Back on the boil
Last year, when we reviewed business during 2003, our title for the article was 'weathering the storm'. Indeed, for many, 2003 was about riding out a difficult operating environment, with Sars and the war in Iraq both major factors that dampened business.
This year, business does seem to be looking up again. Many agencies and language schools suggest that bookings have been good in 2004; business is back on the boil. However, the operating environment is altogether different now, and schools in Canada, for example, point out that they are nowhere near the enrolment levels of 2001. In New Zealand, as Stuart Boag of Education New Zealand puts it, the new realities of the market have sorted out the 'players from the stayers'.
Visa security has taken on a new precedence since September 11, 2001, which has certainly affected the USA and many of its competitor countries too, albeit to a lesser extent. In the UK, regulation of language schools has been introduced, with plans to move towards compulsory accreditation of language schools within five years. While this could be an advantage for UK operators, the main motivation for this has been to enhance the security of the student visa system as a means of entering the country.
Alongside the tightening of entry procedures - fingerprinting of all visitors to the USA is now in effect (page 6) - the profile of the typical language travel customer has continued to evolve, with practical work experience as well as a language learning experience now increasingly in demand. Diversification of products has been a feature of recent business, according to a survey of members of the Association of Language Travel Organisations (Alto) (page 10).
And as well as keeping on their toes in terms of products offered, agencies and schools have had to consider their response to discounting tactics by other agencies in some situations. Price discounting was an issue that raised its head this year (pages 20-24). According to one school association source, it is not only agencies that have been offering above-average discounts. Following the closure of a Toronto-based school, a spokesperson at the Canadian Association of Private Language Schools (Capls) warns that agencies should be wary of language schools offering excessive discounts on courses (page 7).
Malta was one country that reported improving business this year, on the whole. A reason for this is that schools in Malta have been taking their recruitment drive further afield (page 17).
Competition among schools for language students remains high, but there is a sense of anticipation about 2005. Interest in language learning is not on the wane in Korea, we report on a new venture, known as English Village, which attempts to create the experience of being in an English speaking environment for schoolchildren (page 6). The challenge for schools is to exploit this interest in the right markets, using the right avenues.
Continued learning is also expected to grow in demand next year; an academic pathway from language learning to university study. One necessary qualification to help students on this route is a certificate of language proficiency. We provide a guide to Toefl and Ielts exam courses in the USA in this issue, for readers interested in building up their portfolio in this area (page 29).
Whatever the challenges and issues of the coming year, Language Travel Magazine will be here to keep you informed and aware of market trends, with an exciting new look from January.