||We are hoping for a good year, and we are encouraged by the number of tour bookings we have already,” says Chris Leckie, Principal of Rotorua English Language Academy in Rotorua. Hope seems to be the adopted position among various operators in the country, because the outlook for 2011 was looking stable, following a lacklustre 2010 according to some. Then, of course, an earthquake devastated Christchurch in February and this has had an untold impact on bookings in this city in particular.
“The February earthquake has really changed the game again,” states Gus Fahy, manager of the Christchurch branch of Language Schools New Zealand, which also has a centre in Queenstown. “Agent support was very positive and the way schools such as ourselves supported students and kept things operating gave them confidence,” relates Fahy. “That said, some markets were particularly nervous and still hadn’t bounced back before the February quake [after the September quake].”
Rob McKay, President of English New Zealand, which had 10 member schools with campuses in Christchurch, points out that Christchurch is, however, able to offer options for students, despite the fact that some schools are operating in alternative premises. “Much of Christchurch has not been affected by recent events and many schools are operational,” he observes. Of the 10 members, five were back in operation at the time of writing, with three in their usual premises and the other two on a temporary site.
Of course, it was one school in particular, King’s Education in the Canterbury TV building, that was at the epicentre of tragedy. McKay relates that 71 students and nine staff perished in the earthquake, impacting communities around the world.
“Member schools throughout the country have been of great support many holding fundraising events and donating proceeds to the Red Cross,” says McKay. “Support has also come in the area of accepting students transferring on a temporary or longer-term basis. Many schools have taken students without tuition or homestay payment, showing the collegiality of English New Zealand schools.”
Schools have been united in supporting each other during this difficult time and they also seem united in pinpointing one immigration ruling as hampering market growth that of work rights. Leckie speaks for many when she says, “Students at language schools in New Zealand cannot work unless they already have an Ielts score of five and enrol for six months or more. This is a huge problem for us, as it affects our competitiveness and steers students away from our schools. We need work rights for our language students.”
Another issue that led to poor figures for 2010, according to some schools, was a high NZ dollar. Darren Conway at Languages International, which has schools in Auckland and Christchurch, relates, “2010 was our most challenging year of business in four years, probably because the NZ dollar was relatively high but particularly because the Korean market was so weak.”
Conway points out that the New Zealand market is also susceptible to events happening in other countries too; the earthquake in Japan may have an impact on bookings, as may the change in visa rules in the UK. “Those changes might just depress the whole global market,” he warns.
In general, the outlook is very much ‘wait and see’ among New Zealand educators, with some nationalities, such as Saudi, proving stable sources of enrolments (see box left). McKay says, “The loyalty students and agents have to Christchurch is clear, as schools continue to receive enrolments during this period,” he says. “Our industry is founded on strong personal relationships with offshore agents and it is heartwarming to have had so many enquiries and messages of support from agents.”
Saudi Arabia is among the top source countries for all the schools canvassed for this article, and it appears to be a growing market. Chris Leckie of Rotorua English Language Academy in Rotorua observes, “The number of Saudi students continues to rise, and we are noticing a reduction in long-term students from Japan and Korea.”
A decline in the strongholds of Japan and Korea has been witnessed by some, and the earthquake in Japan will likely have exacerbated this trend. Darren Conway, Chief Executive at Languages International, however, said that at his schools, “Japan was strengthening nicely prior to the two earthquakes.” There will be, nevertheless, a knock-on effect to some extent.
Conway singles out Brazil as another good performing market in the southern hemisphere’s summer season over December and January. He and Gus Fahy at Language Schools New Zealand also points to Switzerland as a reliable market for New Zealand.
Overall, however, according to the latest figures from Statistics New Zealand for the year ending March 2010, Korea is the most important source country for New Zealand schools, in terms of student numbers, followed by Japan, China and then Saudi Arabia and Brazil. In terms of student weeks, China took the top spot, followed by Korea and then Saudi Arabia, Japan and Brazil, so there is a very clear top-five in terms of source markets.