|A workshop should offer me a good and varied selection of reputable and professional language travel agents from several countries interested in working with language teaching institutes from South Africa,' says Natanya van der Lingen of International House Durban in South Africa, when asked to describe the criteria she uses to select a workshop to attend.
This is true of all language school professionals, who hope that a workshop will bring them a steady stream of agents interested in their area or type of school, while agents are looking for a wide range of educational institutions from a variety of countries.
But now, with so many opportunities for schools and agencies to attend workshops around the world, other factors come into play such as the timing and size of an event, as well as the social opportunities, fam trips or seminars available.
Van der Lingen maintains that the bigger the event, the better because 'the larger the workshop, the more language agents [present] and the more potential business I can do'. However, she also admits that size is not everything. 'I would prefer a smaller quantity of better quality agents than a large number of less reputable agents,' she confirms.
This point of view is backed up by many school representatives who indicate that the quality of attendees is more important than the number. Silvia Borges, Manager of International Marketing at International Institute Australia in Brisbane, Australia, says, 'I prefer medium-dimension workshops, so that I can spend more time with each agent.' Peter Clarke, Director of Torquay International School in the UK, concurs. 'The size [of a workshop] is not as important as the quality of the agents attending,' he says.
Quality of agents
The guaranteed calibre of agencies attending is the single most important consideration for all the education institutions that pay to be present at workshops. As Eleri Maitland of French in Normandy in Rouen, France, underlines, 'The choice of agents is the crucial thing - schools pay a considerable sum of money to meet the agents chosen and they should be well vetted by the organisers who have a duty to the schools to ensure that the people they invite are not just travel agents wanting a freebie.'
Organisers of events have different ways of choosing which agencies are invited, but most profess to represent only professional quality agents. 'We maintain an agent database with input from our members,' relates Jan Capper of the International Association of Language Centres (Ialc), which organises an annual workshop in a different location each year.
In Australia, Sue Blundell of English Australia (EA) - which is now organising an annual workshop showcasing Australian institutions (see Language Travel Magazine, July 2004, page 10) - explains that the offshore offices of AEI and Austrade, which are government organisations, act as referees in recommending agencies. 'Another criterion is membership of an agents' association,' adds Blundell. She points out that not only well established agencies but also new companies in the field are invited. 'We want to encourage 'green field' agents to attend as well as experienced agents.'
Hothouse Media, the company that publishes Language Travel Magazine, also organises the Alphe Workshops, which currently take place in five locations each year - extending to seven locations in 2005. Having originally drawn on its loyal readership of professional agencies to market its workshops, Hothouse Media now uses a strict referral system when inviting agencies to its events. Jane Gilham, Alphe Organiser, explains, 'Every agency must supply the names of schools with which it works and we then approach these for reference purposes.' The company also checks on appointment sheets after a workshop.
From another established workshop organiser, Icef in Germany, Andreas Marks concurs, 'Agencies go through a thorough screening process before being accepted to attend an event' - although the company did not provide details. And at the International Languages & Education UK Fair in August, organised by English UK, agents new to the event are required to complete a New Agent Business Profile form before receiving an invitation. 'Agents that are members of reputable associations or are registered by their government automatically receive an invitation as do those who have attended for the past few years and have established relationships with English UK institutions,' relates Annie Wright at English UK.
What the agents want
With such a strong emphasis on quality agencies attending a workshop, how can organisers ensure their event tempts professional agents away from their desks, to travel what might be some distance? To truly get an agent's attention, a workshop needs to stand out from the crowd, says Betty Wolff of BEW Network in Argentina. 'This [workshop] sector should be on the lookout for new proposals, to get sponsors, to provide more services, to get the community and the businesses in the area to participate,' ventures Wolff. 'A workshop should provide more than just the usual 20 or 30 minute appointments, which after a while turn into blurred images.' Wolff adds that she chooses different workshops in different venues each year, 'so that I combine getting to do business with an enriching overall experience'.
Marilisa Fiorani de Almeida of True Way in Brazil suggests that this is the direction in which the workshop sector will evolve. 'I think that [organisers] will insert in the workshop programme some lectures about visa policies, accommodation, the new role of the educational agent in the market with the Internet supporting strong links between schools and agencies,' she says. Mia Anzola of Business Projects in Colombia agrees and suggests that workshops will involve 'other sectors of the business such as airlines, Ministries of Education' in the future.
