Language travel workshops play a major role in the industry calendar. “It is not only very important to be there in order to meet the schools, but also [in order] to meet other agents, get the feeling of the market, catch new ideas and talk to the most relevant actors in our industry,” says Paolo Barilari of Italian agency, I Centri. Such events currently abound, although most agents cannot find time to attend more than a handful each year. They must, therefore, be highly selective when it comes to making their choice among them.
Workshops can vary tremendously in character, offering different features and benefits, which can partly be attributed to the differing provenance of the various events. It is clear that a destination-focused workshop, such as English UK’s StudyWorld (formerly known as the International Languages & Education UK Fair) or the English Australia (EA) workshop organised by the Australian language school association, will attract agents who are focused on sending students to that country. As such, this type of workshop normally offers fam trips as an add-on, as well as the chance to sample some of the local attractions.
As EA Executive Director, Sue Blundell, explains, EA workshops have always included an opportunity to explore the host city and allow agents to gain a feel for the destination. In addition, the social programme has always aimed to showcase Australian food and wine. Similarly, the Ialc workshop is held each year in a different location that is home to one of its 85 member institutions. Spokesperson, Jan Capper, says that the host school is responsible for choosing the venues and entertainment for both the welcome reception and the gala dinner, as well as for organising a party to give a flavour of the local culture. Sightseeing and activities are also laid on, together with a visit to its premises. As such, notes Capper, the workshop is also simultaneously a fam trip to a destination and a school. Meanwhile, the CEC annual workshop, organised by Canada’s CEC Network, includes a reception at a cultural landmark, plus a gala dinner with local entertainment, reports Assistant Director, Jackie Herrington.
While some events are centred on a destination, others are focused on promoting a particular type of provider. An example of this is the British Boarding Schools Workshop (BBSW), which is very much a niche event for agents interested in boarding schools in the UK, according to Suzanne Rowse, Director of BBSW. Workshops organised by school associations, such as MEI~Relsa of Ireland and the international association, Ialc, generally restrict educator attendance to their own membership. However, one exception to this is StudyWorld, which is open to educators around the world, with the proviso that they must be accredited institutions.
Added to the mix are workshops such as Icef and Alphe, which are more general in nature and are run in a number of different venues each year. Icef, for example, currently holds nine workshops each year in eight different locations, while Hothouse Media’s Alphe is this year holding six workshops in different regions of the world.
What to look for
While the range of participants is important, so too is their quality, a fact that most organisers are keenly aware of. At StudyWorld, “We regularly review the range of programmes agents are looking for at large, international workshops, in order to ensure the right mix of educators are present,” says spokesperson, Annie Wright. “We also dedicate a large amount of time to developing and enhancing our agent contact database.” Meanwhile, Gilham adds, “Alphe carefully monitors and quality checks all agents by asking a series of questions and reference checking them with four educators they have sent students to in the last 12 months. We also look for a balance in the regions and countries that agents attending the conference come from.”
Different events offer varying add-ons to their workshops. English Australia has made a feature of offering delegates information seminars and opportunities to engage with staff from government departments in particular the Department of Immigration. “There are always questions regarding visas,” observes Blundell. Indeed, this chance is much appreciated by agent, Hugo Galindo of Grupo Gales Educación Internacional in Colombia, who suggests that all workshops should follow EA’s example. Market intelligence seminars are, meanwhile, a key feature of Icef workshops, “since they enable attendees to get useful information or market updates, which are of value to them in their jobs and recruitment efforts,” according to Chief Executive, Markus Badde.
Socialising plays a key part of most workshops, as Rowse points out. “This helps the agents and school representatives to get to know each other in an informal setting, which develops successful business partnerships,” she says. Her own event, BBSW, runs over two days and includes two dinners and a drinks reception. In Ireland, too, Adrian Cummins from MEI~Relsa says that the social aspect of their workshop is important to give agents a “taste of Ireland”. He continues, “By introducing agents to our music and culture, they can gain a greater insight into how Ireland hosts its visitors. Agents can gain a greater knowledge of what quality product we provide.”
Alphe workshops generally incorporate no side presentations and place greater emphasis on the agent/educator meetings. In addition to welcome drinks and a complimentary dinner, the Language Travel Magazine Star Awards ceremony, which takes place during Alphe UK, rewards the star companies in the industry. Gilham adds that almost 500 delegates both agents and educators are expected to attend this year’s ceremony. Felca and Gaela annual meetings are also held at Alphe UK, with most of the world’s leading national agent and educator associations meeting at the workshop to exchange ideas and market information.
Most workshops are constantly on the lookout for new ways to enhance the attractiveness of their event. “One big change in the past years has been the automatic online system to schedule appointments,” comments Barilari. “It saves such a huge amount of time!” This is now common to most workshops, while another recent technological innovation was the 2006 launch of Icef Online, “the ideal B2B (business-to-business) platform for post-workshop follow-up and ongoing collaboration between agents and providers”, according to Badde. To date, he says that over 680 organisations from 69 countries have applied to join the initiative, which facilitates the exchange of agency agreements, marketing materials and other information, and “makes doing business much easier”.
“It is important to offer something new each year,” acknowledges Capper. “With Ialc, it is the location, the evening programme, the new member schools and new courses from existing members.” Other workshop organisers adopt varying strategies in order to keep events fresh. Gilham of Alphe comments, “We try different locations, depending on market conditions. We have held Alphe in Las Vegas, Miami, Phuket, Vancouver and Shanghai in the past, but our current mix, along with the support we receive from agent associations, is proving very popular with our participants.” The new Alphe Latin America not only provided a new venue, but also introduced a new forum for universities that allowed them to meet for exchange programmes, in addition to meeting agents and educational advisers. Supported by Faubai (Forum of Advisory Boards of the Brazilian Universities for International matters), this will be developed at the 2008 event.
