September 2009 issue

Agency News
Agency Survey
Market Report
Direction - Exams
Direction - Workshops
Special Report
Course Guide 1
Course Guide 2
Regional Focus

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Talking shop

Despite the electronic age in which we live, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, evidenced in the rapid rise of the number of language travel workshops and their high attendance numbers. Gillian Evans reports.

Like many language travel agents, Claudio Cesarano of globo-study Sprachreisen in Switzerland says that he attends workshops to “see most of my partner [schools] and socialise with them and learn about their new programmes, to find new partners for my existing or new destinations and also to get new ideas of what might be possible to offer in our market [in the future]”. Colin Furness of ALP Corsi di Inglese agency in Italy adds that they are also essential for “catching up on business news and gossip”.

During the last couple of decades, the number of workshops has soared, with new event organisers cropping up here and there, and many of the major established workshop organisers launching into different markets while their existing events have expanded. For example, the first annual Ialc workshop was held in 1984, when six agents attended. Today, the workshop brings together around 250 schools, agents and exhibitors.

While Wystc is one of the industry’s longest running events, this conference is not exclusively for educators and agents, but open to organisations interested in all youth and travel products. The first exclusive event for the international education industry was the English Language Schools Workshop, organised by the British Tourist Authority (now called VisitBritain), which was held in 1969. This was then taken over by the private schools’ association, Arels, in 1991, and is now run by English UK and has been renamed StudyWorld London.

The 1990s witnessed a flurry of activity with ICEF launching its first workshop in 1995, and Hothouse Media creating Alphe three years later. According to Jane Gilham, Alphe Manager, the first Alphe workshop, held in London, attracted 47 schools and 84 agents. “This year’s event is our biggest,” she reports, “with 185 educators and over 300 agencies, so we’ve come a long way!”

Both ICEF and Alphe now host a whole raft of events throughout the world (see box) to meet market demand. “ICEF continues to evolve with its clients and offers a variety of workshops to meet their ongoing and changing requirements,” asserts Korinne Algie, Marketing and Communications Manager for the company. “Currently, we offer nine workshops around the globe, each meeting different student recruitment needs.” These workshops include global workshops for educators and agents from all over the world, regional events targeted at agents from a specific region, and destination-focused workshops for educators from a particular region such as the Australia New Zealand Agent (Anza) Workshop.

StudyWorld London, organised by English UK in conjunction with the British Council, UK Trade & Investment and VisitBritain, has expanded to offer regional events. So far, it has held overseas educator-agent workshops in Cancun in Mexico, Hong Kong and Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, and a further event is planned in São Paulo next month.

Spoilt for choice
Looking at the workshop calendar, there is at least one workshop almost every month of the year, but most agents limit their attendance to just one to three events per year. So, how do they choose which to go to? Naturally, the location and timing of the event has to be convenient and the educators or location has to be relevant to the agency’s business. Some workshops are only for certain schools, such as the Ialc workshop, open to Ialc member-schools only and the IH Workshop, open to IH-affiliated schools. Then there are workshops where only accredited providers are invited, such as StudyWorld, or those that concentrate on a certain area or world region, such as the Anza Workshop. At the other end of the spectrum are the workshops that are open to all reputable educators, include all types of providers, from language schools to high schools to universities, such as Alphe, and many of the ICEF events.

Furness favours events that include schools from only one region or country, “because I can see the ones that interest me in the shortest possible time without being hassled by organisations that are of no interest”, he asserts. Similarly, Cesar Hanke, Director of Australia Brasil and Nova Zelandia Brasil & Canada Travel, says, “Schools from only one region gives more focus to the event and the participants.”

In contrast, Cesarano says that he prefers workshops that include a wide variety of locations and providers as he is always on the lookout for something new. “If I am interested in only one region I go there by myself, I don’t need a workshop,” he says. “International [events] are more efficient as it would take me months to travel the world rather than be somewhere for a few days.”

Camelia Cojocarescu, Educational Programmes Manager at Mara Travel Group in Romania agrees, adding that for her business, workshops that bring together a variety of educators are the best. “I prefer events [that include high schools, universities and colleges, as well as language schools] because even though most of my activity relies on sending teenagers to international camps and adults to foreign language classes, every once in a while we have customers that want us to help them in finding a high school or auniversity abroad and I want to develop this segment of my business too.”

