The Association of Language Travel Organisations (Alto), whose members include language schools and agencies, as well as non-trading members such as national language travel associations, has decided to directly involve those non-trading members in Alto activities at the forthcoming World Youth and Student Travel Conference (Wystc) in Thailand in October this year.
Michael Gerber, Chairperson of Alto, explained to Language Travel Magazine that the Executive Board is planning a round-table session to discuss future cooperation between all members. 'The initial session will be used to brainstorm with these organisations, to discuss common goals and ideas, and how these organisations can benefit from Alto membership,' he said. 'In the future, Alto hopes to become the global platform to discuss common issues with these language travel associations.'
Since forming in 1998, the association has made no secret of its desire to be the international forum for the industry. Early activities focused on establishing landmark Alto guidelines on issues such as commission on accommodation provision for agencies and Internet sales. More recently, the association has focused on increasing interaction between members.
Bradley Allen, the new Association Manager at Alto (see right), said that all the events planned at Wystc were intended to help members increase their networking opportunities. Other events include a three-hour pre-conference seminar, where the topic for discussion will be quality management. The goal of the seminar is to present both schools and agents with ways to design and implement quality management systems to help them and their clients.
'Our members value networking as the primary benefit of their membership, and we are working hard to improve these opportunities,' said Allen.
EA workshop expands
Australian English language schools' association, English Australia, is to hold another agent workshop next year, following on from its successful Study English in Australia (SEA) Workshops in 2000 and 2002.
According to Sue Blundell, Chief Executive of the association, the next SEA Workshop will be bigger and better than ever. A new format will see institutions exhibiting from other education sectors as well as English language schools.
'A thorough review of the needs of agents and institutions has led to a number of changes for 2004 that will provide more opportunities for all participants,' said Blundell. She stressed that while the focus of the event is still on quality providers, English language schools will be able to nominate education providers from other sectors to attend.
'Pathways [into further education] are a fact of life for many institutions and agents, and it is not only artificial, but impossible to try to keep the different sectors separated at an agent workshop such as SEA,' she explained.
As the workshop will be bigger next year, a greater number of agents will also be able to attend. English Australia expects around 100 institutions and 100 agents.
The event is being held in Star City, Sydney, from 15 to 17 April. Agents receive three nights' accommodation and all meals are free of charge. Representatives of agency associations will benefit from a 50 per cent rebate on their airfare. State and territory visits are also being organised after the event for interested agents.
Interest good from Turkish students
A series of education fairs were held in Turkey earlier this year which met with a good response from the Turkish public. Overall, just under 6,000 students attended the events in three cities - Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul. The event in Istanbul attracted the largest student numbers, with 3,500 visitors registering over two days.
According to Anita Kuehnel, Coordinator of the fair, exhibitors commented that although there were fewer students at Izmir and Ankara, there were higher quality enquiries representing a range of interests. 'Those who attended two or three venues would do so the next time to capture this mixture,' she said.
A total of 40 exhibitors participated in the three student fairs. Janet Oag, from Study Group, commented, 'This year, the number of institutions was good enough to attract the visitors but not so large that the clients were confused by the choice.' Mark Hamilton, from the University of Waikato in New Zealand, added that 'the venues/hotels in Ankara and Istanbul were superb, easily the best I have stayed in'.
Kuehnel pointed out that the April turnout was good, given that the timing was 'right at the crux of war'. 'Consistently, IEFT attracts an average of 50 education providers and upwards of 7,000 visitors over the four days in three venues,' she said. This year, exhibitors were able to hold question and answer sessions too. Among those participating were representatives from Austrade, CEC Network, the Irish Embassy and the British Council.
Industry issues - agents speak out
Q Are you affected by the bad practice of unscrupulous agents in your field, and what measures do you think should be implemented to clean up the market?
'I live in a medium-sized city [in Argentina] with just a few agents. Probably I can say that I'm the only educational agent as such. Sometimes, we are affected by unscrupulous agents in our field because the basis of our business is trust. [Students] trust that we have specific knowledge and experience. The key screening criteria of true educational agents has to be the high level of academic programme and the safety of the [school's location]. And, unfortunately, the main criterion for unscrupulous agents is often profitability. At times, we hear of bad stories upon the return of a student. It is necessary to establish standards of conduct and to have the industry monitored by a local association. In Argentina, we formed in early 2003 the Argentine Association of Educational Agents and Consultants of which I am an executive committee member. A key goal of this association is to distinguish the professionals and to set quality standards.'
