||Language travel agencies expand in Europe
There has been some European agency expansion activity recently, with Switzerland-based ESL opening its 18th office in Munich, Germany and Kolumbus Sprachreisen, based in Cologne, Germany, expanding to Hungary and Switzerland. Furthermore, Languages & Travel, which has offices in Belgium and Lyon, France, has announced a third office opening in the French city of Marseille.
At ESL, Manager of the new German agency, Debora Heilig, said that a Munich branch was a logical step for a company with many German clients: “From now on, we are closer to them, which is very important to us.”
Pascal Carré, Director of Languages & Travel, explained his decision. “After a close look at our 2008 bookings, it appeared that Marseille was generating more and more bookings for our company,” he said. Noting that no other specialist education agency operated in the city, Carré said he saw a great opportunity. “I am convinced that in the midst of challenging economic times, the Marseille office will prove to be a right move. I believe that other competitors may follow us in the short-term.”
Languages & Travel was established in 1992 and Carré envisages further expansion on the horizon. “Our business plan has another opening in Lille [in] spring and a possible fifth agency probably in southwest France towards the end of this year,” he related, explaining that he was keen to open in cities where no competitors were present.
Carré predicted modest business growth this year and signalled his company’s move into the work and travel sector four years ago as offering some respite from any possible downturn.
ICEF toasts success in Dubai and Miami
The ICEF Americas workshop took place in Miami, FL at the end of last year and defied the economic downturn by increasing numbers by 52 per cent within two years, with over 400 participants from 52 countries attending.
Overall, 159 educators and 25 exhibitors met with 211 agents; 60 per cent of the educators attending were from the USA or Canada.
And in the company’s subsequent event in February, the Middle East & Africa Workshop, the organiser reported an eight per cent increase in organisations attending and a much wider mix of agencies 74 per cent more countries represented than in 2008.
Of the 186 agents attending, the top five countries were Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Turkey and Iran. “Educators in attendance represented all institutional types, providing agents with a broad selection of potential education partners,” said Marisa de Luca at the organisation.
Attendees seemed very satisfied by both events. Cagri Bagcioglu from Arkansas State University, USA, said in Miami, “[They] continue to raise the bar for us. While the quality of agents was beyond my expectations, I received an application from an agent on the second day whom I met during the first day.”
The Miami event is changing its name to The ICEF North America workshop in a bid to restyle the workshop as a destination event. From now on, the workshop will be exclusively for US and Canadian institutions to present their education programmes to agents.
Agency of the month
In a series appearing each month in Language Travel Magazine, we ask a different language teaching institution to nominate one of their preferred agencies or agent partners, and to explain why this person/company is worthy of their nomination.
This month, Bournemouth One to One in the UK nominates English in Britain Sprachschulberatung in Germany. Sharon Giles, Director, explains this decision.
“I am nominating Daniel Baruch and his team at English in Britain Sprachschulberatung, based in Frankfurt. This is because of their understanding of the one-to-one teaching market and the support they have given us. They appreciate the very personalised nature of our courses and they take the necessary time and have the knowledge to explain our services. They are able to promote the quality and range of our courses and have supplied us with a variety of clients. These have varied from young teenagers (on one-to-one courses for public school entrance exams), to married couples and partners (on one-to-two courses with culture) as well as our more regular business which is one-to-one courses for management staff, professionals and private individuals. The relationship between a school and its agents depends upon mutual trust. They are always happy to involve me in their dealings with potential clients and give me the freedom to speak to them directly where necessary, to agree the details of the course required.”
Industry issues - agents speak out
Q. Do you work with universities in the USA and how does your business relationship with them differ from universities in other countries?
Cheryl Grenick, Alpha Study Abroad, Canada
“We have signed marketing agreements with institutes in the United States. In terms of commission, most schools do offer a certain percentage to agencies for referral of students. From my experience, most schools are very open to the globalisation of their student body so working alongside agencies that can provide a wide range of nationalities is ideal. Schools are actively campaigning and branding themselves in the international marketplace. As an agent, we appreciate developing these types of relationships.”
