The concept of mini fam trips, both inbound and outbound, is becoming very popular with school groups and agency associations around the world. Jan Capper, Executive Director of Ialc, explained the reasons behind Ialc's decision to organise such events for agents.
'Ialc has organised joint marketing trips for its members to various parts of the world for the last few years,' she said. 'Travelling as a group is cost-effective and an opportunity to share contacts and experience. Our members find [these trips] useful and they are generally well-attended by agents.'
A good number of agencies attended the latest trip, with between five and 16 agencies turned up to each event, depending on the location. Capper explained that, on average, each school met with 30 agencies during the Eastern Europe tour.
'We were pleased with [the tour's] success,' she commented. 'Some markets were smaller than others, but the quality of the agents who came to the mini-workshop in each city was excellent.' Capper continued, 'The Ialc roadshows are a good way to introduce agents who do not come to our own workshop to Ialc member schools, and to the work of our association.'
Agents from the Ialc database were invited to attend the mini-workshops and the region was selected, according to Capper, because it is one of the 'developing and new markets' that Ialc members are keen to target.
Lenka Uhrova of GTS agency, who attended the event in the Czech Republic, commented, 'These sort of workshops are really useful, particularly as agents get the chance to meet up with representatives of quality schools literally from all over the world.'
Representatives of 18 members schools from Ireland, the UK, Canada, Malta, New Zealand, Germany, the USA and Russia took part in the trip and many participants were positive about the event. Gayle Forler, of LSC in Canada, said, 'The small, personal venue of the Ialc mini-workshop allowed me to meet selected agents in their own city. There was a real sense of energy and planning for the future.'
Visa agents advocated in China
A recent newspaper report about studying abroad, which was published in the Chinese press, has pointed out the value of 'visa consultants' in the face of increasing visa legislation, particularly for the USA.
In the past, many negative stories have been published in the Chinese press about student placement agencies, revealing that many were unscrupulous and would charge above-average fees without any guarantee of successful student placement.
The recent report outlines the case of Liu, 24, who had her visa application refused twice before she turned to a visa consultant. 'I think they are good people,' said Liu Yue, talking about staff at the agency she used in the Shanghai Daily News. 'They are really professional and have a systematic way of handling hard cases like mine.' Liu, who is now studying a postgraduate business programme at a university in the USA, added, 'As long as I can go to America, the money I paid to them will be worthwhile.'
The fees charged by these consultants are said to be as much as 14,000 RMB (US$1,691), although 12,000 RMB (US$1,450) is typically returned if the visa application is unsuccessful.
One consultant told an undercover reporter on the Shanghai Daily that the success rate for visa applications rises from 40 per cent to 85 per cent if a student uses a consultancy's services. He said this was because they knew how to prepare a student for the interview and, more importantly, were able to secure a visa interview for clients at the US consulate.
British Council rethinks placement strategy
The British Council is in the process of re-examining its placement scheme strategy to find out how placement schemes aid market development and how they might otherwise affect other channels of student recruitment - notably educational agents.
Richard Law at the British Council explained that an independent marketing consultant is undertaking a report on the issue, canvassing a range of contacts in the industry, including agency associations. Depending on the report findings, a new approach may be adopted towards current placement operations.
'We wanted to look at the role placement played within the context of market development and our agent strategy,' explained Law. He pointed out that student placement services via British Council offices are a relatively healthy business operation - but marginal given the size of the total student market going to the UK to study English language.
Secondly, since the British Council published its agent strategy in 2002, there has been a concerted effort to involve agencies in the British Council's work to promote Britain as an English language destination (see Language Travel Magazine, January 2003, pages 8-9).
Placement schemes have met with controversy in the past, when agents felt that they operated in competition with local agencies. There are two main models of scheme: - one involves offices placing students directly into UK schools and charging a commission of 15 per cent, while the other - used in countries where the Council determines there is already an established agency network - advises students on study options and then passes them on to a local agent.
Law said that as the current set-up varied according to country, a standardised new approach was unlikely, but the Council was keen to see the results of the independent report.
Industry issues - agents speak out
Q Do you charge a handling fee and if so, how do you establish what the sum will be?
