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May 2009 issue

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Agency Survey
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Market Report
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Living in style

With students demanding a higher level of accommodation, can accommodation agencies and language schools meet their expectations? Gillian Evans finds out.

Accommodation is one of the defining elements that makes a language travel trip a success. No matter how good the tuition, teachers and social programme are, if the living conditions are not up to standard, the chances are it will tarnish the student’s whole experience.

Three very distinct trends are evident in student accommodation, notes Lucy Greaves at Study Group: demand for higher quality accommodation, a range of choices and affordable prices. “As accommodation costs in most cities increase at a higher rate than inflation, we are constantly challenged to provide affordable quality accommodation for our customers. We constantly strive to improve the quality of our residences and to look for new options,” she says.

That is why language travel agents and some language schools may increasingly consider using accommodation agencies; to widen the options available for clients. However, with quality being the overriding consideration, some language schools are reluctant: after all, if the school organises the accommodation itself, it is solely responsible for the quality.

Greaves reports that although at their Sydney Australia centre they sometimes use accommodation agencies, in their Brighton centre in the UK they do not. “For quality control reasons, we prefer to organise our own accommodation [in Brighton] and we contract all of our own homestays. It also enables us to keep costs low for our customers,” she explains.

But accommodation agencies are used by some language schools, such as Geos Toronto in Canada, particularly in the peak season. “The majority of our homestay programme is maintained by staff at the school,” relates Dale Banks at Geos Toronto. “On the odd occasion where we do not have an available family that meets the request of a specific student – for example, dietary requirements or religious requirements – we use a placement service.” He says that when the school has used a placement service, “our experiences – and those of the student – have been very positive. In the future, we would not hesitate to use them again, if the need arises”.

Liz Stoneman at OISE Sydney in Australia says they also sometimes source host families through agencies. “We are able to reassure agents about the quality of our families because we only request families that previous OISE Sydney students have stayed with and recommended to us,” she says. “We have been working with some of our families for four to five years.”

At Sara’s New York Homestay in the USA, Bernard Zagdanski points out that in his experience, many students also approach accommodation agencies directly if they feel that an agency or school “is not responsive to their particular needs”. This company offers homestay, apartments and residences in the summer in various cities. “Thirty per cent of our bookings are directly from students,” says Zagsanski, explaining that agents and schools represent 70 per cent. Banks emphasises that many accommodation agencies are high quality operators. “In much the same way that our ability to attract students year after year depends on the quality of the service we offer, so does the ability of the homestay agency to maintain its business.”

Using an agency or a third party provider can be a way of offering higher quality provision or more varied options. Zagdanski emphasises, “Housing, unlike education, is an individual concept. We avoid a standardised approach and try to customise a client’s housing option. [And] we always have one question in the back of our minds: Would I live here if I was far away from home?”

Lennart Güthling of the Humboldt-Institut in Germany comments, “[Student] demand has changed in the sense of higher expectations in general concerning accommodation. While 10 years ago it was perfectly acceptable to have shared facilities, the trend goes towards expecting a private WC/shower in each room now.”

Güthling also mentions that more students expect Internet access in their rooms and that the school is receiving more requests for single rooms for juniors – although they do not recommend this as it can be detrimental to their language learning experience. “Our experience is that children in single rooms often do not find the contact with others,” he says. “We do all we can to explain this problem to the parents before booking the course while keeping the number of single rooms small.”

Despite the obvious advantages of privacy and independent living provided by residential accommodation, host family (also known as homestay) accommodation remains a popular choice, as Stoneman in Australia confirms. “Homestay is the most popular because it gives our students the chance to get to know a local family and use their English outside of the classroom,” she says. However, even within this sector, students have different expectations: “We find that our mature-age students, in their 30s, 40s, or 50s, require VIP homestay accommodation or serviced apartments. There is a greater demand for a more executive-style homestay which offers students their own bathroom, and we see the range of executive/VIP homestays growing,” she relates.

At UK host family specialists, UKguests, where the clientele is made up of around 95 per cent international students, there are four levels of accommodation to choose from: comfort, standard, superior and executive. Mary Edwards at UKguests is keen to stress the importance of ensuring their host families offer more than just lodgings. “Here at UKguests we aim to provide students with a safe, happy comfortable home from home, hence our slogan, ‘Come as our guest and leave as our friend’,” she says. “Our host families are selected for their friendliness and their homes must meet British Council Standards.”

To ensure standards are maintained, Ukguests regularly visits the families, and both students and the families are asked to complete feedback questionnaires. “Our sole aim is to ensure that students staying with our host families are safe to the best of our abilities [and that they have a] pleasurable, memorable and enjoyable time,” states Edwards. “We continuously work with our host families to ensure that students/visitors receive a warm welcome and are made to feel like part of the family and not as a paying guest.”

It is touches like this that matter to international students. Banks at Geos Toronto in Canada says that their host families must bring the students to school on the first day to ensure they are familiar with the route. “If families are unable to do it on their first day, they must do a ‘trial run’ with the student on the weekend before they start so that the student is able to do it by themselves on their first morning,” he adds.

Similarly, at UPP Residential Services in the UK, which provides a range of residential options for international students including en-suite studios, Claire Bennett, UPP’s Sales and Marketing Manager, says they strive to provide a “home from home environment”. She explains, “Through partnerships with the universities, the JCR [Junior Common Room] committees and warden teams are able to organise social events providing opportunities to meet neighbouring residents.”


