|Yes we do attend local fairs,” relates Sibel Paksoy of Edumar Education Market in Turkey. “The benefits are to promote your own agency and reach as many students as you can. We can also meet and share ideas with other school representatives who are difficult to visit.”
Paksoy underlines the advantages for agencies of attending local student fairs in their country focused on the international education market. And in many countries, there are increasing numbers of fairs to choose from. This tends to be the case in countries with a high level of interest in overseas study and a nascent outbound student travel industry.
Turkey is a case in point. Paksoy relates, “We have educational fairs like IEFT, a2 and EducaTurk.” The interesting point about many of these events is that they are organised or co-organised by agencies themselves, companies branching into a whole new business domain.
Background to business
a2 International Education Fairs refers to itself as a “leader of the new generation of fair organisers” and now organises student fairs in Turkey, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan and Morocco. It started operations with just three Turkish student fairs in 2001 and is backed by three agencies: Academix, Abas International Education Consulting and most recently, Atlas Private Education Services.
Serena Olmezoglu, International Marketing & PR Manager at a2, explains that strong support from the agency community in Turkey helps broaden the appeal of the event. International educators, as well as wanting to meet potential students, have “a great chance to contact and meet Turkey’s leading consultants,” relates Olmezoglu, who says that the a2 fairs are the only national fairs to be supported by agency association, UED. The agency members attend the fairs as visitors or guests of schools.
“In Almaty, Kazakhstan and Bulgaria, a2 cooperates with local agencies to organise and promote the events,” adds Olmezoglu, underlining this point. She adds that the company has also set up its own student recruitment office in Casablanca in order to better target the Morrocan student market.
A fellow fair organiser in Turkey is IEFT, which was also set up by three Turkish agencies: Global Visions, Network and Alternatif. Anita Kuehnel at IEFT explains that as the concept of study abroad took off and the demand for information grew in the Turkish marketplace, the agencies decided that a profesionally organised fair would give institutions broader visibility. “The three [founders] were leaders in the market and the logical group to launch such a fair,” recounts Kuehnel.
Benefits for the organisers
There are clearly advantages for agencies in being involved in organising fairs and according to Juris Tuns at Mecenats, the Center of International Education in Latvia, these advantages are all about profile raising, brand recognition and gaining public confidence. In the case of a2 in Morocco, there is also an advantage of being first in to a new marketplace and helping build the market there.
Tuns’ company helps co-organise the Education and Career international fairs in Latvia and Lithuania, held annually by his company along with four agencies. He stresses that the aim is not profit-making and all revenue is ploughed back into the fair’s ongoing promotion and organisation.
“The fairs show that we are supported by the companies from abroad, that they know us, trust us and there will be no big difference [for students] to book through the Internet or to go via a local agency,” he emphasises. He explains that the first event held by the five agencies in Latvia took place in 1997, when the companies decided simply to organise a presentation in the Riga Congress Hall and work together to save on advertising and exhibition space costs.
“The result was unpredictable a tremendous success!” he enthuses. “The British Consul was surrounded by the public and kept busy for all the four hours, and had no chance to talk with anyone.”
In Mexico, Han Steen, Director of Universo Educativo, agrees that one of the main benefits of organising student fairs is brand promotion. “Our fairs serve a dual function,” he relates. “We get students it is one of the most effective ways to meet new students [in Mexico] and we promote our brand, however, it is hard to say how important the brand name is to students.”
Steen is compounded in his quest for brand recognition by the fact that there are many competitive fairs in Mexico organised by other agencies. Estudia Canada is organised solely by his company, Universo Educativo, but there are also events, relates Steen, organised by Enlaces Mexico, Canada Incredible and Ad Astra.
“The fair market is very saturated,” he acknowledges, giving an insight
into why, in other markets, agencies have joined forces with competitors to pool resources. “At least for Canadian schools, it is hard to imagine [schools] could be interested in another fair in Mexico,” he says; because many of the fairs organised focus on Canada only.
Steen also indicates that he has also seen the value in teaming up with the competition and widening the remit of a student fair. “We are planning an additional international fair Europe, Canada and Australia together with one of our main competitors, since Mexico does not have any really good fairs in this sense,” he relates.
In Kazakhstan, Zalina Rassimova of Intellect Agency which organises the Kazakhstan Education International Fair in Almaty also speaks of competiton in the marketplace. “After our first fair, the other agencies began to organise the same thing and now there are four fairs in Kazakhstan,” she relates. “Kazakhstan is considered to be a comparatively new market and this is a type of new service.”
