||The IT revolution has exerted a huge influence on the way that business is carried out. It is plain to see that there are not many companies today that can afford to operate without a well-organised website. Less visibly, many also have sophisticated IT systems that not only allow them to showcase and sell their products and services to the public via the Internet, but also offer more sophisticated and efficient ways of managing their business internally. However, many language travel agencies are small businesses, suffering from time pressures and/or a lack of IT expertise, which often discourage them from taking advantage of the new technology.
There are today a number of companies that specialise in computer software and systems specifically tailored to the language travel industry. Although the primary focus has been on catering for the needs of language schools, those of agents are also increasingly being met, and a range of off-the-peg solutions are available, which can often be supplemented by bespoke add-ons.
AMS Teknoloji is a Turkish-based company that was founded approximately four years ago, according to Marketing Manager, Izzet Aslantatar, by a group of experts who had been working in the study abroad industry as student counsellors, agency managers and owners. They had identified a need for a software product to cater for the administrative needs of study abroad agencies of all sizes, and the company now supplies both off-the-peg and bespoke products to small, medium and large agencies around the world.
Aslantatar explains, “AMS is not a web application. It is a windows-based desktop application.” That is to say that it is for internal use by agents for managing their bookings, and does not include a customer interface via the Internet. Its features include the ability to manage enquiries and enrolments, a database for school and programme information, accounts information, a survey tool enabling agencies to canvass student opinion on courses and services, plus a tool to manage statistical information.
According to Aslantatar, “Small and middle-sized agencies specially use AMS to tackle growth problems and work efficiently.” For them, he says, the product means control, efficiency, paperless business, the ability to access data from anywhere that has an Internet connection and, most importantly, it allows them to grow their business, because efficient use of the product will result in more enrolments. At the same time, “Larger businesses use AMS because managing several offices, many counsellors and thousands of student enquiries is only possible with a software [catering] exclusively for the industry,” he states.
AMS software is available to download by agents after payment of a one-time licence fee of US$100, which allows the product to be installed in multiple offices. In addition to this fee, clients pay according to the number of student enrolments, at a rate of US$3.99 per enrolment.
Another agency-specific product is Trav2Learn, developed by Debbie Flynn of Irish Education Partners an experienced player in the international youth and educational travel market together with a team of business people, with the aim of automating the educational travel business through use of the latest web technologies. Trav2Learn was launched in 2009 specifically to meet the needs of agents specialising in the work placement sector, and includes features to handle host company placement, accommodation, airport transfer, language classes, transport card and certification.
Synergee from Pyrameed caters for both language schools and educational agents. Established in 2005 by Daniel Kobler, a software engineer with experience working for top-10 Swiss companies such as Nestlé, and Denis Bonnal, President of AILS, an education travel specialist, with language travel agencies in Switzerland, France and Belgium, Pyrameed again has strong industry and IT credentials. “The unique skill combination [of] the language school market knowledge and web software development expertise has brought a very unique environment for creating a product of excellence,” Bonnal comments.
Pyrameed supplies its Synergee software to both large and small travel agencies, although its core business is with language schools, counting Global Village, Bloomsbury, OISE, Regent ELS Language Centers and Factoria de Idiomas among its clients.
According to Bonnal, all the needs of the industry have been taken into account with Synergee. It is a web-based content management system designed specifically for the education travel industry, and can be used to manage a website from creation through to administration and market use. Synergee allows its clients to manage and modify the content of their website and database, including the creation of parallel versions of websites for multilingual support, monitoring their site’s performance and optimising search engine ranking, as well as controlling access rights.
At the same time, notes Bonnal, the software also facilitates the creation of dynamic web pages. These are pages that display content dependent on what the user searches for, so customers can find and compare information on schools, courses and other information in the agency’s database that it chooses to make available.
Synergee is also completely scalable, according to Bonnal, meaning that no matter what the level of traffic on the site, the system will be able to cope. Given the fast-changing state of technology, regular updates are available to incorporate new features, and, with a starting price of CHF5,499 (US$5,681) Bonnal believes that the product is attractively priced for the language travel market.
Seeking to capitalise on its experience in creating software for language schools, another player is planning to enter the agency software market in the near future. Academia Kolumbus is a small language school chain, with three schools in Latin America, which expanded its operations into the agency business six years ago with the Kolumbus Sprachreisen Group. In 2005, as company spokesman Patrick Thebing relates, the company was looking to acquire the software for its schools database and asked plan-i, then an independent software development company, to develop a system for it. From there, plan-i also developed a system for the agency side of the Kolumbus business.
After receiving a number of enquiries from other schools, the company began working in partnership with plan-i to restructure the whole schools system, and began to co-market it. The next development came in June 2010, when the language travel business took over plan-i so that the software development is now in-house thus combining plan-i’s software expertise with Kolumbus’s knowledge of the industry.
According to Thebing, “[Thebing Language School Management Software (which was formerly marketed as Xaidoo)] includes all aspects of the language school business, including invoicing, class scheduling, attendance, student progress report, accommodation, airport pickup, marketing, accounting, reports and enquiries.” A unique feature of the software, he notes, is its structure, which means that all information only needs to be inputted once and will be distributed to all related areas of the system automatically. Bespoke features can also be provided at an additional cost.
Once this has been achieved, Thebing explains, the company will then put its energies into a product for agencies. With its own agency system already in place, it has recently taken on two new developers to work on this project. Current users of its schools software include International House and Tandem, and, comments Thebing, “We have received very positive replies from our users, not just for our features, but also for our usability.”
Going it alone
For a number of forward-looking agencies with in-house IT expertise, the solution has been to create their own software. The advantage to this is, of course, that it can be specifically tailored to their particular requirements.
One such company is Ready for You, an agency with offices in Malta, Ireland and the UK, whose own team of three IT professionals developed its website and systems, including facilities to buy online, quick and fast client feedback and integration between clients, educational institutions and themselves. In addition to the self-evident benefits that this has brought, spokesman, Alvaro Benevides, believes that use of the system has resulted in increased credibility for the company. He reports that the current system has been in use for more than five years; it is now in the process of being updated.
Another agency that has gone down the route of creating its own software systems is Korea’s Uhak.com. As spokesperson, Julia Hong, explains, the company was an early convert to the new technology. “In the early 90s we saw the rapid expansion of IT in various aspects of many industries, as well as in the Korean language travel market. We realised this technology would benefit both our company and our clients,” she comments, “and created an in-house school database system to accumulate the details of school information, including intakes, fees, contact details, application forms and so forth, as well as a clients management system.”
In order to respond to students’ demand for more information, rapid responses, and personalised service, this kind of sophisticated system had become a must, allowing the company to manage more than 20,000 online members, as well as between six and seven thousand students each year.
Over the past decade, says Hong, the company has developed other database structures, modifying and updating them. It now uses software for school database management, counselling and the processing of student information, client management and finance. By optimising work procedures and efficiency to maintain cost effectiveness, “We believe these systems are a must for efficient business in today’s technical world, and not an option,” concludes Hong.