Spotlight On: Sam Willan

Name: Sam Willan
Title: General Manager
Company: StudentUniverse
Member Since: November 2013


as it becomes harder to compete on price alone, companies are being pushed harder than ever to innovate in other areas pertaining to service levels and ancillary items for example.


What has your company been up to in the past 12 months?

The big news for us over the last year has been the launch of our Australian site. With international students studying in the country up double digits’ year on year, we’ve had a strong start to our operations there. We’ve had a big focus on expanding our global reach and improving our air product, allowing more and more young travellers to book discounted international travel. This has had a hugely positive impact on the UK inbound market, with inbound arrivals booked through our UK business almost doubling in the last 12 months.

What are the current or emerging trends within your sector?

Air travel as a whole is coming under pressure to deal with ongoing associations with environmental issues. We’ve seen big steps made from the likes of Delta Air Lines banning single use plastics and Etihad Airways proactively reducing their carbon footprint through fuel efficiencies.

This ties into a much wider issue of differentiation within the sector, as it becomes harder to compete on price alone, companies are being pushed harder than ever to innovate in other areas pertaining to service levels and ancillary items for example.

How does your role support the business?

I am General Manager of StudentUniverse’s international markets, which currently includes UK and Australian operations, as well as working to identify future market expansion opportunities. Essentially, I am responsible for the general health of these businesses, keeping them in line with our global strategy. 

What has been your career highlight to date?

Without a doubt, it has been overseeing the re-structure and transition of our UK business into the profitable StudentUniverse global business. A challenging and, at times, incredibly difficult processes – but we’ve not looked back since! 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

I shall be indulgent and give two pieces. Firstly, take 5% of your time to focus on something entirely detached from your day to day work. This is incredibly powerful in ensuring that you don’t stand still within your thinking. It’s so easy to get caught up in the here and now, and lose sight of the bigger picture.

The second is from my days as a marketer. Ban “I like” or “I don’t like” from feedback, especially when looking at creative or campaign work. This helps to assess a piece of work objectively, based on its adherence to a brief and initial objective, rather than gut feedback from someone who is unlikely to be the intended audience of the work anyway!

Where is your favourite place to travel to?

For leisure, Cambodia is the most incredible place. The food, culture and people have stuck with me more than anywhere else in the world. For work, I spend a lot of time in Boston, MA and have a real affinity for the city. It’s very walkable, full of history, has awesome seafood and has a great buzz about it (not to mention the abundance of sports to watch!)

If you were not working in this sector what other industry would you have pursued a career in?

I always wanted to be a sports physio until a failed AS level biology which put pay to any chance of that. I couldn’t have ever seen myself working outside of travel to be honest; I started my “working” life a ski rep in Canada and haven’t looked back since.  

What’s next for your company?

2020 is shaping up to be pretty big as we look to diversify beyond flights, with the integration of more youth touring product into our offering. We’re constantly looking for ways to help more students and young travellers see the world and we’re improving our product almost daily to achieve that. We have a couple of very exciting developments happening this year, but I’m afraid you’ll have to stay tuned for those!

Find out more and connect with StudentUniverse here