April 2002 issue

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Local advantage

Organic expansion

Some of the agencies that operate in an inbound country have been set up as a result of natural business growth. In the case of Udaya Halim, Founder and Proprietor of King's Education in Perth, Australia, he had initially set up King's Education and English Centre in Indonesia in 1981, before running an overseas study division from 1983 and then setting up an office in Perth in 1998. "Perth in particular is regarded as the favourite destination for younger students, so naturally, parents would prefer to appoint agents who also provide assistance in the designated city," he says.

For JTB, formerly Japan Travel Bureau, expansion overseas was a logical progression for a major travel agency chain within Japan. "JTB has 71 overseas offices in total and 24 in Europe," explains Junko Sakamoto of JTB London in the UK. The London office acts both as an inbound and outbound operator in the UK. "[We deal with] Japanese people who live in the UK as well as British people who want to go to Japan or other destinations," says Sakamoto. "I think many agents would like to [offer this service overseas], but due to cost, most of them have to rely on outsourcing."

Sakamoto is referring to using sub-agents overseas, which can be a key to expansion within a travel agency set-up. Because of the quality and counselling issues involved with study abroad placement however, expansion within the industry often seems to be much more organic for language travel agencies (see Language Travel Magazine, March 2002, page 17), and a personal move overseas can lead to a new inbound agency venture.

This also explains why some agents have just one office in the destination country. Ivan Galileos, for example, explains that he set up Team Galileos in Canada in 1995, capitalising on his team's European backgrounds and extensive experience in tourism. Meanwhile, David Straughan established the UK-based agency, International Education Services, as a new venture after his personal involvement with the UK's education industry for a number of years.

An agency that is based in the destination country of a client can have advantages for students keen to study overseas. But how does its operation differ to traditional agents, and are "inbound agents" becoming an increasing trend in the language travel business? Amy Baker investigates.

By having a local office, we can, at least, avoid and reduce complaints from students placed in lousy schools and poor accommodation," says Udaya Halim of King's Education in Perth, Australia, summing up one of the key advantages offered by "inbound" agency offices. Halim cites other benefits such as continuous care of a student while enrolled at the school; assistance with visa extension applications or job opportunities; highly accurate knowledge of a school's quality and provision; and mentoring or guardian services for younger clients.

For all students, and younger children particularly, having an agent based in their chosen study destination who can communicate in their native language and solve problems immediately is a real advantage. If students, or their parents, can also organise booking and enrolment details in their home country, there is even more reason to use an agency. This service is offered by King's Education, which also has offices in Indonesia and recruits students via its school and agency there. "Most of our clients are from Indonesia, although [our service] is also open to other students coming from other countries," explains Halim. He adds, "Assistance in the native language is very helpful, particularly when students first arrive and also when they have serious problems."

Not all inbound agents operate in the same way. International Education Services (IES) is based in the UK, working on behalf of UK institutions by recruiting students via exhibitions, seminars, and school and company visits around the world. David Straughan, IES's Director, says his inbound agency service also offers benefits for students. "I have a depth of knowledge of the UK education system - something which is not always present with in-country agents," he claims. Straughan tries to keep in contact with students and with the institutions at which they are placed, and he adds, "I offer a meet-and-greet service at London or Midlands airports and can, if required, accompany the student to the institution."

Ivan Galileos, of Team Galileo in Canada, also runs an inbound agency. Recruiting mainly from Italy, as well as other southern European countries, he provides pre-course orientation for clients in their own language when they arrive in Canada. "So many [students], especially southern Europeans, arrive here with zero knowledge of the English language," he says. "When our students arrive, they are greeted at the airport by one of [our team] and we give them all necessary information and recommendations. We also cover the preliminary booking phase by corresponding in their native language." Galileos adds that being based in Canada, his team can anticipate all likely questions and provide clear and ample information.

For language schools, this orientation process offered by agencies removes one responsibility from them. Halim in Australia says that he believes language schools are keen to work with local agencies such as his. "Most schools targeting overseas students are always welcoming overseas agents operating on shore," he claims. "Even some schools who have appointed agents in outbound [markets] are also happy to take our inbound referrals without being worried with complaints from their agents."

Amit Jalan of EEC, which has offices in the USA and India and partner agreements with agencies in 16 countries, highlights another advantage for institutions of using local agents. "Our continuous communication with [US colleges and universities] differentiates us from any other agency that they may have appointed elsewhere in a distant country," he says. Easy channels of communication are clearly one benefit of working with inbound agencies, especially between countries with widely differing business practices. Junko Sakamoto, of Japanese agency JTB's London office, says, "It is very important [for schools] to get used to each country's business manner, and it is almost impossible to have such a person [for all agents] in a school."

As a local agent, recruitment techniques can rely on an overseas network of agency offices, as in the case of JTB, which has more than 300 branches in Japan and a "very good share of school trips in Japan," according to Sakamoto. Galileos points to the importance of having good contacts overseas, without, in his case, having an office network. "A local agent in the country where the student will study is much better," he asserts, "if he is a real professional [and] knows how to market overseas without having an office there."

As the reality of international networking becomes easier, it is likely that more inbound agencies will spring up, offering clear advantages for schools and students alike.

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