May 2008 issue

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Accommodation overseas

A market shift towards residential accommodation is underway, as various language schools lead the way by catering to agency and client demands for more independent living solutions. Amy Baker reports.

There is truth in the saying, ‘The first impression never gets a second chance’ and in our opinion only a few schools recognise the importance of this first impression,” says Gorm Cramer of Viking Agencies in Denmark. He underlines that his clients – and surely most other agencies’ customers – invariably arrive at their accommodation on a weekend before they start at their language school and so their accommodation is their first impression of a country, city and lifestyle.

“We regard accommodation as being the single most important factor when sending students abroad to study Spanish or English,” says Cramer, “and also the area where we experience the most problems.”

He lists problems such as no welcome at the host family or flat (in the worst case, no airport transfer); a mismatch between host family and client; and general student expectations not being met – in this latter case, he acknowledges that the student might be as much to blame if their expectations are too high.

As well as working with schools to overcome possible accommodation problems – Cramer notes that Escuela de Idiomas Nerja in Spain is exemplary in holding a Sunday night welcome reception for students – Cramer also reports a trend towards residential accommodation when it comes to the type of living arrangements requested by clients.

This is an observation backed up by many agencies around the world, although not all. In Taiwan, Carol Hung of Academic Asia Taiwan certainly backs up this trend. “Over 60 per cent of our clients prefer residential accommodation if available, and only 30 per cent want to live with a host family,” she reports. “But 80 per cent [of clients] have been placed in host families because that is the biggest supply [available].”

James Herbertson at Answer English, an inbound agency in the UK, says, “The vast majority of our clients tend to ask for residential or flats – 70 per cent as an approximate figure.” And at outbound UK agency, Cesa Languages Abroad, Katherine Brand also notes this trend, despite suggesting, “this is a real shame, as it really is detrimental to the whole immersion process that we want to encourage”. However, her reasoning for the rise in residential requests is this: “Increasingly, students won’t consider host accommodation, citing bad past experiences, or a horror story from a family member or friend,” she says. “Alternative accommodation, at a reasonable price, is a must have in order to sell courses.”

As well as declining standards from host families – or, one agency points out, just ineffective management of the host family operation by the school – language schools themselves also point to a more independent type of traveller who believes a host family might cramp their style.

“This is actually the wrong presumption,” claims Jordi Viadas of Camino Barcelona, Escuela de Español in Spain. “Being in a family in Barcelona allows you to practise your Spanish with local people but also gives you plenty of freedom. Students receive a set of keys when they arrive so they can come and go as they please.”

However, like a number of other language schools, Camino Barcelona has invested in residential facilities to cater for the full range of client requests when it comes to accommodation. “We noticed that there is a high demand for apartment and residence accommodation,” says Viadas, “therefore, offering this type of accommodation directly ourselves guarantees that we can control the quality that we demand of all our [options].”

Camino Barcelona has a residence “just minutes away from the school”, with meals provided, a night porter in the building, rooftop terrace and wi-fi Internet connection. “The reaction has been excellent because although this type of accommodation is a bit more expensive, students prefer to pay a bit more and get this extra comfort and facilities,” points out Viadas. He adds, “We have also noticed that offering such a high standard of accommodation has attracted new agents that want to work with us.”

In Malta, another school that has expanded its residential provision, with its second residence opening this year, is NSTS English Language Institute in Gzira. Alex Lanczet at the school notes that the location of the residence and distance to the school can be as influential in terms of attracting bookings as having a residence at all. “In our case, both residences are centrally situated at 10-15 minutes walking distance from the school,” he says.

Other facilities that students now expect, says Lanczet, include a reception service, laundry service, wi-fi and/or Internet café, en suite rooms and a kitchen area.

In France, Institut Linguistique Adenet in Montpellier is another school to have invested in residential accommodation. Stefan Adenet-Kaven, Director of the school, underlines that he felt a kitchen area was one of the most important factors when building the new facilities, which opened in February. “It is important for students to meet other students and have a good time together,” he says. “For that reason, we have installed a big common kitchen, which is the meeting point of the residence.”

