It is heartening to see that there is already optimism, in the mainstream travel industry at least, that bookings will bounce back in the second half of this year as consumer confidence in travel returns. Nevertheless, the World Tourism Organisation acknowledges that the industry is in crisis (page 8).
The global crisis in the travel market has been keenly felt in the language travel sector, with agents around the world reporting how the post-September 11 attitudes to travel have impacted on their business. In Japan, for example, agency chain ICS experienced a 40 per cent drop in demand for short-term bookings to the USA in October 2001 (page 12), while Brazilian association, Belta, tells of staff redundancies and salary cuts (pages 10-11).
In the aviation sector, there have been many casualties, not least the airlines Canada 3000 and Sabena, which both folded last year (pages 8-9). In contrast, low-cost airlines appear to be thriving in the current market climate, and the emphasis on value-for-money products may well be growing in the language travel sector, too. Our Agent Questionnaire candidate this month reports that his most successful business decision was to include a less expensive school in his range (pages 10-11).
Nevertheless, as our Special Report illustrates, there is a place for more expensive courses as long as their advantage over cheaper products is apparent. For example, language-plus-activity programmes are relatively expensive but they can help accelerate language acquisition. As long as clients are aware of the benefits, they are often willing to invest in them (pages 24-29).
Regardless of how effective the language programme is, an intrinsic aspect of a successful language travel experience is, of course, client contentment. It is vital, therefore, that agencies and schools work together to make sure that all elements of student welfare are consistently monitored (pages 30-31).
Cooperation between agencies and schools is also important in the sphere of Internet bookings, since many agencies and schools now have websites, which sometimes include a booking facility. To ensure systems work smoothly and that agencies are rewarded if their website leads a student to book directly with a school agents and schools should clarify working procedures (page 33).
Schools cannot ignore the fact that, even in this Internet age, agencies remain an important component in the recruitment process. Indeed, 76 per cent of the 229 students canvassed for our Feedback Australia survey said they used an agency to book their language course 20 per cent of whom actually found their school through other means (pages 18-19). In addition, agents in Germany estimated that only nine per cent of clients had decided on their chosen language school prior to agency consultation, which again underlines the role that agents play in this market (pages 14-15).
This year looks likely to bring further initiatives from language schools and associations to work with agents. The UK association, ABLS, is planning to market the strategic difference of its membership to agents via mailshots and workshops (page 5), while Ialc schools embarked upon an initiative last year to introduce themselves to agents in the Baltic states, a strategy that will be repeated in China this year (page 11). As ever, it will be those businesses that work hand-in-hand with agents that will increase their chances of success.