Central to success
Language travel agents and consultants are, altogether, a fascinating bunch of people, most of whom have had a study abroad experience of their own, and many of whom have some sort of link to a bicultural or bilingual background. Many in the industry use second or third languages during the course of their work, and they recognise the benefits that hard work and perserverance can bring through language learning.
In this issue, we learn about the benefits of studying in the inland states in the USA (pages 38-42). For many students, this will involve considerable efforts on their part, to immerse themselves in a small-town culture where they may be the only person from their country in the neighbourhood. One agent, in our new Agents Speak Out feature, says, 'We usually say that after Christmas [three months of study], students will like their location and make very good progress' (page 8).
Because many agents have such an intimate knowledge of the industry, they understand the importance of good working relationships with schools to ensure a high quality service for their clients. Indeed, some agents report that such relationships are based on mutual trust and confidence, instead of a contract (page 19).
Many of the long-standing relationships in the industry are founded and maintained through meeting at industry events and workshops. The recent Alphe Asia workshop in Phuket, Thailand, was welcomed by agents and educators, in part because it offered its typical friendly and relaxed environment in which to do business and meet old acquaintances. However, one agent from China commented 'all the schools were new to me so I found a lot of new partners' (page 5).
A lot of Chinese agents are fairly new to the industry, because the study abroad market has only taken off in the last few years. Judging from our Agency Survey this issue, these businesses are growing and dynamic, starting new relationships with schools each year as they seek to satisfy client demand (pages 12-13).
China lacks a national agency association, because of the immaturity of the industry, but in time, it is likely that a national association will be formed, to further the industry's collective knowledge and enhance its quality reputation.
Efforts to enhance global collaboration of national associations have been on the agenda for some time now, through Felca's activities. And the Association of Language Travel Organisations (Alto) serves as an association for agencies and educators to work together. We report on its recent AGM (page 9).
British association, Baselt, in the UK, is arranging a whole raft of inbound fam trips for agents to allow its members to explore ways of working with agencies in new or emerging markets (page 37). And Spanish language teaching schools in Spain partially attribute increases in student numbers in 2002 to maintaining sound relations with agents abroad (page 33).
Agents remain the lynchpin of the business, and schools that regard agents as central to their success will reap the rewards. Junior language programmes represent one sector in which schools are happy to work with agents. When dealing with delicate issues of homesickness, bad behaviour or first trips abroad, schools agree that agents are best placed to help and advise students - and they may be able to draw on first-hand experience (pages 24-30).