June 2005 issue

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Spain's success

Despite the Madrid terrorist attack at the beginning of the year, Spanish language schools performed surprisingly well in 2004. Gillian Evans takes a closer look at the language travel market in Spain.

For many Spanish language schools in Spain, 2004 got off to a good start until March when the terrorist attack in Madrid stopped the market in its tracks. Given the sensitivity of travellers to any such world events, the immediate fallout for language schools was a rash of cancellations from students.

Ángeles Castro, Director of K2 Internacional Escuela de Español in Cádiz recounts, "Two American groups were going to attend Spanish courses in April 2004, but the terrorist attack on 11 March made them cancel the course and travel to Mexico."

Other negative factors that affected the market in 2004 included the continued strength of the euro - which according to Ramón Clavijo, Director of Iria Flavia in Santiago de Compostela, adversely affected registrations from the USA – and the threat of attacks by the Basque terrorist group, ETA. Surprisingly, however, despite these unfavourable conditions, 2004 was a good year overall for many Spanish language providers. "Last year was enormously busy for us," says Ursula Holthausen at Instituto Picasso in Malaga, where, even in the quieter winter months, enrolments were running at 40 per cent of the school's maximum capacity. Another good 2004 performance was posted by Iria Flavia where student numbers were up by 30 per cent and student weeks by 57 per cent. Similarly, Jose Antonio Ruiz Cantero, Director of Sociedad Hispano Mundial (SHM) in Granada, reports a 45 per cent increase in enrolments. So, what fuelled market growth in 2004? By all accounts - marketing.

"The main reason [for our increase] was the higher investment in promotion and marketing, both direct and via agencies," confirms Clavijo. Similarly, Ruiz Cantero says their favourable performance was due to the expansion of their courses, growing word-of-mouth recommendation and "the effort we have put into marketing in the past three years". According to Claudio Cremades at Academia Hispánica in Cordoba - a relative newcomer to the market, having opened in 2002 - they experienced a 15 per cent hike in student numbers, which he puts down to the fact that their initial promotional work is now paying off. Interestingly, where numbers were down, a lack of marketing was blamed. Student numbers at K2 Internacional were only at 30 per cent of its maximum capacity in 2004. "We didn't dedicate too much time [to] promoting the school," admits Castro. "Last year was a very busy year for us, working on getting recognition, preparing new courses and new programmes. When we did start to work with new agents, work on our website, travel around Europe, it was too late."

Although the new European Union members of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are being targeted by some schools in their marketing strategies, others are continuing to plough their efforts into the more established markets in Western Europe and the USA. For example, Clavijo says they are focusing their marketing efforts on Germany, Austria and Italy, "because we have detected a growing interest in the study of Spanish in these countries, and have received an increasing number of enquiries, both from individual students and from schools and universities intending to organise group courses".

Among some of the schools interviewed for this feature, agents are being highlighted as the main way to expand student numbers. "We are a young school, and we are changing from Internet marketing to [building further] relationships with agents," confides Amparo Marti Calatayud at Aula sin Fronteras in Almansa. "The website is quite important, but the number of students [from this route] is not great enough to be used alone. In this business, it is still important to see the face of the person you are trusting to sell you a language programme."

Attracting othernationalities

The Spanish language teaching market remains reliant on Western Europe, with over half of enrolments accounted for by this world region (see pie right), while US students usually feature in most schools' top three nationalities. The individual schools interviewed for this feature generally reported similar nationality breakdowns in 2004 as in 2003.

Instituto Picasso in Malaga, however, experienced a slight expansion of its main nationalities. "The number of Swedish and Chinese students increased in 2004, as Instituto Picasso received special recognition certificates from the Swedish and Chinese governments," explains Ursula Holthausen at the school.

As with most destinations, visa denials are holding back growth from some of the newer language travel markets. Holthausen mentions visa problems for African students as well as non-EU European countries. "People from Eastern [European] countries that do not belong to the EU have enormous difficulties [in gaining visas]," she says.

Ramón Clavijo of Iria Flavia reports problems with visa acceptance for Chinese, long-term Japanese and Middle Eastern students. Angeles Castro at K2 Internacional concurs. "The Spanish Embassy doesn't give visas to Chinese if they've not studied Spanish in China for at least one year," he says.

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