The language travel market is highly susceptible to global conditions, as we all know. Economic or political troubles in a country soon impact on enrolment levels at study abroad agencies. In this issue, Venezuelan agents testify that they are currently suffering from a 'wobble' in the market, as the devaluation of their currency and political upheaval has severly reduced the number of students interested in study abroad.
Nevertheless, it is a temporary situation. What perhaps keeps agents going in times of trouble is the knowledge that the market usually rebounds when the economic outlook improves. Individual agencies can suffer from a long-term decline, of course, but the interest in self-improvement through the learning of a language remains imperative to many people in the 21st century.
Sometimes, problems themselves spur students into studying abroad, and this has often been noted by agents in countries around the world. Even now in Venezuela, explains one agent, some people are still interested in studying abroad as a means of leaving Venezuela for a better life elsewhere.
In Mexico, good economic conditions have buoyed the market and agencies in the country report an average increase in business last year of close to 15 per cent. Career goals remain an important motivator among students, and Canada is the overall preferred destination, according to our survey. Our Status survey of Canada, which polled many schools in the country, backs up this trend. Mexican students represented the third largest student nationality in Canada in 2002.
External factors also affect language schools too. For example, a global situation such as the crisis in Iraq has a knock-on effect at language schools around the world. Schools that are heavily reliant on few student markets can also find themselves hurting if these markets run into economic problems. This situation was underlined by the Asian economic crisis in 1998/99, when several schools were forced to close when Asian business dried up.
To remain a strong business that can bounce back, agencies and schools need to remain focused on the consumer and, in the case of schools, focused on student diversity. When looking at the survivors of today, it is clear that those schools that remain successful and long-standing are those that value agent relations and a high quality product for students, regardless of the size of the school itself.
Even in difficult times, there are opportunities for agents through the addition to their product mix of value-for-money schools and new destinations. Agents speak highly of Perth in Western Australia as a great all-round destination offering low fees, high quality education and a wonderful study environment. It could be a good addition to many agencies' portfolios. Schools in the north or midlands in England are also keen to highlight their advantages for students, including easier integration into the local lifestyle.
Work experience organisers also offer agencies a real opportunity to expand business. Many agents testify that work experience is rapidly growing in demand, and paid work experience can be popular in markets where language travel trips are simply deemed too expensive by many. In this issue, we report on the opportunities available for agencies to work directly with work experience organisers.