Dr. Kurt Gamerschlag, College Council, Germany“
First of all, there has been a notable change of attitude in many American university language centres over the last 10-to-15 years driven by their need to generate their own revenues on the one hand, and by growing competition from the private sector on the other. The management, directors and marketing people alike have been learning a lot from the private sector and, in consequence, have become fast in their responses, pretty inventive in their negotiations about financial arrangements, and flexible in adapting their types of courses and calendars. They still tend, however, to produce more bureaucracy than private language schools, eg with regard to visas. Here the language units are often not I-20 issuers themselves but dependent on a unit associated with the university´s international office. Sometimes it feels as if that unit works in a different time zone and is peopled with problem raisers rather than problem solvers. Another peculiarity is that mostly the one-stop-shop idea has been abandoned in favour of farming out tasks like arranging accommodation, meal plans, transfers etc., so that the agent has to deal with various contacts, -- to say nothing of the often centralised and complicated accounting which adds another point of contact. Offsetting these challenges is a keen sense that a student´s time at the institution should be devoted to high quality language training rather than off-campus frills.”
Annamaria Giussani, Studiamondo, Italy
“I have attended a lot of worldwide workshops where I met representatives from US universities. Then I went directly to visit some of them. I went last year to California, to Davies University, Sacramento, where I met the person in charge of the language branch for teaching English to foreign learners. I had the same results: they are not yet ready to understand and accept our requirements. They are rigid on starting dates, duration of the language courses and so on. Commission rates are ridiculous and not acceptable at all, considering the tough work for a tour operator to promote, plan, explain and sell a language course. I hope to be more successful in the future.”
Gloria Maria Guzman, Teachers and Supplies, Peru
“The relationship between [agents and US universities] is usually difficult in comparison to other universities. Only recently, some US universities, following the policy of the Australians, are now considering working with representatives. Sometimes, the procedures to reach an agreement are complex: we are asked to fill in forms for tax purposes etc. Other universities are more flexible, they allow us to sell without an agreement, and to charge a fair fee for our services. The rate of commission varies. US universities offer it at a rate of 15 per cent on tuition only, but we have to consider the fact that the US has the largest population of international students and is very popular.”
On the move
Geos New Zealand, part of the Geos International Group, welcomes Marcelo Credidio Mello as the Regional Marketing Coordinator. He has worked as Manager of the Geos International Brazil Office for the past five years, and brings a great wealth of experience in tourism and education travel. He joins the recently restructured Geos New Zealand team of Geos Auckland, Geos Christchurch and Geos Wellington Language Centres.
Michele Wegmann has become the Sales and Marketing Manager for LAL USA. Ms Wegmann was born and raised in Montréal, Quebec, Canada. She is fluent in French, English and Spanish. A long-time resident of south Florida with a background in the airline industry and hospitality, she is a graduate of St Thomas University in Miami, Florida with a BA in International Business Communications, Public Relations and Marketing. Joanne Johnson has recently been appointed Student Recruitment Officer for The Abbey College, Malvern in the UK. She has over 10 years’ experience in the education sector as International Student Officer at a language centre in Birmingham. Ms Johnson is looking forward to her exciting new position and will make every effort to build on The Abbey College’s current success.
Virginia Wilson has become Dean of International Students at Rongotai College in New Zealand. She has been a teacher in New Zealand for 30 years and has been teaching at Rongotai College since 1993. She also oversees the lawn bowling sport and the Indian student club. She is passionate about Rongotai College and the wonderful opportunities it offers students and looks forward to a long-lasting relationship with partners.
International House World Organisation is delighted to announce that Lucy Horse-field has been appointed as Chief Operating Officer following the departure of the previous CEO. Ms Horsefield has worked as an integral part of International House World in London for the past eight years and prior to this worked as a teacher at several International House schools abroad. In her previous role as Head of HR and Quality Management, Ms Horse-field oversaw the implementation of International House World’s Quality Management System.
New jumbo hostel
A new hostel has opened in Stockholm, Sweden, that offers 25 rooms aboard a grounded Beoing 747 jumbo jet. The unique hostel is situated on the perimeter of Arlanda Airport and opened for business in January this year.
Each room will have a bunk bed, an overhead luggage compartment and a flat screen television. The cockpit has been converted into a bridal suite with a private bathroom and the jet will also have a small cafeteria, a reception area and separate showers and toilets in the rear. The bubble on top has been developed as a conference room with first-class flight seats.
Oscar Dios who runs another hostel in Uppsala, just north of Swe-den, has converted the abandoned aircraft and said that the idea is unique. “Smaller planes have been turned into restaurants but never a 747 into a hostel,” he claimed.
