||Cyprus may be a relatively new destination for language travellers, but its English language credentials are well established, as George Phylactou, Director of Xenion Education in the town of Paralimni, points out. A British colony until 1960, English is widely spoken here, and “is very much the lingua franca of the island”. Complete with English language newspapers and broadcast media, as well as a thriving English pub and restaurant scene, “It is possible here to immerse oneself in the language,” relates Phylactou. Moreover, “Our long association with the British language and culture also means that English is spoken better here than in other non-UK countries, and... this, of course, is reflected in the quality of the teaching available here.”
With the study travel industry in need of new destinations, according to Ann Hawkings of The Language Explorer a joint venture of UK-based Malvern House International and Limassol’s The English Learning Centre there is, she says, “an increasing demand for language programmes in sunny destinations that combine a great holiday with a quality English programme.” And Cyprus has been gearing up to fulfil this need, while capitalising on its reputation as a holiday destination.
Not only does Cyprus benefit from a warm and sunny climate all year round, but, as Koullitsa Demetriou from the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, points out, it offers all that you would expect in terms of picturesque scenery and beautiful countryside. It also boasts 10,000 years of history and culture, and, she says, a tradition of hospitality that stretches back all the way to antiquity.
There are many things to see and do within a very limited geographical area, she comments, “making it possible to engage in a multitude of activities in diverse environments”. These include not only visiting historic sights but also enjoying new tourism products, including wellness and pampering treatments and more active options, such as cycle routes and nature trails.
While language schools have been operating here for many years, catering for local students, it has only been in the last few years, since Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, that the language travel market has begun to open up for them.
Since that time, various established language schools have marketed internationally. According to Phylactou, Xenion, which has been operating as a language school since 1980, was, in 2003, the first in the country to begin catering for the international market. Limassol-based Plato Institute’s Lingua Summer School followed suit four years ago, and it was around the same time that The Language Explorer joint-venture was formed.
Today, 90 per cent of The Language Explorer’s students have travelled to Cyprus in order to pursue their English studies, according to Hawkings. Meanwhile, Xenion registers around 450 international students each year, as well as around 1,600 local students, and, last year, according to Demetriou, Cyprus welcomed a total of around 1,000 overseas students to learn English.
This is still an embryonic market, but Hawkings notes there is a growing number of schools and interest from agents is increasing. “We are working closely with the Cyprus tourist office to develop this sector,” she says.
At Language Conquests EFL, a programme held at the English Study Centre, a Limassol-based school that has been teaching children, teens and adults for more than 30 years, Marketing and Sales Manager, Mary Anglberger, is similarly upbeat about the outlook: “This is a rapidly growing market, and one with a lot of potential,“ she says.
The potential for juniors has already been noted. However, Cyprus is also seeking to attract adult students, both for business and leisure-oriented learning. “Strong support and encouragement to develop such training programmes is given by the Human Resource Development Authority (HRDA), who undertake to subsidise 80 per cent of course costs,” Anglberger explains. However, she adds that the HRDA currently only subsidises courses for people already living and working in Cyprus to “allow them to better fit into the labour market”.
The school specialises in tailor-made programmes for a variety of professional fields, catering in particular for creatives such as actors, photographers, film-makers, architects and journalists and for the caring professions, including doctors, nurses and social workers. A range of niche products, including English for Photographers, English for Tourism and Hospitality, and English for Agro-tourists, have been earmarked for 2011.
Opportunities also exist in Cyprus for overseas students to progress to university. There are three state universities as well as four private universities, and, according to Hawkings, students with a high school certificate and the required level of English, Greek or Turkish can progress to university. The Language Explorer can help students prepare for the necessary English tests.
To date, notes Demetriou, the biggest source markets are mainly Eastern European from countries such as Russia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Kazakhstan plus certain Western European countries, including France and Italy.
Xenion Education’s experience has reflected this pattern. “Our first main market was Italy,” reports Phylactou, “and we have successfully collaborated with several specialist Italian operators. Later we expanded into countries of the former Soviet Union and have welcomed various groups from countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia and Kazakhstan. We have also had students from Scandinavian countries as well as Central Europe.” Meanwhile, Maria Ioannou at the Plato Institute’s Lingua Summer School sees students from Germany, Spain and Greece, as well as from Italy, Poland and Russia.
With the island’s location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, it is well placed to cast its recruitment net over a wide area, and, as Hawkings observes, this advantage is reinforced by the country’s good air connections. “With similar potential [to Malta],” she says, “Cyprus’s strategic location in the Middle East allows us to capitalise on a wider variety of connections than Malta.”
The Fond Mira Company of Ekaterinburg in Russia forged a very close relationship with Cyprus, dating back to the company’s earliest days, says Head of the Education Abroad Department, Vera Antsygina. She recalls that, in 1994, the agency became the first business in Ekaterinburg to arrange direct charter flights to the island. Today the agency works with three Cyprus language schools, and, in 2009 and 2010, the agency sent four groups of children and individuals or more than 60 pupils aged between 10 and 18 years to summer camp on the island.
Italian agency, School and Vacation, also began working with Cyprus schools around four years ago. Here, spokesperson Stefania Vettori comments that her agency met and visited a number of schools, but currently operates with two of them, which she says are “very good, reliable and easy to work with”.
So what was the attraction of Cyprus for these agents? Vettori highlights “Cyprus as an ex-British colony, sun and English” as the combination that attracts potential students. “Usually, they are repeaters,” she comments; that is, clients who have already experienced English language programmes in other countries, such as the UK or Ireland, and are looking for something different. “Cyprus schools and people are full of enthusiasm, they have very good programmes/syllabus, [as well as] new and highly technological schools,” she observes.
For Antsygina, the availability of direct flights to Larnaca is a major selling point. In addition, she highlights the fact that, from 2010, the procedure for applying for a visa to Cyprus has become simpler and more convenient. It takes only one day, she notes, and avoids the expense and complication of applying for a UK visa, for example. Furthermore, the fact that all the teachers are native English speakers “really helps to recruit children and convince their parents to choose Cyprus as a destination.”