May 2012 issue

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Olympic opportunities

The 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games are creating an undeniable buzz in London. As the global media turns its attention to the city for the great gathering of the world’s finest athletes, educational institutions have looked at ways to align their activities with this unique opportunity and are hoping they can bask in the afterglow of the event. Matthew Knott reports.

When London was announced as the host city for the 2012 Olympic games, many schools were quick out of the blocks in realising potential benefits for the industry as well as addressing logistical concerns. Several providers have devised courses and activities to attract potential visitors and ensure that students get the most out of the occasion. “For many of us and our students it will be the opportunity of a lifetime to get involved and enjoy the buzz and excitement,” enthuses Jane Dancaster, Principal and Managing Director of Wimbledon School of English (WSE), and Chairman of English UK London, the association of language schools in the capital. Meanwhile, Natalie Dawe, Marketing Communications Manager at Bell International, exclaims, “The Olympics 2012 presents a wonderful opportunity for students to enhance their English language learning through interactive, cultural and practical experiences, enabling them to take part in activities they may not otherwise have the opportunity to do.”

Many schools are clearly treating the Olympics as a gold medal marketing chance. “The event touches nations worldwide and celebrates unity which is reflected in Bell’s ethos,” relates Dawe. “Introducing an Olympic-themed programme offers students worldwide the experience of a lifetime and represents Bell’s fundamental values,” she adds. At London School of Business and Finance (LSBF), Paul McMahon, Language Centres, International Marketing Manager, advises that their Olympic programme is being well received. “Many agents have been worried about the summer of 2012 and they love that we are converting the negative worries into a positive.”

Themed courses
Several schools have developed special programmes for 2012 themed around the Olympics. Bell’s Olympic Focus English is, explains Dawe, a special programme for students aged 12-to-17. “This course is designed to give students an exclusive insight into the Olympics 2012 at all different levels – it’s a one-off programme not to be missed. Students will have the opportunity to watch the table tennis or fencing competitions live at London 2012 or visit an Olympic venue. In addition, they will also be coached in Olympic sports to ensure they enjoy a fully interactive experience.”

The School of English at LSBF has launched a Summer Games Package, which will include morning trips to Olympic venues and a chance to talk sport and practice English in Q&A sessions with former Olympic athletes. ELC London Hampstead School of English, meanwhile, has arranged a Sports and Athletics course for 2012, with students taking 15 hours of language per week tailored around this field.

The special programme and marketing opportunities are far from limited to schools however, as Annabelle Huguenotte from agency AILS Séjours Linguistiques affirms. “We are planning to launch a contest that will run in April and June in France, Belgium and Switzerland. Our whole campaign will be based on the chance to win a two-week language study programme in London during the Olympics.”

There are a huge number of events and activities that schools are organising so that their students can be part of the Olympic games this year. Dancaster advises, “English UK London are planning an exciting programme for students at member schools, including picnics in the parks where the big screens are showing the games, [and] our very own inter-school mini Olympics.”

Logistical problems?
With Olympic crowds descending on the UK, there are some practical concerns for schools to address. Not least of these is the fact that flights to the UK may become more expensive during the crucial summer season. Dawe relates, “We have anticipated that flights would book up quickly due to the Olympics and have advised all agents, particularly in long-haul markets, to book early.” From the agency point of view, Huguenotte advises that as yet students seem not to be perturbed by any increases, but that worries tend to increase from around May. However, long-haul routes may be more affected. Dushyant Bachkaniwala, Director of India-based agency, Dalimit Associates Pvt Ltd, confirms that they believe flight and accommodation costs have become quite high because of the Olympics.

In response to domestic transport issues, Dawe informs that Bell have a dedicated airport lounge at Heathrow. “We are also liaising closely with transport suppliers, advising them about the possibility of delays and tapping into their expertise to find out about potential road closures and workable solutions,” she says, adding that contingency plans have been drawn up. Dancaster, meanwhile, advises that all WSE students are based close to the school, negating any daily transport concerns. None of the schools canvassed for this article reported any difficulties thus far in securing accommodation for the students.