Rates range from US$40 for a bed in a four-bed dormitory to US$170 for a private room with a twin bed and a single bed. Hostel staff wear cabin crew uniforms and the decor will hark back to the 1970s when the aircraft was being used more conventionally by Pan Am Airlines.
Software promises added value for work/travel agencies
A new software programme has been developed specifically for agents working within the work placement sector with the aim of allowing them to increase their workload without increasing overheads or staff costs.
The programme, called Trav2Learn, has been developed by Debbie Flynn of Irish Education Partners in Ireland, and aims to automate such operations as matching students with work placements, matching the best host family to the individual student and his or her work placement and reducing administration time on behalf of the agent.
Flynn said that the software works by “using software such as google maps to give better information to students, agents and their customers”. She added, “In the context of EU funding available for youth and student mobility, it represents a great opportunity to scale up business and the software is competitively priced.”
The new software was due to be launched at the Work Experience Travel Market in Vienna in March at the time of going to press. A language courses module is also due to be launched in September for agents working in this sector.
Campus Living Villages comes to UK
Student accommodation provider, Campus Living Villages (CLV), based in Australia, has recently expanded its operations to the UK in a project with the University of Salford in Manchester. Under the agreement, CLV will invest UK£2.6 million (US$3.7 million) on the refurbishment of two accommodation blocks at the university.
Iain Rothwell, CEO of CLV, said, “In the current financial climate, our ability to raise the debt and finance this project is particularly pleasing. As a new player in the UK, the achievement is even more significant.”
CLV already has relationships with over 50 institutions in the USA, Australia and New Zealand to offer on campus accommodation to students. In the deal with the University of Salford, CLV will be managing 1,400 student beds in four accommodation blocks on campus.
EC in Malta offers hospital internships
EC Malta has launched a new volunteering programme that has seen it team up with VolServ to offer students the opportunity to support patients and relatives at Mater Dei hospital.
Louise Osmond at the school said that the new programme was part of their existing EC Malta Volunteer Programme, which offers students the chance to work with individuals with special needs, participate in environment-related products as well as initiatives related to animal welfare. The initiative was introduced as an option for students last year and has been actively promoted since November.
“To date we have received many applications, there seems to be quite an interest in the programme especially among our long-term students and we think there is potential for growth,” said Osmond. “We are currently promoting it on our weekly programmes and we are quite sure we will receive more applications, as the desire to give something back to the community you are living in seems to be growing amongst out students.”
So far, four students have taken part in the VolServ programme where they were placed in the hospital’s children’s ward and provided support for young patients and their parents.
Jan Capper, Executive Director of Ialc, answers our questions about how Ialc members are countering the economic downturn and what the associaiton is planning for 2009.
Full name: International Association of Language Centres
Year established: 1983
Number of members: 94
Type of members: 70 full, 24 associate (branches of full members)
Association’s main role: accreditation, promotion & networking for independent language schools
Government recognition: required of members where applicable
Code of practice: yes - code of ethics, bylaws, quality assurance scheme
Complaints procedure: yes
Agent workshops/fam trips: yes
12/17 Upper Bridge Street,
Canterbury, CT1 2NF, UK
Tel: +44 1227 769007
Fax: +44 1227 769014
With rising membership levels, how do you explain Ialc’s popularity among language schools worldwide?
Although Ialc is growing, the atmosphere inside remains friendly and largely non-competitive and members share and support each other enormously. With the continued growth of chains, independent schools value membership of a collaborative network that gives them a high profile, but allows them to operate independently. The agent workshop, exchange of knowledge and experience with fellow school owners and quality assurance are the three most prized aspects of membership, but the multilingual, international nature of Ialc is also very rewarding.
How are your members working with agencies to try and circumvent any downturn in business?
Many members are reporting steady and even increased business, but they are also being cautious and maintaining close contact with their agents. Some have decided to add value through extra services, such as student discount cards, free excursions and better booking systems, and are steering clear of price discounting. Some are offering small discounts or discounting carefully to selected agents or markets. And some are running promotions and tailoring special products for different agents and markets. Price rises have been modest.
Are there any trends in purchasing patterns that are being reported by members this year?