Adenet-Kaven points out that it is particularly long-term students who seem to be seeking residential accommodation with many facilities. “These students look for high quality comfortable rooms with private bathrooms, close to school and the attractions of the city, all this at a reasonable price level.”

Franklin Vaca at Estudio de Español Pichincha in Ecuador agrees that longer-term students want something other than host families, in his experience. “If students are staying longer [than four weeks] they normally change to hostels or flats because it is more economical with more privacy,” he says.

It is Middle Eastern students who are one of the most likely nationality groups to request residential accommodation or flats, according to many schools. Darren Conway at Languages International in New Zealand testifies that if there is a trend at all in this direction, “There’s an increasing tendency for our Saudi students to request student residence because they want to be independent and not have to tell homestay hosts that they’ll be late home for dinner, or not home at all!”

Rachel Mackie, Director of Studies at the La Trobe University International College Language Centre in Australia, says in her experience, “Middle Eastern students – which is an expanding market – are looking for high end, high quality facilities.” And Bob Charlton at Leeds English Language School in the UK says that he does see a trend towards rented flats or halls of residence: “More Europeans are asking for halls of residence rather than homestay, and Middle Eastern students prefer a house or flatshare.”

Like many other education providers, Leeds English Language School is making efforts to widen its accommodation options. “We have now made arrangements with a hall of residence to accommodate short-term students as well as long-term and we will be looking at other mass accommodation providers to do the same,” says Charlton.

In Ecuador, schools point to providing apartments as a means of widening their product range, rather than investing in opening a residence or collaborating with universities. “Many clients now request furnished apartments since they are looking for some more privacy, more space,” says Diego del Corral at Academic Latinoamericana de Español, while Manuel Bucheli of Academia Surpacifico agrees. “A very popular option now is the student apartments where students can have their own room and feel free to cook their own food,” he relates.

Corral underlines that host families can still be the best way for a student “to immerse into the culture” and Charlton agrees that there is still a place for good homestay provision. “We are looking at ‘preparing’ students before they arrive so that they are aware of what homestay is and looking at ways of improving the homestay service,” he notes.

Agents point out that having a dedicated accommodation officer, or at least a stringent management system in place at a school, can improve the quality of homestay offered to their students. Louise Harber at Foreign Language Study Abroad Service in the USA observes, “In Spain, and it is not usually the fault of the institute, students can arrive and find out there are many people in the homestay. I think it is better if an institute has a person on staff who handles homestays. Then they have a better idea of who goes with what.”

Cramer in Denmark concurs, “[In] places like Chester in England, the accommodation standard is very high and the school has a dedicated employee to handle this area.”

Overall, everyone is in agreement that a range of accommodation options is increasingly essential and that quality must be maintained. Virginia Villamar at Academia de Español Quito in Ecuador notes that even among homestay provision, which remains very popular at this school, “there has been higher demand for special meals such as vegetarian or weight-loss food”.

Meanwhile, the number of schools providing some sort of residential accommodation continues to rise. Jim Clark at the Canadian College of English Language in Canada says they now offer “communal living but individual privacy – apartments with bathroom and kitchen per two-to-four students and single and double options”.

In the UK, Study Group recently unveiled its new study centre with 375 en-suite bedrooms on site. Johnny Peters at the school says that accommodation is a “critical” part of the overall study package, and while host families still suit some clients, “over the last five years we have seen a growing trend towards residences”.

Commission on accommodation

“Nowadays, commission on accommodation is a must,” ventures Patrick Thebing from Academia Columbus in Costa Rica and Ecuador. “Schools that don’t offer commission on accommodation will lose more and more agents.”

A controversial subject for some, commission on accommodation seems to be standard in some markets and not in others. Leeds English Language School in the UK and Languages International in New Zealand are two examples of schools that don’t offer commission on this service. Darren Conway at Languages International explains, “All homestay families are in it partly to pay their mortgages, but the best are in it mainly for the experience – because they want their teenagers to interact with other cultures, for example. Paying commission would make it a much more commercial transaction and risk changing the character of the experience, quite apart from driving up the price.”

