Alto members discuss industry issues

September 23, 2013

Study travel industry issues such as rising commissions, direct bookings and data collection were among the topics raised in a panel discussion at the latest seminar hosted by the Association of Language Travel Organisations (Alto).

Delegates at the Alto seminar take notes during the presentations

Agents and educators gathered at the Westminster Park Plaza Hotel, London, following the Alphe UK conference, for the regular Alto seminar event.

An afternoon panel lead a topical discussion of industry issues and comprised: Susan Goldstein, independent consultant; David Anderson of ELS Languages Centres, worldwide: Torsten Pankok of TravelPlus Group agency, Germany; and Barbara Jaeschke, Owner of GLS Language School and Education Agency, Germany. The panel was chaired by Alto Board Member Andrew Mangion of EC Language Centres.

Commission payments and the question of whether rising commissions are sustainable attracted much input from delegates. Anderson said ELS was not an organisation that would push payments up to 40-50 per cent. “Commissions only move in one direction,” he said.

However, delegates observed that some schools had pushed payments to agencies up. “It’s getting hot out there,” said Hauke Tallon of the London School of English.

Jaeschke, with experience of both sides of the business, rejected the point that agencies were losing business from clients using their services and then booking directly with schools, thus impacting on the commission squeeze. “Agents need to understand they offer clear added value, and market this,” she said.

Another delegate pointed out that if schools were offering 40 to 50 per cent commission rates, there would be no margin for re-investing in quality product; reminding delegates this was a dangerous game.

The need to better position the study travel industry globally and with government by eliciting better data about the scale and financial importance of the industry was another topic. “Data is not something you get but something you give,” said Goldstein, questioning the industry’s commitment to this venture.

Earlier in the day, guest speaker John Knell, a corporate strategist, presented the 80-minute MBA seminar on successful business strategies, which included advice on harnessing solidarity, energy and autonomy in the workplace, leadership and marketing. He said as marketing dialogue becomes “many to many” as opposed to “one to many”, the new imperatives in marketing are conversation, customisation, community and co-creation. “You have to be in exchange, where your consumers can tell you what they think about you,” he argued. The presentation is available online for Alto members.

Alto will hold a special day event at the ICEF Berlin Workshop, including an AGM, a formal networking lunch and a professional development seminar.

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