August 2002 issue

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View from France

Direct marketing

French language schools in France are courting bookings through agents as well as their websites. 'We have particularly orientated our marketing efforts towards the Russian and South American markets, where our main action is to go and visit our partners,' says Joëlle Sbrana at Centre International d'Antibes.

As well as visits to agents, Philippe Minereau of Elit St Denis European School has also started taking direct action in student provider countries. 'We still take part in workshops but recently, we have started advertising directly in the country we target, [usually] after visiting our representatives there,' he explains. As the school specialises in courses for juniors, Minereau stresses the importance of agents for their recruitment drive. 'Ninety per cent of our recruitment is done via agents,' he says. 'Direct enrolments are rare; whenever we receive a direct enquiry, we re-direct it towards our agent if we have one in the region where the enquirer is.'

Sbrana also emphasises the importance of agents. 'We are collaborating with tour operators worldwide and most of them have been our partners for years. Their activity is a key support for us in any country.' However, she adds, 'The Internet has helped us to develop our direct clients, it is quicker and easier for everybody.'

The Internet is gaining ground in France with a number of schools setting up websites to attract students. David Boydell of Les Cèdres École de Langue Française says, 'The Internet is probably the most effective way that we have increased enrolment.'

Alexandra Gill at Pluriel Langues says that although agencies in Japan, Mexico, Spain, Russia, Finland, Germany and the USA provide them a considerable number of students each year, the Internet has caused a 60 per cent increase in enrolments.

French language schools in France reported mixed results in 2001, and most have experienced a slow start to 2002. Gillian Evans reports.

Top student nationalities by student weeks 2001
Others 24.1%
German 12.4%
Scan./Finnish 11.5%
Spanish 9.1%
US 6.1%
Russian 3.6%
Japanese 2.5%
British 2%
Austrian 2%

By all accounts, 2001 was a mixed year for French language schools in France. At one end of the scale, Inlingua Rouen in Le Petit Quevilly experienced a 50 per cent increase in student numbers, while at the other end, Elit Saint-Denis European School in Loches - an international high school that also runs summer courses and high school academic preparation programmes - experienced a 20 per cent drop in student numbers. And many language schools are also reporting a slow start to 2002.

'We saw a fair increase in the number of bookings in 2001 compared to 2000,' recounts Joëlle Sbrana of Centre International d'Antibes. 'This year, it seems that our activity is not growing as much, we have even [experienced] a slight decrease in the number of registrations. We [have] difficulty in explaining the reason but if we are to believe most professionals [in] the tourist field, September 11 is to blame.'

Alexandra Gill of Pluriel Langues in Nice, who is forecasting an eight per cent decrease in student numbers at her school in 2002, agrees. 'The reason for this slight decrease is the events of September 11 and the political instability.' Since September 2001, Pluriel Langues, which puts the USA among its top three provider countries after Japan and Britain, has experienced an 80 per cent drop in US enrolments alone.

However, not all schools are feeling the pinch. David Boydell, Director of Les Cèdres École de Langue Française in Massy, believes the high value of the dollar in comparison to the euro has made France an attractive destination for US students. 'We have fewer Europeans and more Americans than before, mainly due, I believe, to the strength of the dollar at the moment,' he says.

In general, French language schools continue to attract a large proportion of Western Europeans, especially Italian, Spanish, Swiss and German students, but numbers from other world regions are growing. Sbrana notes more interest this year from North and South Americans, Koreans and Russians. 'This is mainly due to our marketing efforts in these countries but also thanks to [word of mouth] feedback from [past] students,' she says.

For Alliance Française de Toulouse, the top nationality for the past few years has been Spanish, although Karen Destarac at the school believes that Japan and the USA are their most promising markets. This is because the school is concentrating its marketing efforts on the Internet and 'a lot of students from these countries use the Internet', she says.

Anja Denysiuk, Co-Director of Alpha B in Nice, reports growing numbers from Britain but decreasing numbers from Germany, their largest student provider country. She puts the growth in the British market down to their network of efficient agencies, while as an explanation for the decrease from Germany, she says, 'Maybe Germans are more sensitive to recession.'

As in many other language travel destinations, increasing numbers of Chinese are going to France for academic preparation programmes. At the Centre de Linguistique Appliquée at the Université de Franche Comte in Besançon, Christian Tournier reports, 'The greatest change [has been] the increase in the number of Chinese students: in 1998 we had only seven [Chinese] students; in 1999, 28; and in 2000, 163 students. In the future, China is the most promising country [for us]. The Chinese students hope to enrol in French universities.'