May 2015 issue

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Study Travel Agent Marketing

In an industry that spans the world, as well as numerous education sectors, products and target markets, it is no surprise to find that popular marketing techniques used by study travel agents vary widely. Bethan Norris talks to some of the marketing pioneers in the study travel agent industry and finds out how agents on the ground are keeping up with new marketing trends..

Marketing efforts that span cultures and languages always face special challenges,” says Jesse Gildesgame from Language International based in the USA. “An advertising campaign that produces a huge return on investment in a Latin American market might fail completely in Spain. The keywords that students most commonly use to search for language courses on search engines are different in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Yandex [the largest search engine used in Russia] advertising campaigns work differently from Google campaigns. The complexities are endless!”

Gildesgame, who works for an online multinational agency, highlights some of the many challenges faced by agents in marketing their products across different languages, cultures and time zones and it is clear that when it comes to agent marketing, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. When agents stay up-to-date with the latest marketing techniques, however, this makes the study travel industry an exciting place to work and increases the value of an agent’s role in a partnership with an educator. As Gildesgame points out, “Our marketing team stays at the cutting edge of online marketing so that our [school] partners don’t have to. There is ongoing professional development and assessment to ensure that our marketers are experts on the latest methods and tactics.”

Marketing challenges
One of the key challenges faced by study travel agents is that fact that all their marketing efforts must be focused on promoting products that are not necessarily under their complete control. Amanda Bautista from Mundo Destinos in Colombia explains, “The biggest complication is to not be able to resolve issues and depend on third parties to look good in front of our clients. This is why it is important to have good communication and an excellent work relationship.” And as Jeanette Kramer from Latitude International Education agency in France and Canada also points out, “It can sometimes be challenging to organise information provided by different partners in uniform ways, which is suitable to the agency and also appealing to the client.”

In both of these cases, a good relationship between a school and an agent is vital in ensuring that marketing materials accurately reflect the product on offer and that the school can deliver what the agent has promoted. Constant communication between partners is essential, although with some bigger organisations that have different departments dealing with different aspects of the business, this can be problematic. Braj Pandey from Education Park in Nepal says, “There are frequent times when I have felt frustrations. We have to deal with two departments: admissions and marketing. Marketing says [it will take two days for an offer of a place to come through] but admissions says no. This sometimes makes us feel annoyed. We cannot be 100 per cent assured on what they say. The most frustrating moments are those when the new regulations bind old and already processed documents. This is one of the biggest complications of [promoting] another company’s product.”

Another key factor that agents need to take into consideration is that their target student market is not necessarily the same as the person who will be paying the bills and is the ultimate decision maker. In these cases, it is often beneficial to adopt a variety of marketing approaches to appeal to all demographics. Yukari Nakatsuji, Director of Marketing and Sales Support at Gio Club Study Abroad in Japan, says that they have recently optimised their company site for smart phones and have expanded the amount of information they produce digitally in order to appeal to their main target market (15-to-20 year olds). However, she adds, “While garnering the interest of high school and middle school students through mobile content is trending, paper-based media is necessary to properly market to their financial sponsors – typically in their mid-40s and 50s.”

With so many different factors to take into consideration, a targeted, highly focused marketing approach is not really possible in the study travel industry and agents need to adopt a very flexible, intuitive approach to this aspect of their business. Carlos Apollaro, Director of Operations at Intercultural in Brazil says, “Marketing the study travel business is difficult due to the diversity of targets, products, features and each product requires a different selling approach and has different selling points. Marketing is more successful when focusing on a specific product and target.”

Marketing resources
With marketing being such a core part of an agency’s business, and perhaps due to the specialist nature of the study travel industry as discussed above, the majority of agencies seem to prefer to keep their marketing activities in-house rather than outsource them to specialist companies (see pull-out above). Some agencies that are part of a wider business group have the benefit of using the marketing resources associated with large companies. This means that a small agency business can benefit from a wider marketing campaign generated by the parent company. Canan Sulac from Setur in Turkey says, “Setur is not just an education company, it is one of the biggest travel agencies in Turkey and our marketing department works for all the departments. We have strict policies for marketing and therefore the study department can show the other companies’ products and applications. We build up the marketing plans at the beginning of the year.”

