Southwest Airlines was one of the original low-cost, ticketless airlines and since it was launched in the USA 30 years ago, many similar low-cost models have sprung up around the world.
In Europe, EasyJet and Ryanair are considered to be two of the trailblazers that have paved the way for a range of airlines that are now dipping their toes into the low-cost waters of the aviation marketplace. The latest companies to launch no-frills services include Air Malta and a UK travel company.
The USA has now almost been left behind in the development of low-cost air travel options. Western Europe offers a plethora of routes between many countries and Eastern Europe has started to follow the lead, as we have reported in previous issues of Language Travel Magazine. In Asia too, Thailand and Malaysia have their own low-cost airline services and China is considering allowing budget carriers to set up domestic services.
In a recent 'barometer' survey on the state of the industry, undertaken by members of the Federation of International Youth Travel Operators (Fiyto) and the International Student Travel Confederation (ISTC), low-cost air travel was predicted to be the product for which there will be the highest demand in the next five years. This was ahead of personal development, hostels, language programmes and work & study programmes.
For agents, this all bodes well. As international travel becomes more competitive and affordable, the concept of studying a language overseas will become more viable and attractive, and students who may have considered studying in-country may increasingly prefer to learn a language in a country in which it is spoken. Given that language programmes and work & study programmes are both expected to show strong demand patterns in the next five years, this seems increasingly likely.
In turn, this trend will allow language schools to prosper as classrooms become increasingly mixed. International students in Australia vouch for the attraction of a mixed student class group, as fewer Chinese and more Eastern Europeans currently make up classes, according to our Feedback survey.
In New Zealand, schools have learnt the hard way that over-reliance on one market or world region can lead to problems, if not in terms of student satisfaction then in terms of revenue. As the Chinese market dried up last year, many schools found themselves on the rack as their planning and budgeting was based on forecasts of strong numbers from this one market.
This is not the first time that schools relying on Asian source countries have taken a tumble. In late 1997, the Asian economic crisis sparked similar problems for many schools around the world. However, as some experienced providers in New Zealand point out, when some markets suddenly open up - given opportunity, access and immigration legislation - there will always be 'get-rich-quick' operators keen to cash in on new business opportunities without considering the integrity or the longevity of their reputation.
There remain immigration obstacles to students having access to study anywhere. One agent in France underlines that it is increasingly difficult to send clients to the USA for short-term summer vacation courses. But as the language travel industry evolves, and assuming that governments' legislation might swing in a direction that is beneficial to this industry, schools will have to remember that their reputation - and by default that of their agents - rests on their ability to take a long-term view of business.