|Life is a rollercoaster
Life has its ups and downs and so does business, and far from finding 2009 to be a resilient year, I have to say that at this point in the year, the prognosis has been gloomier than everyone thought in the first few months. For example, Malta is reporting a “critical” year, in the words of one provider, while the UK is struggling with the burden of a new visa regime that is functioning less efficiently than the previous system. Agents share their opinion of the new system with us this month, and their opinions do not, on the whole, make happy reading for UK providers.
But just as how you behave in a crisis can define you as a man or woman, how you behave in a business crisis can set the agenda for early recovery. In Malta, for example, Sprachcaffe for one is upbeat about the possibility for internal focus during a slow season: it is focusing on improving its accommodation, “so we will be more competitive and offer a better service than ever before”, says the school’s DoS.
In Korea, where the value of the won has fallen sharply and impacted on many schools this year as study abroad numbers have dwindled, even agents there are being upbeat, despite an 11 per cent drop recorded in annual business. Most of the 10 agencies that took part in our survey thought that they would see an improvement in fortune by early 2010 and one was already tipping the next new trend: targeted language programmes as opposed to general English.
Agencies have to be aware of how student demand may fluctuate and react to it and, as we report in our preview of LTM Star Awards shortlisters, this is clearly happening, as a number of the LTM Star Innovation award contenders attest to developing a programme or service in response to agent requests. The Harry Potter-themed course offered at Mountlands Language School, for example, was designed to offer agents the USP that they asked for.
And if agencies need an entirely new product to offer to clients, then work & travel programmes, such as paid work experience or unpaid internships, are certainly an option that is open to them although some agencies report that this is very much a niche sector, or one that is too much work to deliver. As we find out from work & travel operators, it certainly can be a difficult area which requires much skillful counselling of clients, but it is an option that can be considered by a wider client base, given the opportunity to earn and learn. Who better to effectively counsel clients about such opportunities?