While some workshops take place in the same location each year, others move around. The Ialc, IH and Spain’s Fedele events, for example, are held in different locations, hosted by a different member or affiliate each year. “We change the destination we visit every year,” says Fedele’s Meline Izmiryan. “The agent has the chance, apart from meeting new schools to represent, to know a different destination in Spain which has been selected among other [reasons] due to the special attractions it offers to foreign students.”

Christina Margraf, Business Development Coordinator for International House World Organisation, says that their change of location, which alternates between European and non-European destinations, also enables agencies from different parts of the world to participate more readily.

Making appointments
Preparation prior to the event is the key to a successful workshop for both the agents and educators taking part, and to make the whole process easier many workshops provide an online scheduling system. Eleri Maitland from French in Normandy in France estimates that these programmes save her about three weeks of work. “In the old days it took so much time to send a mail then follow up. The new systems ensure that you have all the information at your fingertips and can process things quickly.”

Cojocarescu points out that making changes to appointments is also much easier using the online systems. “You can easily modify, rebook or cancel a meeting by just a click, without having to contact the partner, give him a mail and have to wait for his/her answer.”

Some workshop organisers stipulate that a certain number of appointments must be arranged. However, Furness suggests that there should be more flexibility with regards to appointments. “I don’t like the imposition of a minimum number of appointments and would prefer to book my attendance for, say, only one day or one morning or afternoon so I don’t have to drag things out over the whole period of an event, the majority of whose attendees are of no interest to me.”

Quality delegates
Workshop organisers work hard so only quality delegates attend their events. Ialc ensures its agents are of a high standard by using an internal screening process, says Ialc’s Jan Capper, while ICEF keeps its database of agency details up-to-date through its regular contact with agentassociations, ministries of education, embassies and other relevant government agencies. Alphe vets its agents by obtaining four references for each agent to make sure they are professional and have actively been placing students for the last 12 months. In addition, relates Gilham, “We listen carefully to critical agent feedback from our educators. This is a crucial part to us of putting the workshop together – we want to ensure that the agents that attend Alphe are of the highest quality.”

It is also important, as Hanke points out, that workshop organisers “select the right balance of providers”. To ensure educators at the Alphe events are relevant to the agents, Alphe organisers ask agents whom they would like to meet at the workshop. “We do our best to ensure that there is a wide range of schools present to fit the needs and wants of the agents,” says Gilham.

Today’s industry calendar is jam-packed with workshops and conferences, which is a testimony to their importance in the language and education travel business. As long as agents and educators attend such events their importance is secured – and the workshops that flourish will be those that listen to their delegates. As Algie concludes, “The number of agent workshops in existence is determined by market demand. The workshops that survive [will be] those that repond to a real market need and fulfil that need successfully,” she says.

Additional activities

Although the main reason for attending a workshop is for educators and agents to meet new and existing contacts, many workshops now include additional events to, as Ialc’s Jan Capper says, “maximise the value of the business trip and add an educational dimension”.

For the first time this year, Ialc offered two seminars for agencies. “We introduced seminars for members a couple of years ago and they were a big success, so now we want to give agents the same opportunity,” says Capper.

Both the ICEF and StudyWorld workshops have included a programme of seminars for some time. This year, StudyWorld offers eight seminars on the first day of the event, which covers topics such as the “Cambridge Placement Test” and “Taking a bite out of the credit crunch”. Korinne Algie at ICEF says that seminars are an important and useful part of their events. “Market Intelligence Seminars are a valuable source of information,” she asserts. “Workshop participants benefit from access to industry leaders and become more efficient in their recruitment initiatives.”

At the Australia New Zealand Agent Workshop, Rod Hearps, Director of EdMedia and Director of ICEF Australia New Zealand, reports that they provide agent training and certification activities, such as the Education Agent Training Course (Australia) and New Zealand Specialist Agent training, which according to Hearps, “offer agents opportunities to increase their levels of product knowledge, as well as their overall professionalism”.

Although many agents believe that, in theory, seminars are a positive development, some feel that the subject matter is often of little interest to the more established agents. Camelia Cojocarescu at Mara Travel Group in Romania suggests that they should be more targeted to include subjects such as educational tourism, consumer psychology and educational marketing.