Similarly in Japan, Nakatsuji says of Gio Club, “One of our company strengths is the fact that our company belongs to the Itochu group, one of the top trading companies in Japan. By consulting with their IT marketing team, we have been able to devise an effective web-based strategy.”

For smaller, stand-alone agencies, marketing resources usually come from the commission payments paid by their school partners, or in some cases in extra targeted marketing payments from the schools. The existence of such payments varies between markets and institutions, with Charley Hodson of Aventuras Languages in the USA saying that this is not the usual practice according to his own experience. “I think perhaps we have had this presented once since we started in 1999.”

However, other agency experiences prove that this practice is more commonplace elsewhere, particularly between those who already have a long term and fruitful business relationship. “Schools offer financial help for advertising when sales with them are being reflected in a good number of weeks,” says Bautista. “These incentives generally are used for advertising of the programmes of the agency and to maintain or increase sales with institutions which offer financial aid. There are also some incentives that are directly for students as discounts and the no-charge of application.”

Agent/school collaboration
As well as providing financial help for specific marketing campaigns targeting their school product, schools can also be instrumental in supporting the marketing efforts of their agent partners in other ways. Chris Price, CEO of Adventus Education based in the UK, explains that he runs training programmes for schools to teach them how to work with agents effectively and get involved with their marketing efforts. “The best agent/school relationships have a long-term plan – which is hard in this day and age as institutions usually have short-term budgets,” he says. “They contribute to marketing costs, ask for marketing proposals at the beginning of the year, take part in school competitions, visit their agent partners and reply to enquiries as soon as they can. Often it is not about the money – some institutions might not be able to afford to visit their agents every year but they need to engage in a proactive relationship with them. Agents would rather place 10 students at a school and get 10 per cent commission than one student and get 50 per cent commission.”

Price adds that institutions shouldn’t leave marketing solely to agents but should suggest their own marketing campaigns, and perhaps provide funding for a specific campaign. “I tell them to suggest campaigns that the agents could use and treat agents as their marketing partners,” he says. “They should be seen as another member of staff rather than a separate company.”

As well as undertaking collaborative marketing efforts, institutions should also make sure that their agent partners have access to up-to-date marketing materials in order to help them with their advertising campaigns. These can be pictures, logos in the correct format, videos and any other type of online content. Hodson says, “There is a wonderful amount of resources offered these days by schools for agencies to use in marketing. Gone are the days of sending us brochures as the only marketing means.”

Kramer in Canada adds, “It’s so helpful for schools and partners to provide a concise media kit or agent portal including web-ready text, photos and videos for our online marketing purposes.”

While providing material for marketing purposes may be commonplace, Krister Weidenhielm from ESL in Switzerland warns that the quality of resources provided is also very important. “It is quite surprising that even if everyone is unanimous about the importance of pictures, there’s a very random and globally mediocre level of pictures made available by language schools. Study abroad being an experience we sell, it is critical to illustrate it with engaging quality pictures. It really makes the difference and I can only encourage schools to invest in this on a regular basis.”

Web-based marketing
While marketing methods vary between student markets (see graphic on opposeite page), most agents are unanimous in agreeing that online marketing and having an effective, up-to-date website has become a vital part of their strategy over the last 10 years. Many agents report that modernising their website has been an area of focus recently. Branca Petrovic from Pro Linguis agency in Switzerland explains, “The website must be considered like your own home. When you invite guests, most of us will actually clean and clear out the house. We work with quite old legacy systems which don’t allow us to be as flexible as we wish to be. However, we invested a lot in research and development to come up with a complete overhaul of our site which will be launched at a later stage this year.”

Other study travel agents agree that investing in their website and spending time updating it is a key part of their work. Weidenhielm says, “The web presence is fundamental. All other presence ultimately leads to the website. Our portfolio has a yearly update that is a pretty heavy task, given the size of our portfolio and the different languages and versions we have. It takes a few months and involves a dozen staff almost full time every year.”

As an add-on to their website, many agents also maintain a social media presence which can also require a great deal of time and resources in order to be effective. June Lee from EDM EDucation, in Korea says that it is important to focus marketing efforts on the media most used by the target market.”Teenagers or twenties, who are considered as our major customers, are greatly using mobile [media] and thus how effectively we relate this in our marketing becomes very important these days.”

