August 2003 issue

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The workshop circuit

Workshops are the premier events of the language travel industry. Over the years, they have developed to include a diverse range of industry-related organisations in order to provide agents with the most convenient way of finding what they need under one roof. Gillian Evans reports.

Workshops remain the language travel industry's key events for agents and language schools. They are the place for agents to catch up with existing school partners, find out about the latest products and get together with fellow agents from all over the world, as well as making new contacts. In a recent Language Travel Magazine survey of German agents, it was estimated that agencies there find around 40 per cent of new partners at workshops (see Language Travel Magazine, February 2003, pages 12-13). There are many different events on the workshop circuit these days, so agents have to be selective of the ones they attend. Most agents go to between two and four events a year. Some workshops, such as those organised by CEC Network, Fedele, MEI~Relsa, English Australia and Italian in Italy, bring together their national members only, ideal for agents specifically looking for contacts in one market. Andrew Shuisky of Parta in Russia says they will be attending the CEC Network workshop this year because 'the Canadian market is growing in popularity' for them.

There are also workshops run by associations that bring together schools from a range of different countries, although school participation remains restricted. The Arels workshop, which used to showcase Arels members only, has extended attendance to accredited schools in other countries, and universities, colleges and high schools in the UK. Ialc is another international workshop, catering specifically for its members and invited agents. Then there are the events run by other companies, such as the Icef and Alphe workshops, which are open to all education providers in all countries.

The sheer range of events means that agents can find ones that specifically meet their needs.Karin Demuth of Euro-study in Denmark says they will be attending Alphe, Fedele and possibly Icef Berlin this year. 'In the first years, I used to only attend the Arels workshop [but] since then many more have turned up on the market. I prefer the smaller ones, so for me it is a good thing to be able to choose from different countries concentrating on different markets,' she explains.

Inessa Khvostova at ITEC in Russia says they attend four to five workshops each year, and she too welcomes diversification in the workshop arena. 'The [disadvantage] of some workshops is that the schools you are likely to meet there are the same [each year] and we establish fewer and fewer contacts.'

These days, many agencies are well established and their requirements from a workshop are different from agencies that are just starting out. '[About five years ago] after Eurocentres, which was our main course provider, decided to handle [its] applications exclusively through STB [in Brazil], we started going to workshops again,' recounts Michael Joop, Marketing Director at ICCE - Intercambio Cultural e Cursos no Exterior in Brazil. 'At this time, we were very open to new partners.' Now, says Joop, they are no longer looking for so many new schools. 'The market changes so workshops can still serve a purpose by [helping] us find new products that we have not sold before. But the amount [of new contacts we make each time] is limited.'

Demuth agrees. 'The number of new partners gets fewer and fewer because, in reality, we have the contacts we need, but the market changes all the time, so you have to cope with the clients' needs and therefore it is important to attend to get new ideas.'

In the less mature markets, agents are still interested in widening their portfolio of offerings. Mikhail Kudryavtev, Managing Director of Study Flight Education in Russia, says they are always looking for new partners, and Le Nam Hung, Executive Director of CSETD in Vietnam, reports that they make around 30 new contacts at each workshop they attend. Most workshops also arrange social events for agents and delegates to allow them to meet informally. 'I find [social events] useful because it gives people the chance to meet people they might not meet up with during the regular workshop time,' comments Joop. Fany Terol from Class in Spain adds that social occasions are also a good opportunity to mix with other agents. 'The social activities [allow] everyone to meet, which can be interesting for us [as well as] meeting the people we already know and who have become friends.'

As the agency market matures, agents are looking for workshops that include more components. Since it started, Alphe Workshops has encouraged language school associations to attend and inform agents of their members and what they stand for. Icef recently held its first London Education and Work Exchange, with an emphasis on work experience programmes.

Increasingly, agents want workshops to offer them more and more diversity in their providers. Many workshops have taken Alphe's lead by including high schools, universities and colleges in the events to give agents a 'one-stop shop' for education travel products. Khvostova says she wants to see a 'more diverse choice of schools' at workshops. Hung agrees, saying, 'It would be better [for us] if more state universities from other countries attend workshops.'

Shuisky in Russia concurs. 'Extension of [the range of] participants would be good as then I would not have to spend more time and money visiting another organisation that can be useful for me,' he says.

Some workshops also invite other organisations from related industries, such as travel and insurance, to attend. Domenico Inbesi Bellantoni, of Imbesi Viaggi in Italy, who is a workshop veteran having been attending such events for over 20 years, says he would appreciate more 'university-run language courses, an increase in the number of student accommodation partners and possibly low-fare airlines' at workshops.

One event that encompasses the whole gamut of youth travel organisations is the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC), organised jointly by Fiyto and ISTC. The expo includes three days of workshop meetings, although all appointments are pre-selected by computer according to the buyers' and sellers' requirements.

Most agencies agree that fam trips, usually organised after the workshops, are invaluable. 'We like to attend fam trips as it provides us with the opportunity to visit schools and see the surrounding area,' says Fern Yashiki-Nozawa at Cap Studies in Japan. Demuth adds that fam trips, 'give you the chance of being together with other agents for a certain time, giving the possibility to go [into more] detail [about] the business side of your job'.

A more recent development to workshops is the addition of seminars. Agents welcome these meetings and many would like to see the seminar programmes extended. 'I would like to see seminars about, for example, visa regulation changes, new trends in the business, school association seminars about the latest developments, how they test schools, how they keep standards up and so on,' says Joop.

But, while agents want to see workshops incorporate more and more elements, time is often the limiting factor. As it is, many agents such as Yashiki-Nozawa feel that there is not enough time for the appointments, and that workshops can present information overload. 'We always feel that meeting a large number of schools in one to two days has its drawbacks,' recounts Yashiki-Nozawa. 'Realistically, it is difficult for us to remember the details of all schools [we meet] and also, realistically, it is impossible for us to market all schools and programmes.' She advocates longer appointment times instead.

'We understand that schools would like to meet with as many agents as possible, however, we wonder if scheduling fewer appointments, where each appointment is longer in time, such as half an hour, instead of 20 minutes, would be more beneficial for both sides,' she ventures.

Joop agrees, saying that because they are an established player their goals are different today than they were before. He also recommends that there should be time for meetings and a time for 'browsing'.

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