Some school representatives are concerned that the seminar programmes can eat into their valuable networking opportunities. Daniel Bertole of Instituto de Idiomas Ibiza, says, “[Although seminars] are useful to improve/relax the climate and to talk about technical topics of the business, they should not overwhelm attendees as the main point [of attending a workshop] is building contacts and improving relationships.” Furness agrees. “Personally I don’t think the seminars are useful as such a valuable part of workshops is the networking which is done in less formal situations,” he says.

And there are plenty of less formal events for networking. “The social events are very important to our workshop participants,” confirms Algie, “as they allow additional networking and the strengthening of relationships in a relaxed and fun atmosphere.” At the Berlin event, there is a big party with a band and there are also many extra parties organised by various schools.

Alphe Manager, Jane Gilham, agrees. “We feel that the social events are one of the most important parts of participating in a workshop – particularly Alphe – this is often where the best contacts and business relationships are made,” she says. Alphe UK in London also hosts the LTM Star Awards, which, relates Gilham, “are becoming a real focal point for the industry!” 

Christina Margraf at IH World Organisation agrees that workshops are about more than just learning about a school. “The workshop is not only about work but also about getting to know each other, strengthening existing partnerships and building up new co-operations”. Laura Ellington at Intercultura Language & Cultural Center in Costa Rica confirms the importance of social events. “These are a good place to cement contacts made in the meetings in a more informal setting – I find them very useful.”

To help agents get to know the location and the schools, familiarisation (or “fam”) trips are also often tagged onto workshops. These take agents on a tour of one school or a selection of schools in a certain area. At the Anza Workshop, a range of fam trips were organised in New Zealand and Australia. “Our agent fam tours give agents opportunities to increase their product knowledge by visiting institution campuses, the regions and their local tourist attractions,” explains Hearps. “They also offer agents opportunities to get to know the staff from host institutions better, to network with other agents, and to get to know the regions and their culture better, so they can pass this knowledge on to their counsellors and clients.”

From a school’s perspective, Maitland says fam trips are invaluable. “Fam trips are always important as getting an agent to visit your school puts you at an advantage afterwards and of course if people have travelled a long way already then it makes logistical sense to make the most of their available time.”

Alphe Conferences
Locations: UK; Russia; Korea; Japan; Thailand; Turkey; Latin America (Brazil)
Educators attending: all types 
No. of schools at UK event 2008: 176
No. of agencies at UK event 2008: 225

ANZA Workshop
Location in 2010: Melbourne, Australia
Educators attending: all accredited educators in Australia and New Zealand
Number of schools in 2008: 192
Number of agents (not agencies) in 2008: 202

Location in 2010: tbcEducators attending: Instituto Cervantes accredited Spanish language schools
Number of schools at 2008 event: 57
Number of agencies at 2008 event: 77

Location in 2010: Galway, Ireland
Educators attending: Ialc member schools
Number of schools at 2008 event: 77
Number of agencies at 2008 event: 127

Locations of workshops: China: Germany; Japan; Russia; Australia/New Zealand; Latin America (Brazil); North America (Miami); Middle East & Africa (Dubai)
Educators attending: all relevant to event
Number of schools at Berlin 2008: 461
Number of agencies in Berlin 2008: 568

International House World Organisation
Location in 2010: Cairo, Egypt
Educators: International House Study Abroad schools
Number of schools at last event: 31
Number of agencies at last event: 48

Location 2010: tbc
Educators: MEI members
Number of schools at last event: 45
Number of agencies at last event: 54

Location: London
Educators: Accredited language schools, independent schools, universities, colleges and educational trusts worldwide
Number of schools at UK 2008: 249
Number of agencies at UK 2008: 302

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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.





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Travel Solutions

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Malta Tourism
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Training Partnership
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Ecela - Latin
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IH Cairo  

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Study Group 
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SILC - Séjours
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BWS Germanlingua
Carl Duisberg
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inlingua Berlin  
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Centre of English
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Colegio Maravillas  
International House -
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Bride English  
ELS Language
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University of
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California State
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Zoni Language
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Celtic School 

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