Price believes that many agents do not use social media as effectively as they could do. “Social media is very useful as it is culturally contextual. Facebook is fairly universal but not in China where people use Renen instead. Also in Russia they use Vkontakte. Facebook may not be being used as a chat network so much anymore, but students still have an account and still receive marketing materials through it. I spend a lot of my time maintaining my Facebook group, and if I get 1,000 likes from a Facebook campaign I am happy,” he says. “You can pay to boost your posts so that they get seen by more people and you can also pay students [influential people online] to virally seed your information.”

Many agencies are now focusing more of their resources in order to maintain their social media marketing strategy effectively, often having full-time members of staff devoted to this task. Cristina Hurtado, Director of Always School in Spain says, “We attach great importance to [social media]. Our professsionals attend computer courses and we have a ‘community’ manager who is responsible for managing and maintaining all our social networks.”

However, while becoming more universal there are still some student markets where social media is not so effective. BK Shrestha from Kantipur International Open Education in Nepal says that social media is not an important marketing strategy for the business although he believes it will become more important in the future. “In a country like Nepal, there is no mass access to the internet and social media. As there are many online frauds, people in Nepal think twice when believing [posts] if there is no reliable local point of contact.”

Social media can also have a downside, as Laise Menucci from World Study in Brazil points out. “There is strong competition [on social media] and with the amount of information available the student’s attention is easily diverted.”

Overall, study travel agent marketing is a field that is constantly evolving and requires a flexible, open-minded approach to get it right. The fact that different student markets and sectors can require such different approaches means that the relationship between a school and their agent partners is even more vital. Agents are also keen to point out that marketing campaigns can only be successful if the quality of the product and services provided to students remains high, particularly as many rely heavily on repeat bookings. As Hurtado says, “I think it is important to highlight the importance of the word-of-mouth method. Always School of Languages’ policy is based on ‘a job well done is the best advertising’.” bethan@hothousemedia.com

(Due to the complexity of the data, the graphs titled 'The percentage split of top marketing methods used by agents around the world to recruit students, according to our latest individual surveys of a selection of agents in each market' and 'What percentage of your annual budget is spent on marketing?' is only displayed in the digital issue of Study Travel Magazine)
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The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Study Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.







Centre of English Studies  
ELS Language Centers  
Kings College  
St Giles International  
Xplore Ltd.  

Ability English  
Cairns Language Centre  
English Australia  
ILSC Australia  
Impact English College  
Monash College  

CERAN Lingua International  

Central de Intercâmbio  
UNISUL- Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina   

Mandarin Spring  

Anglophiles Academic  
Country Cousins  
Heart of England Language School  
Islington Centre for English  
Kilgraston Language and Activities School  
Oxford Royale Academy  
Queen Ethelburga's College  

Accent Francais  
Cours de Civilisation Française de la Sorbonne  
Groupement FLE  
Institut Catholique de Toulouse - IULCF  
Institut d'Etudes Françaises  
Institut de Touraine  
LSF Montpellier  
Paris Langues  
Riviera French Institute  

MEI Ireland  

Intercultural Institute of Japan  


Education South Africa  
Bay Language Institute  
EC Cape Town  
Eurocentres Cape Town  
Good Hope Studies  
Inlingua Cape Town   
Interlink School of Languages  
International House Cape Town  
Kurus English  
LAL Cape Town  
Language Training Centre   

California ESL  
Summer Study Programs  
University of California Berkeley  
University of California San Diego  


Calgary Board of Education  
Central Okanagan School Dsitrict  
Central Quebec School Board  
Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board  
Eastern Townships School Board  
Edmonton Public Schools  
English Montreal School Board  
Golden Hills School Division #75  
Greater Victoria School District  
Louis Riel School Division  
Niagara Catholic District School Board  
Ottawa Carleton District School Board  
Qualicum International School Program   
Simcoe County District School Board  
St James - Assiniboia School Division  
Waterloo Catholic District School Board  

Carlsbad International School  

United World School of English  

Saint Denis International School  


UNISUL- Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina   

Algonquin College  

Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University  

University of Liverpool  

University of California Berkeley  
University of California San Diego  
Summer Study Programs  


ANDE-LM Ltd Agency  

British Council  
Twin Group  
Trinity College London  

CareMed GmbH  

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