Daniela Maccolini of Italian agency Coming reveals she has personally visited London to tour the Olympic sites and transport links in order to give detailed information to clients. “There is a fear, I would say, of not finding a place to stay or about the costs. But I explain [to students] very clearly that enrolling through our schools [they] don’t have to be worried, as before accepting any enrolment I make sure there is availability.”

Gathering bookings for the summer is of course more of a marathon event than a Usain Bolt-style sprint, but Dancaster reports reservations for the summer are strong so far. Maccolini attests that she has received several inquiries and that there is certainly curiosity in the games in the Italian market. The ELC group has four UK schools, and Business Development Manager, Nicola Whyley, notes healthy trading with a positive side effect from those not interested in the games. “So far, we have received a really positive response to the games. Where we have Olympic fans, they are happy to head to a host city, such as London or Manchester, and similarly where they would like to avoid it, they have been asking about programmes on offer in our other schools in Edinburgh and York.”

A lasting legacy?
The golden promise of hosting the games is that of legacy, and many schools hope this is where the true benefit will lie. Indeed, VisitBritain, the tourism agency, anticipates 2012 visitor figures to remain at 2011 levels, but is anticipating an extra UK£2.3 billion (US$3.6 billion) in tourist spending by 2014 as a consequence of successful hosting of the tournament. “London is already considered one of the most exciting cities in the world, but of course we hope the Olympics will provide a brilliant experience for all and consolidate our position as one of the world’s top destinations,” advises Dancaster. Meanwhile, Christopher Hills at Weymouth English Centre (see box) is unequivocal in his assessment, “The Olympics are putting Weymouth on the map and we expect to see an increase in bookings for next year, particularly for our English and sailing course.”

Given London and the UK’s pre-eminent position in the international education sector, it may be difficult to judge an impact on student numbers, but a successful and exciting Olympics will create an immeasurable feel good factor. “Last year, we had the Royal Wedding and this year we have the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee, and while people may not book a language course as a direct result of these events, it could be said that they have generated and will continue to generate interest in England’s cultural heritage,” Whyley explains. “Hopefully, the buzz around the Olympics will have a lasting effect and we will see more and more people wanting to visit the UK not just during but after the events take place.”

Olympics for the UK

A number of key events will take place outside of London and organisers, not to mention schools, hope that the Olympic buzz will spread across the whole country. Weymouth, on the south coast of England, was chosen for many of the sailing events at the 2012 games. “We already run a well-established English and sailing course and this will take place as usual this summer,” advises Christopher Hills, Director at Weymouth English Centre. “The sailing lessons are in Weymouth Harbour and our students will be sailing close to the Olympic sailing events each day, which is going to make it all rather special.” Hills advises that there are a plethora of events and activities to get involved in. “With so much going on in a relatively small town, it promises to be a fun summer!”

]“We hope that the fact that the UK will be hosting the games will rouse interest in other cities outside of London and attract students to study in other destinations,” says Nicola Whyley, Business Development Manager at ELC Manchester Academy of English. Manchester is a host venue for the Olympic football tournament, and this will be high on the agenda this summer. “We have already secured a number of tickets to both the quarter and the semi-final matches for our students and we also expect there to be a number of events around this such as screenings of the events in the city centre,” she advises.

Getting involved in the games

As well as the possibility of watching Olympic events and soaking up the atmosphere, many students will have the chance to directly contribute to the hosting of the games. Jane Dancaster, Principal and Marketing Director of Wimbledon School of English, advises that English UK London has been negotiating a special arrangement. “Thanks to our association with London & Partners, some of our students may be able to act as Ambassadors, showing visiting journalists the sights of London.” Meanwhile, a number of international students at the Royal College of Art (RCA) have already been involved in design projects for the event, including costumes, trays and flower holders for the medal ceremonies. Professor Wendy Dagworth, Head of the School of Fashion and Textiles at RCA, said, “To have their work viewed by millions of people is an incredible opportunity and our fashion students are very excited to be involved with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Royal College of Arts attracts students from all over the world, and so we will have truly international designs for the most global of events.”

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