Adriana Cantu, Cursos de Ingles en Exterior, Argentina
'It cannot be denied that the bad practices of unscrupulous agents are in danger of affecting the market and discouraging clients from undertaking any language experience abroad. How can this problem be tackled? As in other situations, where more players are on the market, one would think that the principles and mechanisms of supply and demand should be sufficient factors to bring about a balance. Is that so? Yes, if we observe the phenomena from a distance, over a longer period of time and with a 'scientific approach'. No, if we consider the negative consequences over shorter periods of time and contexts. In these cases, we have to come to the conclusion that the damage done can also affect the players working fairly and seriously. The only way to respond to these situations is on the one hand to strengthen and increase the quality of services and on the other hand to create conditions where good agents can be recognised and known as such. A viable solution would be to create (where they still do not exist) official bodies - such as professional associations - with codes of conduct and certifying quality labels through which clients can be assured.'
Rolf Carattini, Department of Education and Culture of Canton Ticino, Switzerland.
'Competition is very strong nowadays and agents are doing what they can to survive. However, this does not mean that [agents] can act in an unethical way. I think the worst method [of attracting students] is to lower prices, even if it is necessary to waive commission. To my understanding, this disqualifies the agent. They show they do not deserve what they are paid for. At the same time, this [method] also attracts students who are not really interested in studying abroad. [They] use an agent and consequently get a school letter of acceptance to enter a foreign country with other intentions. Our business is affected [by this practice], our sales go down but later on, consequences show that [genuine] clients made the wrong choice. As a Belta member, my association makes efforts to [regulate] this kind of practice and has a Code of Ethics. In Brazil, the government does not check agencies' behaviour, only our licence, taxes, etc.'
Valquiria Mac-Dowell, Improvement, Brazil
Face to face
Who are you?
My name is Odile Migieu, Managing Director of Cork Language Centre International in Ireland.
Why and how did you start in the industry?
I founded Cork Language Centre International in 1975. Initially, we taught foreign languages to Irish people and had some English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classes. By the mid-eighties, we taught EFL exclusively.
Why should agents choose to represent your school?
Cork is an ideal destination to study English and with an emphasis on quality, we deliver our representatives a quality product and excellent services.
How does your school market itself to agents?
We participate in workshops and go to visit agents on a regular basis. The school is also a member of Ialc and MEI~Relsa. Both organisations are very active in organising events such as workshops, road shows and fam trips.
What percentage of your annual student intake comes through agents?
We have 90 per cent of our annual student intake through agencies. We actually actively encourage students to book through agents.
What plans does your school have for the future?
We have just acquired a second building adjacent to our present location. We are continuing to strive for quality and will continue to promote Cork and Cork Language Centre International as a quality destination to study English.
What is your favourite aspect of the job?
Meeting people and travelling. We are privileged in our profession to be able to travel to so many countries and meet professionals from different cultures.
On the move
Julia Richter is the new Manager of Studiosus' language department. Studiosus is Germany's largest cultural tour operator. Ms Richter was previously employed as head of the language department for Euro Schueler Sprachreise.
The Association of Language Travel Organisations (Alto) has appointed Bradley Allen to take over the position of Association Manager from Peter Iwanovsky. Mr Iwanovsky will continue to act as a consultant for the Alto Executive Board. Mr Allen's main goals for Alto are to improve trade possibilities among Alto members and to improve the branding of the Alto logo as a stamp of quality.
Rachel Maisey is the new Sales & Marketing Manager at Basil Paterson Edinburgh in Scotland. Before taking on this role, Ms Maisey worked in export sales selling to the French and Italian markets. She also has experience teaching French and Italian in secondary school. 'I am looking forward to the challenge of selling something I really love,' said Ms Maisey.
DiD Deutsch - Institut in Germany has appointed Juergen Gemmeke as its Chief Executive. Based in Stockstadt near Frankfurt, Mr Gemmeke has extensive experience of worldwide international student recruitment, having worked in the industry for over 20 years.
Lester Taylor (left) will be sadly missed as the Chief Executive of Education New Zealand. Mr Taylor has been Chief Executive since the Trust's foundation in 1999. His replacement is Robert Stevens (right), who is returning to New Zealand from Australia, where he worked in the government's Department of Education, Science and Training and also served as a director of Australia Education International (AEI). Prior to this, Mr Stevens was employed as the International Manager of the New Zealand Ministry of Education.