With US schools reporting that the market is still depressed after the September 11 events last year (page 29) and concerns about the profitability of US carriers (page 6), the difficult times for the industry are far from over. Agencies should take heed of the fact that marketing activities can make a difference. Targeted promotion boosts sales and increases interest in an agency's product range. In Russia, for example, where agents report a healthy market performance in 2001, two of our respondents mentioned that advertising had contributed to their business growth (pages 10-11).
And in Canada, where English language students shared their views on their study abroad experience, it was noted that 40 per cent of the students who had booked their course through an agency - they represented one third of total respondents - found out about their agency's programmes via its website.
Innovative marketing, including using the Internet to its full potential, is essential if agencies are to retain a competitive position in the market. Students frequently use the Internet to find agencies' websites and even to book online, and the world wide web should be utilised by agencies as the essential marketing tool that it has now become (pages 22-26).
The ease of booking directly via a school's website did not cause the mass client stampede that many industry sources forecast, although the Internet has affected booking patterns. In our Status Australia survey this year, the results show that overall, 11 per cent of clients at the 19 language teaching institutions that took part in our survey booked via the Internet (page 44). This is an increase on the 4.6 per cent of clients who booked via the Internet at 19 institutions in the previous year's survey (see Language Travel Magazine, October 2001, page 52). Nevertheless, agencies still remain the most important booking channel for Australian schools - a majority of 56 per cent of clients booked with an agency in 2001, although this was down from 73.5 per cent in 2000.
But some agencies feel that the threat of direct bookings needs to be addressed. One agent reports that they may well cease to work with schools in the future if they cannot offer a satisfactory way of dealing with direct bookings (pages 22-26). After all, students who book directly via a school may have first used an agency's website or publicity materials to find out about it.
Another issue that needs to be discussed between agencies and schools is refunds. Just who is responsible if a language travel programme fails to meet the expectations of the client? Agencies need to have clear refund policy agreements in place with the schools they work with, otherwise they could find themselves liable for court action (page 19).
Although clarity of information is paramount, when advising clients and when marketing to potential clients, creativity is also important when building a brand image. The Association of Language Travel Organisations (Alto) recently decided to organise management seminars to help members and non-members develop their business potential. The first in the series focuses on successful communication and corporate identity (page 9). Alto's parent association, the Federation of International Youth Travel Organisations (Fiyto), is also encouraging young people to make the most of opportunities to travel and see the world in its new marketing campaign (page 9). Opportunities of a different kind are also out there for agents, who must be prepared to grasp them to make the most of their potential.