When asked if there are too many fairs, however, Rassimova is philosophical. “We think that to have so many fairs is not bad because we are a comparatively new market and people need the information to be informed about education abroad,” she asserts. “But when the people are [aware] and the market has moved closer to the other developed countries, the number of fairs will decrease.”
Evolution of market
As Rassimova indicates, the countries where student fairs are really taking off are often those markets where economic conditions have recently created an environment where study abroad is more feasible. She says that students and exhibitors at the Kazakhstan Education International Fair are up in number by about 10 to 15 per cent each year.
In Taiwan, Brian Hockertz of Oh! Canada and Oh! America, another agency and fair organiser, testifies that Rassimova is correct in her assumption that student fairs have a shelf life in a mature market. “Other major competitor events [in Taiwan] have all significantly decreased in size over the years,” he asserts. One imperative to maintain student interest in fairs is correct promotion and marketing (see box below).
Hockertz explains that he started organising student fairs in 1997, again, to promote the Canadian market only. This was due to his position as Director of the Canadian Education Centre (CEC) in Taiwan before he started the Oh! Canada agency. “Several schools and the local Canadian representative office encouraged [my agency] to organise an event,” he relates. “Our events have grown in size and now we have added an American component.”
Agency attendance at events
Hockertz relates that no local agencies are permitted to exhibit at the events organised by his company. “Our events only have schools, students and parents,” he says.
However, the practice of allowing agencies to attend an event seems to differ, and many events certainly allow agencies in as visitors, to enhance the benefits for participating schools so that they can meet more agencies as well as students. This can have some drawbacks, as Irina Kochergina of Ekaterinburg Centre Education Abroad in Russia, which organises the all-Urals Fair, points out.
“Other agencies attend our event as visitors to get to know the educational establishments we work with. This can be named among the drawbacks of such events, as our competitors then contact our partners and work with them too,” she says, “thus lessening our student numbers.”
Kuehnel at IEFT in Turkey says, “Often, agents are assisting schools who have a stand, which is an excellent opportunity for the agent staff to receive training and for the schools to have a local do the follow-up.” There is a limit to the number of agency exhibitors allowed at this event. “IEFT is not considered to be an agent fair and is positioned as a neutral event in that sense, so we encourage this exchange between local agents and our exhibitors,” she explains.
The Ukrainian International Education Fair “Education and Career” was held for the second time this year in Kiev, organised by agency, Domar Education Travel in cooperation with Znannya Society. Veronika Kustenko at Domar also muses on the point of agency participation at their fairs. She says that to date, some agencies have had their own stands promoting their services to the public and some have attended as visitors. “We are willing to change the format for the next year,” she says, “and invite only agents that would be selected by the exhibitors to attend some special events, such as seminars, workshops and panel discussions.”
General agent opportunities at student fairs clearly differ then, according to the market, but self-promotion opportunities for companies achieved by organising fairs and linking up with competitors are a viable market proposition in many countries.
Olmezoglu at a2 underlines that fairs also enable agencies to work with students who were interested in attending a fair and then booking directly. “In every fair there is a good number of direct enrolments and if the institution has a local agency, it is easy for the students to make a decision and then sign up later on,” she says. With training given to local agencies, institutions attending fairs can feed their direct enrolments to an in-country contact. “Otherwise, the institution has to do the follow-up from miles away and the success rate [for converting enquiries into form bookings] would be lower.”
Marketing to students
There is a range of formulas used to attract students to fairs. “Our fairs are the more expensive ones [in Mexico] but we spent a lot more on promotion than the others,” asserts Han Steen at Universo Educativo in Mexico, which organises Estudia Canada. “We promote our fairs basically on billboards during one month these adverts are placed in the most affluent areas of Mexico City.”
In Russia, Ekaterinburg Centre launches a “massive advertising campaign” prior to its fairs using student newspapers, magazines, TV, billboards, the Internet and announcements in local education institutions. “We also work closely with the British Council, American Council for International Education and DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service),” relates Irina Kochergina at the agency.
Serena Olmezoglu at a2 in Turkey also testifies to the importance of gaining the backing of other bodies in a2’s case, the US Consul, EduFrance, British Council and Turkish Ministry of Education as well as student-friendly companies. “We work with human resources companies that help us contact qualified students,” she says.
In Latvia, Juris Tuns at Mecenats also favours using all possible outlets. “In the beginning, advertising was effective via the press, TV and music radio stations only,” he says. “Now we use popular Internet sites, banners, billboards, and posters distributed to every single university, school, student café or club, etc, where students are.”