June 2003 issue

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Study tours

Although demand for individual specialist courses is growing, study tours look set to remain a feature of the market, especially for younger and first-time language learners. Amy Baker investigates the sector.

Study tours - group language learning trips overseas - have always been a feature of the language travel industry, particularly in Western Europe, where short-term trips to the UK to learn English, for example, have been an important part of the summer market for years. Some well-established agencies organise these trips themselves, while others work in conjunction with language schools to provide closed-group language training and activities for their clientele.

Traditionally, study tours have been popular because they provide a safe environment in which to send clients overseas to experience a new language and culture. Students travel and study in closed groups with others from their country and an adult supervisor, which means that language isolation isn't a problem. Therefore, parents of younger children in particular often favour this type of course. However, agencies report that while interest in study tours remains constant, demand for individual or more specialised packages is increasing as the market matures.

James Crimp, Production Manager at STS in Sweden, which organises its own study tours for 15,000 juniors each year, confirms, ''Trends are moving more towards colleges and special courses. These days, junior students have been on package holidays and trips abroad prior to going on a language course so they know what to expect from being abroad.''

However, study tours continue to occupy a niche position for certain clients, and Oksana Rusakovska, of UTI in the Ukraine, is not alone in estimating that 30 per cent of her clientele ask for group courses. When placing groups overseas, Rusakovska says one problem is gathering children into appropriate groups. ''They want different dates, different accommodation,'' she explains.

Agencies also have the task of organising a chaperone to accompany study tour clients and liaise with a school or contact overseas. ''If we are organising a study tour without any link with schools in Brazil,'' says Eduardo Heidemann, of AF Intercambio in Brazil, ''we choose one chaperone among our staff members.'' When a study tour is made up of a closed school group, a member of the school staff often accompanies it instead.

A number of agencies organise study tours overseas themselves, rather than liaising with language schools. They set up classrooms, tuition and accommodation using their own ground staff and tour leaders.

Udaya Halim, Managing Director of King's English and Education Centre, based in Indonesia and Australia, says, ''In certain [cases], we design our own programmes, with an accompanying teacher and an emphasis on more casual and less formal ways of studying, yet meeting the requirement of contact hours for the language learning.'' During these programmes, lessons are conducted in different locations around Australia.

At STS, the approach was once more informal, and not all teachers had teaching qualifications. Crimp says this has now changed. ''We do not state in our brochures that we have qualified tutors, but for 2003, all... international courses will have qualified local teachers, as we feel this is the way forward.''

For agencies that organise study tours themselves, a key problem is finding accommodation. Carine Catogni at Pro Lingua in France, which specialises in study tours, says, ''The biggest problem is [finding] perfect [host families]. Since we believe in quality homestay and don't have the means of a huge study tours [operator], we have to cope with fierce competition, attracting families with the promise of giving them more students at [the same time], which we would like to avoid doing.''

Crimp also acknowledges a shortage of host families, which he attributes to greater affluence in some study destinations, dual working households and higher STS standards. This shortage led STS to look for alternatives. ''Ten years ago, we developed STS Club courses,'' he says, ''that are three- or four-star hotels that accommodate our students. This is very popular in Malta, Jersey [and Spain].''

For agencies working with language schools, one problem can be coordinating a group's language and activity requirements and choosing a suitable school that can accommodate their group. Olga Grjendko, of Business Education Exchange in Uzbekistan, says, ''We [work with a range] of schools and take into consideration the conditions in which our students would like to live and study.'' Rusakovska adds, ''It is difficult to find the right school according to price and location. Many teenage groups want to come to London, but there are not many schools in London that take 12-year-olds.'' In terms of language destinations for study tours, Malta is rising in popularity among Uzbek students, says Grjendko, because, ''it has the British educational system and it is easy to get a visa,'' although the USA and UK are the most popular destinations.

Demand is usually related to affordability and geography, as study tours tend to be short-term courses. Heidemann in Brazil says, ''Australia and New Zealand are too far, air tickets are too expensive and it's harder to sell a study tour programme to those countries.''

Working with schools

A range of schools and providers around the world offer to work with agencies to organise study tour programmes incorporating language lessons with a range of activities and good quality accommodation.

At SGV Sydney (Universal English College) in Sydney, Australia, study tours account for between 10 and 15 per cent of overall business. ''Generally, we receive bookings from agencies,'' says Vincent Bastick at SGV Sydney, ''but in the past few years, the sources have become more varied, with the development of the Internet.''

Bastick argues that there are substantial benefits for study tour groups learning within an established school environment. ''At the very least, we open the door of international communication without stress so that students become keen to study English after the programme,'' he says. He points out that students feel secure learning with their peers and with supervisors they know, yet they also have the opportunity to mix with full-time students during break times at the school, ''as well as [enjoying] the great variety of activities we include in our programmes.''

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