One of the exciting things about working in the international education industry is that the marketplace is always evolving. Student demand changes over time and popular types of programme and destinations emerge, for one reason or another. This can of course be exciting, forcing schools and agencies to remain dynamic and customer-oriented. However, some market trends develop because of external pressures, which can exert a negative effect on the market.
Without doubt, 2003 has been a year in which unforeseen events such as the sudden outbreak of the Sars virus and the war in Iraq, alongside economic difficulties in various countries around the world, have had a severely dampening effect on demand for study abroad (pages 20-26).
As a commodity, language travel is considered to be expendable in times of difficulty or when fears about security exist, despite the fact that it is seen as an integral part of a child's education in some countries, as in Brazil, for example, according to one agent who shares his views on the challenges of the year (page 22).
But what may negatively affect one destination usually means gains for another. For example, another Brazilian agent points to the growing popularity of South Africa this year among their clientele, as price sensitivity has fuelled interest in more affordable language travel destinations - for those who still planned to travel this year (page 22).
Being able to provide a full range of options to suit all enquiring clients is one of the cornerstones of being a professional consultant. Even within every study destination, there is a great range of locations for students to choose from, which good agencies should reflect in their brochure range. In this issue, we profile two very different aspects of the UK - popular Bournemouth (pages 34-36), and Scotland, which lays claim to some lesser-known language travel locations (page 31).
Each type of quality school will have appeal for a different type of customer. And while a student using an agency expects to be counselled well and have an appropriate school for their needs recommended to them, an agency's service does not stop there. Language Travel Magazine interviewed a range of students and found out about their opinions about the level of service of the agency they used. Typical expectations included full information about the school, course and location, a value-for-money service, as well as in-depth information about cultural aspects of that country and tips on living there (page 15).
One good thing to have come out of the difficult 2003 experienced by all was the continued drive among some governments and export promotion bodies to enhance their country's quality status and work with agents to build up business. New Zealand, as usual, was up there among the best contenders for agent-friendly export promotion body.
We report on Education New Zealand's efforts to bring highly targeted and specialised groups of agents into the country, to allow them to get to know a range of providers in New Zealand, as well as the country itself (page 8). Given the USA's current problems with its unwieldy visa system (page 4), such efforts from a US export promotion body would be welcomed in these tough times.