At fellow NZ institution, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Beth Knowles reports that they don’t offer commission because “we contract an accommodation service provider to arrange homestays for our students”.

Yet, in other markets, this is the norm. For example, in South Africa, Gavin Eyre at LAL Cape Town says, “We offer a complete package commission which includes the accommodation.” In Canada, Avie Estrin at StudyNet says, “Since our inception, we’ve offered a net rate fee structure such that referring agencies have always had the built-in flexibility of charging homestay according to their discretion.”

And in Ecuador, Diego del Corral at Academia Latinoamericana de Español intends to keep up with what seems to be the standard in this market. “We will start offering incentives for our partner agents around the world,” he says.

Working with accommodation agencies

Outsourcing accommodation provision to a third party, such as a specialist agency, is one option for language schools to consider. Agencies can also work directly with these providers, such as Generator Hostel in London, UK. Alison Armitage at the hostel says, “We find that agencies and schools are very easy to work with. Schools/language groups are growing year on year.”

Some agencies can offer language schools more than just accommodation, as Mark Collins from Residence and Conference Centres in Canada explains. “We can provide as much or as little as the school needs,” he says. “Everything from just accommodation to meals and meeting/classroom space.” He adds that the supply of property available is all located on college/university campus, “which is an attractive feature for visiting students”.

However, agencies are not always in favour of using another company to provide accommodation. Carol Hung of Academic Asia in Taiwan notes, “We have university [partners] that work only with private accommodation agencies. The results were not better than those universities providing placement services directly.”

And Vivian Hart of EduTour Homestay Associates in Canada says, “I am not a fan of private accommodation agencies. It puts the student’s school/agent too far outside of the homestay loop.”

However, it is not all negative feedback. In Denmark, Gorm Cramer of Viking Agencies says he has had a good experience using third party accommodation providers. He says he considers this option “if it improves the standard and ensures the first day reception at the destination”.

Contact any advertiser in the this issue now

The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





Britannia Student
Sara's New York
      Homestay LLC  
Educational Housing

International House
      World Organisation  
Languages Canada  
Perth Education
Quality English Ltd.  

Alphe Conferences  
LTM Star Awards  


Bright World

Your World on

Business Telecom
GSM International  

Malta Tourism

Sun Pacific College  

Cultura Wien  

Centre Linguista
College Platon  
Stewart College of
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Mandarin House  

Bell International
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CES Swandean
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International House
      World Organisation  
Kaplan Aspect 
      (Australia, Canada,
      Ireland, Malta, New
      Zealand, South
      Africa, UK, USA)
LAL Language and
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Malvern House
      College London  
Queen Ethelburga's
Shane Global
      Language Centres  
South Thames
St Giles Colleges 
      (Canada, UK, USA)  
Study Group 
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy, New Zealand,
      South Africa, Spain,
Twin Group 
      (Ireland, UK)

Home Language
SILC - Séjours
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Carl Duisberg
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International House
      Berlin - Prolog  

ISI Language
Kai Japanese
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      Language School  
LAL Malta  
Malta Tourism


Cape Studies  

Idiomas Sí!  
International House
      Sevilla - CLIC  
Malaca Instituto -
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EF Language
      Colleges Ltd 
      (Australia, Canada,
      China, Ecuador,
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      Zealand, Russia,
      Scotland, Spain,
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Italy,
      Japan, New Zealand,
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ALCC - American
ELS Educational
      (Canada, China,
      Egypt, Indonesia,
      Japan, Korea,
      Kuwait, Malaysia,
      Oman, Panama,
      Qatar, Saudi Arabia,
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Global Immersions
Kaplan Aspect 
      (Australia, Canada,
      Ireland, Malta, New
      Zealand, South
      Africa, UK, USA)
Zoni Language
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