'Yes, we have always charged [students] a handling fee and this is in order to cover some fixed costs. If the commission remains as low as 20 per cent only on tuition, we can only cover expenses either by charging a fee or having a large number of students, but in this case we would risk losing the possibility to offer personal care and attention to the students. Our fee is always the same. Only very special and time-consuming services are charged separately. Some students accept it, others just get all the information and then book directly through the school's website. In the future, fewer agencies will charge a fee I think, but this means that only big companies will survive or that students will accept less service from smaller companies, as is the case of some low-cost airlines. Not charging a handling fee is sustainable only by turning the agency into a no-frills agency.'
Paolo Barilari, I Centri, Italy
'We have charged a booking fee for the last five years and it is a fixed UK£35 fee plus VAT - UK£41.12 (US$73.3). It does not change whether a client books for one or 20 weeks and is clearly indicated as an additional booking fee over and above other costs. We have never had any objections to our booking fee, perhaps because it is a fairly small amount. The only variation is when we are arranging volunteer work overseas, as this often entails much more detailed and lengthy work on our part and we charge a higher amount. However, this higher fee includes the booking fee of £41.12 that is required for the pre-placement language course.'
Kath Bateman, Caledonia Languages Abroad, UK
'No, we don't charge a handling fee. We always try to add value to the students' packages sold by us. That means airline tickets, insurance, travel documentation and land arrangements. That's the reason we do not ask our clients to pay us a fee to put their trip together for them. We rely on the margin of the selling of these services. I don't think [more agencies will charge students a handling fee] in the future. The student market in Brazil is extremely competitive. It's not in our culture, at least in the travel industry, to charge fees for services rendered. If any agency takes an approach of offering travel services and adding fees [to the cost], this agency risks losing business to another agency that doesn't charge [handling] fees.'
Luiz Carlos de Oliveira, Nascente Turismo, Brazil
Agency of the month
In a new series to appear in Language Travel Magazine, we will be asking a different language teaching institution each month to nominate one of their preferred agencies or agent partners, and to explain why this person/company is worthy of their nomination.
This month, Geos North American Language Schools, in Canada, nominates EMY Cursos en el Extranjero based in San Sebastian, Spain.
Emmy Okazawa-Bortolin, Assistant Director of Marketing for Geos in Canada, explains their decision:
'Geos would like to nominate EMY Cursos en el Extranjero as our choice for Agency of the Month. We have been working with this agency for about two years now and have received groups of junior students in Toronto and Vancouver.
Not only are the staff very professional and well-organised, the agency sends strong, responsible group leaders with their students who are willing to help the efforts of our hosting schools. We appreciate the thoroughness [of the agency staff] in sending student profiles early and preparing their clients well. We have found that communication is not only prompt, but clear and to the point. The agency continues to expand its programmes throughout our network and we are grateful for their trust and support of Geos.'
On the move
French agency association, Unosel, is pleased to welcome Jacques Maillot as President. The founder of French agency, Nouvelles Directions, Mr Maillot is now involved with a number of business and trade organisations and brings extensive experience of travelling and international relations to the role.
Andy Meyer has just been appointed as the new Director for Shane Global Village Cape Town in South Africa. He has more than 20 years experience of teaching English as a second language as well as teacher training. Mr Meyer is confident of building the Cape Town operation of the internationally-known SGV schools into a big player in the English language teaching field.
Ben Logan is the new Director of Studies at the Bury Language School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk in the UK, where he was previously employed as a teacher and exams secretary. He said, 'I am relishing the challenge of taking the school from strength to strength. I seek to build on the good work of those teachers past and present who have injected the school with such warmth and direction.'
Sue Coulthard has recently joined The Language Centre at The London Institute in London, UK, as Marketing Manager. Ms Coulthard was previously the Marketing & Promotions Manager at Arels. In her new role, she will be promoting the centre's range of English language programmes, which include English plus courses in combination with the Institute's five colleges.
Sue Rowe has recently moved to Waterloo School of English in London, UK, as Marketing and Sales Manager. An experienced marketeer with extensive experience in developing international business, Ms Rowe will be focusing on expanding Waterloo School's intake of international students across a wider range of countries, as well as broadening its appeal to the professional and business student markets.