Rowse is also a believer in ringing the changes. After the workshop’s launch in 2006, a half-day fam trip and a seminar were introduced for 2007. “I believe it is essential to continue to add value, so that delegates feel they are getting good value for money,” she explains. Meanwhile, according to Wright, the format of StudyWorld is under constant review and there will be changes this year, when the event will be run for the first time in September, under its new name, and in its new venue of London. In the meantime, English UK has also engaged in a collaborative venture with the British Council, UK Trade & Investment and VisitBritain to organise a mini “boutique” workshop in Cancun, which took place in March 2007. As Wright reports, the event, known as The Cancun Fair: Working for the Americas, was open only to English UK members and agents from Latin and Central America.
MEI~Relsa is another association looking to diversify its workshop provision. “We will host 20 agents post StudyWorld UK in September for four days and schools will have an opportunity to meet agents at a mini workshop,” says Cummins. “In October, Japan and Korea will be the venues for two language travel workshops. November sees us travel to Italy, hosting two workshops in Milan and Rome.”
At CEC Network, on the other hand, Herrington is wary of introducing change for its own sake. “I think new features are very important, if time permits, but I am also of the mindset of ‘If it is not broken, do not fix it,’” she remarks. EA’s Blundell concurs, “There is a certain comfort level that comes from knowing the ‘format’ of the event will be the same.” She adds, “I believe the freshness of the EA workshop came from the different destination that was organised each year.” However, after running six such events in Australia, EA has decided that workshops are not core business for the association. As a result, it has decided instead to give its support, along with other industry and government bodies, to an event that will be regionally focused and open to all accredited providers across all sectors in both Australia and New Zealand. To be known as the Australia New Zealand Agent (ANZA) Workshop, this will be held for the first time in Sydney, Australia, in May 2008, with future events alternating between venues in Australia and New Zealand (see Language Travel Magazine, August 2007, page 10).
Catering to demand
In trying to meet the changing requirements of the industry, organisers stress the importance of feedback from both educators and agents attending the workshops. “We hear from our educator delegates all year, as they are our members, and we gather formal and informal feedback from agents, including those who don’t attend our event. We make changes where we can to satisfy everyone as far as possible,” says Capper. Meanwhile, Rowse reports that BBSW is in regular contact via email and telephone with agents and schools, in order to generate new ideas and, of course, they complete a feedback form following the event. As Gilham points out, “Educators have limited budgets, agents have limited time they will only choose the conferences that offer the right mix of contacts, services and location.”
Workshops exist to serve the industry and, as such, are dependent on the agents and schools that attend them. It is likely that they will continue to listen and to move with the times in order to provide the features that the industry demands.
What the customer wants
The differing objectives of the various workshop organisers are reflected in the varying aims of agents who attend the events. While some are looking for focused areas of provision within a specific target market, others are looking for a mix of different types of educator from different countries. For example, according to Kurt Gamerschlag, Managing Director of German agency, CollegeCouncil, workshops are often too mixed, including many different types of provider all within one workshop. “This is a typical waste of time and space, and we have stopped going,” he comments. Meanwhile, Italian agent, Paola Giambelluca of Touring Viaggi, explains that one reason she likes Alphe and Icef Berlin is that they offer a range of different types of educator.
Agents also have very different views on the desirability of the various added features that many workshops include. Patrick Mueller of Spanish agency, StudyGlobal, says that extras such as fam trips or seminars are not important when making his choice. By contrast, “Seminars and academic presentations are a must for us,” stresses Hugo Galindo of Grupo Gales Educación Internacional in Colombia. “If there are no presentations, we will hardly attend.” Meanwhile, for Paolo Barilari of I Centri in Italy, fam trips rate higher than seminars, when choosing between different workshops.
Agents are seeking many different things from workshops, not necessarily all at the same event, and these are all taken into consideration when choosing which to attend. Timing is always a factor, when trying to fit a trip into an agent’s busy schedule. That apart, many agents look to vary the types and location of event they attend. Barilari, for instance, whose agency is attending five workshops over the course of this year, says that they try to attend at least one large workshop each year.
Location is also a key consideration. “The closer the better,” he underlines. “There is not much time to invest in workshops, and we prefer to visit schools if we have extra days left.” He adds that, although exotic destinations have a lot of initial appeal, the extra time away from the office often rules them out. Location is judged differently by Hugo Galindo of Grupo Gales Educación Internacional in Colombia, who says that he is always looking for the chance to gain cultural and/or academic insight alongside the workshop experience. “For instance, in the USA I would go to New York or Boston for a workshop, but not to Denver or Little Rock.” Gamerschlag, meanwhile, is concerned primarily with the opportunity to visit schools and meet their staff and students. An outstanding workshop for him was “the small and well focused” Tafe workshop-cum-fam trip in Perth, Australia two years ago. “[I’ve] never learnt so much in such a short time. That was worth the long trip,” he emphasises. Location, for him, “is only important as the seminal factor for seeing the schools we want to bodily see”.
Profile: Annual workshop for member schools and agents. To be held in Munich, Germany in 2008.
Profile: Annual workshop for member schools and agents held in Ireland. Smaller workshops in Japan, Korea and Italy.
Profile: A range of workshops for all education providers and agents held in the UK, Russia, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Brazil.
Name: StudyWorld London
Profile: Annual workshop for accredited education providers from around the world held in London, UK.
Profile: A range of workshops for all education providers and agents held in Norway, China, Germany, USA, UAE, Russia, Japan and Singapore.
Name: CEC Network
Profile: Annual workshop for member schools and agents held in Canada.
Profile: Annual workshop for accredited schools in Australia and New Zealand and agent held in Australia and New Zealand.