to keep up with the expected demand for 2014.
Question: What venues and places does Schoolies Unleashed Travel adventures visit?
Jot Lynas: In addition to Hideway Island in Vanuatu we have five Fiji packages - Plantation Island, Mana Island, Sonaisali Island, Beachcomber Island and Naviti Island. We also have Bintan Lagoon in Indonesia and volunteering packages in Thailand and Cambodia.
Question: Where is Hideaway Island and what can the Schoolies attending expect from the trip?
Jot Lynas: Hideaway Island is in Vanuatu. Set in blue and drenched in sunshine the island is just a five minute boat ride from the mainland – we've transformed the coral-fringe into an intimate schoolies party haven. Aside from its stunning natural beauty, this island is best known for its marine life. There will be plenty of activities including snorkel tours and scuba diving trips to the coral gardens, an afternoon tour to the Mele village, exploring the Cascade Falls and a round of golf across the bay.
While alcohol free, don't be fooled, one rule is for certain: With Unleashed at the helm, the parties are second to none. International DJs pump the latest summer anthems that we're pretty sure can be heard from the mainland.
Question: How is the trip strictly controlled to ensure there is no alcohol?
Jot Lynas: As Unleashed Travel has full control of the island, all staff are briefed that no-one has to be served alcohol at any point in time. When the teens arrive on the island a bag search is conducted to ensure that no-one has attempted to sneak anything onto the island.
Question: Can you tell us about Unleashed Travel?
Jot Lynas: I co-founded Unleashed Travel in 2006 and we are now Australia's leading travel provider of overseas school-leaver experiences for ages 17-18 years. We offer alcohol-free, volunteering and luxury holidays in Thailand, Cambodia, Fiji and Vanuatu and have sold 10,000 holiday packages to date.
Each school-leaver experience is supervised by the Unleashed Travel Crew with a staff to student ratio of 1:7 inclusive of security and The Red Frogs – an organisation dedicated to empowering young people to make positive life choices. Supervising staff are available on call 24/7 and are certified at highest level of First Aid.
Question: What inspired you to start Unleashed Travel?
Jot Lynas: It all stemmed from a love of travel. Our lives have been enriched by travel and we want every school leaver to be able to have a positive travel experience at a young age. If we can guide the new generation of travellers through their first independent overseas journey they will have a greater appreciation for different cultures, customs, religion and have more confidence to travel further and see more of the world.
Having organised close to 10,000 schoolies trips, Unleashed Travel has distilled its research into travel trends for 2014 and beyond for parents and students. Below, Jot shares his top 7 travel trends.
1. Activities will trump alcohol
Schoolies trips are evolving into higher-quality experiences. An increasing number of students are preferring less of a focus on alcohol and more on recreational and meaningful activities such as water sports, cruises, and volunteer work to help local cultures. After listening to demands from students and parents for a resort that offered alcohol-free parties and recreational activities, Unleashed Travel offered an alcohol-free package in 2013, which sold out in less than eight weeks.
'In 2013 across our trips, we saw a huge drop in bar spend and a big increase in day-activity spend. For many, Schoolies won't be alcohol first – it'll be activities and parties first," said Jot.
2. Off the beaten track
Students are increasingly interested in getting out of their comfort zones and venturing further afield to experience different destinations. 'Expect island destinations to grow from strength to strength," Jot says. 'But they'll be greater diversity in them. For instance, a week-long package might offer accommodation on a yacht and three days of sailing, with kids being dropped off at an exclusive island resort for day activities."
Between 2012 and 2014, sales of Unleashed Travel's packages to Fiji, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vanuatu grew by 30 per cent, with this trend expected to grow stronger for Schoolies in 2015 and beyond.
3. Luxury experiences
There is an increasing interest in luxury packages offering pampering and better-quality accommodation. 'After 13 years of schooling and the stress of the HSC, many students – particularly the girls – simply don't find sharing a crowded room at backpacker accommodation with eight other partiers all that appealing, and would instead prefer to spend a bit of extra money for a more luxury experience. Future packages will offer trips that will help students wind down with the help of massages, facials and relaxation time by the pool rather than shots, late nights and minimal sleep."
4. Immersion in local cultures
Students today are increasingly seeking travel packages where they can soak up the local culture, learn something new, and develop personally. 'Kids are experiencing life earlier – many have already travelled, either with their families or as exchange students – and what they want out of life is different," Jot says. 'Many love the ideas of immersing themselves in a different culture and experiencing something more memorable."
Last November and December, 550 schoolies signed up to pay to be a part of Unleashed Travel's -Cultural Exchange' day on the mainland of Fiji. 'We didn't expect that kind of response and had to turn many kids away." These immersive travel experiences are on the up, with students hungering for new experiences – a big trend for the year to come.
5. Safety first
While it's no secret that parents prefer a supervised Schoolies trip, teens, too, are seeking supervision on their getaway. Students today really understand the value that supervision provides, allowing them to have the time of their life and feel safe at the same time. Services such as the Red Frogs volunteer network supports school-leavers at various Schoolies locations by walking them home, offering emotional support, and offering snacks.
6. Schoolies reunions
Young adults have wanted to re-live their schoolies trips during Schoolies week for many years now – and often unsuccessfully due to the disapproval of the current year's Schoolies. 'We've asked previous Schoolies if they'd be interested in a -reunion' trip and have received a huge positive response. Various packages for students who are up to three years out of school are definitely something we'll be offering soon. Watch this space!" Jot says.
7. Secret men's clubs
With Schoolies packages becoming more and more tailored, look out for -Coming of age' trips for male school leavers. 'We're seeing male sports celebrities making headlines more often for drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and violence – yet they are meant to be role models for young men," Jot says. 'Expect to see travel packages tailored especially for male school leavers. Headed by a well-known sportsperson, these trips might offer adventure activities, like the Kokoda trail, white-water rafting and canyoning to ensure the school leavers come home well-rounded men better ready to face the daily challenges of life after school."
Interview by Brooke Hunter