Internet availability and en-suites; the accommodation wishlist

Whatever type of accommodation is selected by the students, the quality of the lodgings is paramount. The New York Inns Hotel Group in the USA runs student and youth hostels in New York – its most popular being Central Park Hostel – as well as three budget boutique hotels. It has also recently launched an “upscale hostel/hotel” called Hotel 99.

“Quality of service is our main priority,” asserts Cezary Cwintal, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at the group. “We provide many amenities, including linen, 24/7 front desk and 24/7 security.” To ensure students feel welcome once they arrive, an orientation meeting is organised and printed materials provided in other languages.

Many companies are investing in services and/or state-of-the-art facilities to appeal to students. Unite is, according to Ruth Lippiatt, Head of Marketing, the UK’s largest provider of managed student accommodation, with 126 properties in all the main university cities. It offers one- and two-bedroom flats, studios and shared flats with en-suite bedrooms and a shared kitchen/living area.

The company is expanding its student residences, many of which are in prime London locations. Describing the new facilities, Lippiatt says, “[They] come complete with high-spec interiors, wall-mounted flat-screen TVs, Internet television and telephony. There are also large study and communal areas.”

The trend towards a higher level of comfort is also confirmed by Dave Hulley at Kruger View in South Africa, which provides budget lodgings for backpackers and students. “The day of the rough-and-ready backpackers with bunks and a bar, and ‘bring your own’ sleeping bag, are gone,” he observes. He says students are now looking for comfort. To meet client demand, Kruger View offers everything from dormitories to cabins and double, twin or family rooms with en-suites.

At UPP Residential Services in the UK, which provides a wide range of residential accommodation for international students including “award winning eco-residences which have been constructed from sustainably sourced timber and include a range of energy and water saving technologies”, Claire Bennett says that while en-suite bedrooms with shared kitchen-diners are the most popular with their clients, there is growing demand for en-suite studios. These, says Bennett, “offer [students] the space to study and relax in their own private room with their own kitchen facilities”.

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.

Name

Company
Country

Telephone

Email


ACCOMMODATION
Britannia Student
      Services  
Global Immersions
      Inc
NYC Language
      Vacations  
Sara's New York
      Homestay LLC  
Unite  

ASSOCIATIONS/GROUPS
Feltom Malta  
English UK  
Perth Education
      City  
Quality English  

EVENTS
Alphe Conferences
LTM Star Awards

EXAM BOARDS
Cambridge Esol
IELTS

SERVICES
Hub and Spoke
      Connections Limited
Internet Advantage
In Touch  
Synergee  

TOURIST BOARDS
Malta Tourism
      Authority  

ARGENTINA
Ecela -
      Latin Immersion  

AUSTRALIA
Ability Education  
Language Studies
      International  
      (Canada, France,
      Germany, New
      Zealand, Paris, UK,
      USA)
Pacific Gateway
      International
      College  
Perth Education
      City  
University of New
      South Wales,
      Institute of
      Languages  
University of
      Tasmania  
University of
      Western Sydney
      College  
Wollongong
      University College  

BRAZIL
It´s Cool Idiomas &
      Cursos no Exterior  

CANADA
Global Village  
      (Australia, Canada,
      USA)

CHINA
Mandarin House  

ENGLAND
Bell International  
      (Malta, UK)
Bloomsbury
      International  
English Language
      Centre Brighton &
      Hove  
English Studio  
English UK  
Kaplan Aspect  
      (Australia, Canada,
      Ireland, Malta,
      New Zealand, South
      Africa, UK, USA)
LAL Language and
      Leisure  
      (Canada, Cyprus,
      Ireland, England,
      South Africa, Spain,
      Switzerland, USA)
Malvern House
      College London  
Prime Education  
St Giles Colleges  
      (Canada, UK, USA)
Study Group  
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy,New Zealand,
      South Africa, Spain,
      USA)
Twin Group  
      (Ireland, UK)
University of Essex -
      International
      Academy  
Wimbledon School
      of English  

FRANCE
SILC - Séjours
      Linguistiques  

GERMANY
BWS Germanlingua  
Carl Duisberg
      Medien GmbH  
      (England, Germany)
ECS & Euro-
      Communication-
      Service  
International House
      Berlin - Prolog  

IRELAND
Alpha College of
      English  

ITALY
DILIT -
      International House

JAPAN
Kai Japanese
      Language School  
Tamagawa
      International
      Language School  

MALTA
Clubclass
      Residential
      Language School  
EC English
      Language Centre  
      (England, Malta,
      South Africa, USA)
Feltom Malta  
Linguatime  

SPAIN
Colegio Maravillas
inlingua Barcelona
International House -
      Dept de Espanol  
International House
      San Sebastian -
      Lacunza  
International House
      Sevilla - CLIC  
Malaca Instituto -
      Club Hispanico SL  
Malaga Si  
Tandem Escuela
      Internacional Madrid

SWITZERLAND
EF Language
      Colleges Ltd  
      (Australia, Canada,
      China, Costa Rica,
      Ecuador, England,
      France, Germany,
      Italy, Malta, New
      Zealand, Singapore,
      South Africa, Spain,
      USA)
Eurocentres
      International  
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Italy,
      Japan, New Zealand,
      Russia, Spain, USA)

USA
ELS Language
      Centers  
Global Immersions
      Inc  
NYC Language
      Vacations  
Sara's New York
      Homestay LLC  
University of
      California San
      Diego  
Zoni Language
      Centers  
      (Canada, USA)