Jurgita Veidaite of UKMC agency in Lithuania adds that the feel of an event and its socialising opportunities are also important. 'I think that it is very important to [build] good relations with new partners in a not-very-formal environment,' she says.
These are factors that workshop organisers have taken into account. The recent EA workshop in Australia put considerable attention into the socialising opportunities available for workshop delegates. Scott Wade, Director of Hothouse Media, says that careful attention is paid within the Alphe team to creating the right feel for each workshop.
'Alphe is a relationship building event,' he states. 'The right people are invited and given a conducive environment in which to workshop. And the Alphe staff know everyone personally, which helps create the right atmosphere.'
Wright at English UK says there are a number of plans in the pipeline 'for developing the fair in the future without changing its principles'. 'The International Languages & Education UK Fair is a workshop designed for top-class players only,' adds Wright. 'It offers agents and educational consultants a one-stop shop in which all the expertise and services needed by study travel professionals are provided.'
At Icef, Marks similarly hints that the company is planning to introduce 'a series of new features, adding additional benefits for participants'.
Agents like it big
Unlike the schools and colleges that attest that a smaller size workshop is as attractive as a larger, all-encompassing event - if not more so - a number of agents interviewed by Language Travel Magazine confessed to prefering larger-scale events as they offer the benefits of scale - being able to browse a maximum number of school contacts before selecting which ones to meet. The number of appointments is limited in every workshop, but a larger event allows greater choice before deciding on who to meet.
Stefania Bresquar of MB Associazione Scambi Culturali in Italy says she prefers larger events because 'for us, it's the only way to screen contacts. It is better for us to be able to see all providers in one location instead of having to attend several events and then still sustain the cost of going to visit the [individual] institutions [with which we want to work].'
Leon Kashnitski from BMI Educational Programmes in Russia agrees. 'We, like most agencies, send students to different destinations, so large-scale events permit [us] to contact a broader range of providers from different countries,' he says.
However, not all agencies are in agreement. 'I prefer country-specific workshops,' says Wolff. 'I am tired of [huge events]. It would be a learning experience [to have a workshop in a different city regularly], more than a drill, which it is today.' Henry Caro of Learning in Colombia agrees with Wolff, explaining that he focuses on certain countries as visa problems inhibit travel to the USA, for example. Anzola adds, 'Country-specific workshops are convenient because fam trips can be held [afterwards].'
For agents, selecting the type of workshop they want to attend comes down to personal preference. Guido Adelfio of Mondolingua in Italy asserts that if an agent wants to meet schools from a range of countries, a larger-scale event is best. Other established agencies might be looking to fine-tune their portfolios and will attend a workshop that is either country-specific or located in an area likely to attract more South American, or Antipodean schools, for example.
Bresquar acknowledges, 'We realise that if we attend a workshop in the USA or Asia we are likely to meet more local providers than at a workshop in Europe, so if we are specifically looking for schools in a certain country, we would attend a workshop there.'
Another important factor for many agencies seems to be the timing of an event. Workshops are held throughout most of the year, except the busy summer months. 'The ideal location for a workshop is in larger cities and in the low season is more appropriate,' states Fiorani de Almeida.
The low season for agents in different countries can be at different times of the year and many agencies state that they often like to attend workshops in the run up to producing their new brochures for the year ahead. Adelfio explains that, for him, September is an ideal date for a workshop, 'as we mainly deal with the junior market and the brochures [for this market] in Italy are ready at the end of October'. Fiorani de Almeida says from March to May or September to November is a good time of year for her. Adriana Cantú, of Cursos de Idiomas en el Exterior in Argentina, similarly highlights April/May and August/September as the most convenient times of the year to attend overseas events.
Brian Burns of International Study Institute (ISI) in Dublin, Ireland, who attends around six or seven workshops a year, says he also believes the scheduling of an event can have an impact on how useful it is for him to be there. 'ICEF Berlin [in November] remains our best workshop,' he states. 'Agents make their decisions about who to promote in December/January each year. Because this workshop is in November, the schools are fresh in the agents' memory.'
Arlene Spencer, Director of International Student & ESL Programs at Fulton-Montgomery Community College at the State University of New York in the USA, makes another interesting observation. She says that if a workshop location sounds too glamorous, it is often a 'hard sell' to her campus administrator. 'One time I went to Honolulu for a conference and never heard the end of how 'wonderful' that must have been,' she says. 'Really, these conferences are non-stop networking and hard work, but impressions are everything.'
