Family study abroad trips have certainly grown in popularity over the last few years and Maureen McDonald at Alpha School of English in St Paul’s Bay, notes that having welcomed both adults and juniors to the school for many years, a designated family programme, launched in 2008, made logical sense. Fun and flexible, McDonald says that parents can choose to take a standard group course, a specialised course such as Business English or opt for a two-to-one course where they can learn alongside their child, simultaneously. All options, she says, are popular. “We have noticed a trend which shows that families with teenage children tend to book separate activity programmes while those with younger kids prefer to book one of our tailored family leisure programmes such as the Family Junior Fun Pack or Family Adventure Pack,” she adds.
Louiseanne Mercieca at English Language Academy (ELA) in Sliema relates that the school offers both joint and separate tuition for both parent and child, however she recommends the latter option owing to differences in proficiency and speed of learning. This very “personal service”, where clients effectively tailor their own programme, is certainly appreciated, says Mercieca.
Indeed, the specific requirements of an individual family or of a parent and child can vary drastically and providers note flexibility is key if the learning experience is to be a positive one. At Gateway School of English (GSE) in St Julian’s, Karl Sammut relates that they offer various options, namely private tuition for juniors and group courses for parents, plus leisure activities for children while their parents take an English course. He adds that this kind of attention to detail does not go unnoticed by clients. “We are having adult clients who attend courses at our school and specifically ask for information about these kinds of programmes only to return together with their children and partner/spouse for the second time for a Parent & Child course.”
For some providers, this sector of the language travel market is relatively uncharted. Isabella Conti from Gzira-based language school, NSTS, notes they have just started marketing their Family Club programme for 2011. “Parents have the option to book an English programme with us or simply relax and enjoy a much deserved holiday…and we can take care of the children if they attend our activities,” she explains. Or, she says, children can attend the school’s Junior Camp Programme that caters for eight-to-17 year olds. Programme timetables, for both adults and children, run parallel to one another, so both can enjoy free or activity time together, which is an added bonus, says Conti.
With two, three or even four family members to consider, convenient family accommodation, which provides all the necessary amenities, is an important consideration for prospective clients. Conti at NSTS relates that parents and children can stay at the same accommodation, an option that was not available previously, while students at Clubclass Residential Language School in St Julian’s benefit from the school’s on site amenities. “The school, accommodation and facilities are all under the same roof, therefore minimising travelling time and costs,” observes Caroline Castillo at the school. Nicola Mizzi from LAL Malta in Sliema counts family hotel rooms, self-catering apartments and host family accommodation among their offerings. Flexible and dependent on the family’s needs, “teens and juniors can also stay at our [student] residence whilst their parents stay at one of our other options,” she notes.
An increase in demand from direct clients and agent partners led GSE in St Julian’s to offer special discounted rates for accommodation this year. Children aged 13 years and under qualified for free half board accommodation provided they were travelling with their parents and were attending the school’s Parent & Child / Family programme. “We are now also providing child care services (as an alternative to having lessons) for the very young within the school premises,” adds Sammut.
Analyses of nationality trends reveal that Central and Eastern Europeans are typically drawn to this type of programming. ELA, Clubclass, NSTS and Aclass Academy of English in Pembroke, all signalled that Russia was a good source market. However, newer markets are emerging. “We have started to receive some requests from Japan and Turkey,” vouches Conti, while Mercieca notes that this summer the school welcomed participants from Korea and South America.