Innovation is a necesary part of any developing industry and anyone currently working in the language and education travel business must surely be able to cite examples of innovative practices and products that have directly affected their business. The Internet is one example of an innovation that has made its mark so deeply on the language travel industry that it is difficult to remember how life existed before its invention.
Our regular surveys of agents and students reveal that the Internet is an increasingly vital means of making connections between schools, students and agents. The effectiveness of this tool is being fully exploited in an industry where time zones and language barriers can make other communication methods more tricky, and boarding schools in the UK will soon be able to make use of an Internet-based information service to find and contact new agents (see page 45).
Our Special Report this month, which highlights payment methods between schools, agents and students, also shows how there is always room for technical innovation in this industry (see page 24). A relatively new development in this area of business relationships is the Clearing House Service, which enables schools and agents to transfer money across the world in 26 different currencies, thereby avoiding bank charges. However, the demand for an efficient system for industry players to move money around the world, while also protecting themselves against non-payments, is such that there is room for other innovators to plug this gap in the market.
While business practices between industry professionals become smoother, there is still little that can be done to prevent outside factors exerting a negative effect on the industry. The recent good fortunes of the UK language school business have been put down to increasingly favourable business conditions, which have been welcomed by schools who have battled with events such as sars and foot-and-mouth disease squeezing business in recent years (see page 22).
The tragic shootings at Virginia Technical Institute and University in the USA earlier in the year were a sad reminder of how vulnerable the industry can be, although agents report that students have not been put off studying in the USA and business remains as usual (see page 6).
It is possible that by encouraging innovative ways to form strong business partnerships in the future, the resilience of the industry will be assured.