With schools in over 20 countries, some of whom specialise in niches such as the corporate market, patterns vary considerably. Some say summer bookings are coming in earlier than in 2008, while others are experiencing more last-minute bookings than usual. Exchange rates are clearly favouring some destination countries above others. There are signs that long-term bookings are holding up well as people continue to invest in education and training. We have had reports of an upturn in the Japanese market, a strong Spanish market and particular growth for English in the Arab countries.
What are Ialc’s aims for the year ahead?
We hope to reach 100 member schools this year and to host a good workshop in Milan with our local member Linguaviva and the Italian and Maltese members that are offering post-workshop fam trips. We intend to further strengthen our quality assurance scheme and, after a bit of a break when we probably had just too many ideas and projects on the go, we will re-launch roadshows to agent markets later this year, visiting Istanbul, Russia, Colombia, Mexico and possibly Panama.
• A slowing economy has hit demand for air travel in China. Chinese carriers handled 191.9 million passengers last year, up just 3.3 per cent on 2007’s results. But China’s three biggest airlines, Air China, China Eastern and China Southern Airlines, have all predicted they stand to make a loss in 2009. Liu Shaoyong, Chairperson of China Eastern Airlines, said government intervention could aid recovery. Meanwhile, Malaysia-based low cost carrier, Air Asia, is hoping to seize an opportunity to grow business in the budget sector. It plans to launch several routes to China this year including flights to Tianjin, Chengdu, Xi’an and Chongqing. In the USA, five US carriers are planning new services to China including American Airlines with a route from Chicago-to-Beijing and Delta with Atlanta-to-Shanghai.
• According to VisitBritain, the UK’s national tourism agency, rising visa costs and complicated visa processes are putting potential tourists off visiting the UK. Concern has escalated since the government announced that South African nationals would now need a visa to visit the UK and as the UK’s fifth biggest source market, South African residents will now have to fork out £65 (US$96) for a six-month visa. VisitBritain Chairman, Christopher Rodrigues, said, “Wherever a visa regime is needed, it is an additional barrier to travelling.” Tour operators have also complained that the visa application process is far too time consuming and the fact that it can only be completed in English is a definite hindrance. “The key is to keep the cost down and the application process simple,” said Rodrigues. VisitBritain is said to be in talks with the UK Border Agency over the possibility of offering alternative visas including a special events model that would enable tourists to attend one-off sporting or cultural events (such as the 2012 Olympics). The fees charged for student visa issuance are to increased this year too, but there is some good news: Taiwan is now included in the UK’s visa-waiver programme, and citizens who wish to travel to the UK for less than six months will no longer require a visa.
• According to travel search engine, Wego.com, more and more Asian travellers are opting for holidays closer to home. The economic climate has led many Singaporeans to plan shorter trips to Asia Pacific destinations such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, Denpasar, Phuket, Kuala Lumpur and Taipei. Meanwhile, the profile of outbound travellers interested in holidaying in Singapore was also predominantly Asian. The top 10 flight searches from other destinations included Hong Kong, Manila, Sydney, Madras, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangkok, Melbourne and Jakarta.
• V Australia, previously branded as Virgin Australia, is hoping to please female passengers by offering women-only toilets. Brett Godfrey, V Australia Chief Executive, said, “Men don’t often get it right and I felt sorry for women on aeroplanes, so I made it clear that I wanted a women’s-only lav.”
• EasyJet, the UK’s no-frills airline, is to add 13 new routes to its growing network of flights. Passengers will soon benefit from a thrice-weekly service from London Gatwick to the Turkish city of Bodrum and a thrice-weekly flight from Manchester to Dalaman, also in Turkey. Andy Harrison, easyJet’s Chief Executive, said, “We are delighted to be offering even more routes which will be popular with sun seekers, city breakers and business passengers alike.” Other routes will include Lyon in France to Pisa in the north of Italy and Paris Orly to the Croatian city of Dubrovnik.
• Japan Airlines (JAL) is contemplating slashing up to 10 per cent of its international flights due to a sharp fall in demand. Routes from Japan’s Narita airport to New York, Bangkok and Seoul are all in the firing line, as well as three per cent of JAL’s domestic services. However, JAL Vice President, Tetsuya Takenaka, said despite the slump, passengers are starting to spend a little more. “The long-haul economy class is also declining but due to the high position of the Japanese yen, holiday makers are spending more, so the decline has been around 15 per cent.”
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