Maitland in France adds that choice of location might tempt a school to attend, 'but at the end of they day, you are not going on holiday, so it still comes back to cost efficiency'. That, and the logical draw of agents to a workshop given its geographical location. 'We definitely choose only workshops focused on those markets that we are planning to break into,' says Borges in Australia.
Choice and expectation
Spencer says that traditionally, her college attended two to three workshops each year, but its attendance at workshops has dropped since 'going through some financial challenges since 9/11 and New York State's economic slump'. 'We hope to get back to that level soon,' she says.
Underlining the number of workshops on offer, Lucy Greaves at Study Group estimates that the company's head office in the UK plans attendance at 10 major workshops per year, 'while our regional office team attends numerous other [events] that are based in their markets'. According to Greaves, this is because it is important for Study Group to maintain its profile at larger events. 'Study Group's presence will reflect the workshop size and [need] to resource the event.'
Workshops are an important marketing opportunity for most language schools whose representatives attend, on average, at least three workshops every year. Van der Lingen in South Africa says she attends only one or two events each year. 'I would like to attend more, but they are very far to travel from South Africa and very expensive on South Africa's currency,' she explains.
Despite the popularity of workshops among educators, the decision to attend such an event is well thought out, based on cost, location and the all-important quality of agents attending. Suzanne Rees, Principal of Magill English Language College in Gosford, Australia, points out that if she can link several workshops in the same geographic area into the same marketing trip, this is more cost-effective. She adds, 'Preferably, all agents will not come from the country where the workshop is held.'
Clarke in the UK sums up the three main benefits to institutions of attending a workshop: 'meeting new, quality agents; an easy way to touch base with our current established quality agents; and an opportunity to meet with colleagues from other schools to exchange views and ideas'. For agents, it is similarly the chance to meet face-to-face with colleagues and partners that is the foundation of the workshop's success. 'Workshops offer an excellent opportunity for agents and institutions to meet and devise the best way to cooperate and work together,' sums up Cantú.
Profile of events*
Venue: changes annually - next year in Paris
Next dates: 29-30 April 2005
Delegate numbers at last event: 85 agencies - 52 educators
Cost for agents: Euro100 (US$122)
Comment from organiser: 'What distinguishes the Ialc workshop is the combination of benefits for agents: only accredited language schools; a manageable size; a different location every year and a good balance of work and social interaction'
Venue: in Spain, changes annually - this year in La Coruña
Next dates: 30 September - 4 October 2004
Delegate numbers at last event: 93 agencies - 58 educators
Cost for agents: free**
Comment from organiser: 'Each year, the Fedele workshop is in a different part of Spain. Participation is free for agents - they are invited by Turespaña [Spanish Tourist Office] and Fedele'
Venue: various, seven locations worldwide in 2005
Next dates: August 27-29 2004, Alphe London
Delegate numbers at last UK event: 130 agencies - 68 educators
Cost for agents: free**
Organisers: Hothouse Media
Comment from organiser: 'Alphe organises agent workshops that are attended by quality, hand picked agents from all over the world. We pride ourselves on providing the most friendly and relaxed workshop setting'
The Berlin Workshop
Venue: Berlin, Germany
Next dates: November 7-9 2004
Delegate numbers at last event: 410 agencies - 334 educators
Cost for agents: free**
Comment from organiser: 'The Berlin Workshop is the largest of its kind worldwide bringing together over 600 [individual] agents from more than 60 countries, offering education providers the widest choice of potential partners. Other ICEF workshops (Tokyo, Moscow, Shanghai and Orlando/Miami) focus on specific world regions'
The International Languages & Education UK Fair
Venue: Brighton, UK
Next dates: August 31 - September 2 2004
Delegate numbers at last event: 295 agencies - 250 educators
Cost for agents: from UK£90 (US$170) excluding fam trips
Organisers: English UK
Comment from organiser: 'One of the most cost-effective opportunities for meeting new and existing partners and for keeping abreast of new developments in the industry. All agents are offered the opportunity to take part in a familiarisation trip after the event'
The English Australia Agents Workshop
Venue: changes annually - next year in Perth
Next dates: April 14-16 2005
Delegate numbers at last event: 54 agencies - 64 educators
Cost for agents: free**, except for possible charge for fam trips
Organisers: English Australia and AEI
Comment from organiser: 'The EA Agents Workshop gives agents the opportunity to experience the quality of education and lifestyle that their students will experience if they come to study here in Australia'
*Only a selection of workshops are profiled in this article
** Actual terms vary