English dominates Swiss agency business

03, February, 2015

English increased its market share as the most requested language for Swiss students in 2014, according to the results of the annual member survey by Swiss agency association SALTA, while the recent sudden rise in value of the Swiss franc against most major currencies is bringing mixed news for agents.

Swiss agency association SALTA has released the results of its member survey on 2014 student trends

Sixty-seven per cent of adult clients of SALTA members booked English programmes in 2014, compared with 65 per cent in the 2013 survey. French, which had slipped to the third most popular adult language in 2013, regained second with market share of 14 per cent, while Spanish slipped to third on 10 per cent. German (four per cent) and Italian (three per cent) were the other most common requests.

A similar pattern was observed by Swiss agents in the Business language sector, with English clearly the most popular at 66 per cent, followed by French (15 per cent), Spanish (seven per cent), Italian (six) and German (five).

English was slightly less dominant in the 50 plus and junior sectors, with 55 per cent and 58 per cent respectively.

French performed well in the junior sector with 25 per cent market share and had a one-fifth share of the 50 plus segment. Spanish was the third most requested language for 50 plus students on 13 per cent, while Germany was third in the junior market with eight per cent.

In terms of destination market share, there were slight increases for Australia, Canada and France at the expense of USA, New Zealand and Scotland. Overall, England remained the most popular destination on 21 per cent, followed by USA with 17 per cent, Australia (12 per cent), Canada and France (both nine per cent).

Regarding the Australian increase, Marcel Rüfenacht, SALTA President, said, “Whether this heralds the start of a new trend or only represents an exception remains to be seen.” 

Clients of Swiss agencies had a clear preference for homestay accommodation, with 69 per cent selecting this option, followed by residential (24 per cent), hotel (five) and other (two).

Meanwhile, the recent Swiss abandonment of the cap of the franc (CHF) against the euro and the subsequent sudden change in exchange rates – the franc shifted from being valued at US$0.98 to US$1.19 in a single day in January – has impacted on the agency sector.

Rüfenacht told StudyTravel Magazine the move was completely unexpected by the study travel sector, and indeed by the finance industry, and that the initial key impacts on agents were that travel costs suddenly have become 20 per cent cheaper and that operators offering CHF package deals needed to quickly adjust prices.

Although the shift in exchange rates give consumers greater spending power, Rüfenacht said it also devalues the commission payments that agents receive from school partners overseas, meaning agents need to secure more business to maintain income levels. “However, that’s difficult to generate out of a saturated market,” he said.

Nonetheless, the currency appreciation is impacting positively on consumers, said Rüfenacht. He said the first indicators at the Media Touristik portfolio – which include the agency brands Linguista and globo-study – were that destinations that are normally booked later in the year, such as England, France and Spain, were being reserved early.

Rüfenacht said European destinations including Malta, Ireland, France and Germany would be the most likely to benefit from increased business during 2015, and that there were signs that clients were booking slightly longer stays.

Looking at more general expected trends for 2015 identified in the SALTA survey, Swiss agents anticipate increasing business for England, USA and Malta in the adult language sector and for England, Malta and Italy in the 50 plus segment.

Canterbury, UK, was identified as a growing business English destination for 2015, while 30 plus courses in London and French language courses in exotic locations such as Martinique, Tahiti and La Réunion were also expected to increase.

SALTA currently has 11 members and was one of the agency associations presenting key member data at the inaugural Felca seminar held before the Alphe UK 2014 conference last year. 

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