This week, we interview Matej Benus, Secretary of pan-European agency association EAQA, about recent group and member activity.


What has been the main focus of EAQA in the last 12 months?

We are only two years old and having recently started and still in the early stages, our goals are to maintain what we have achieved up to now and to grow organically. It is also important for us to focus on association matters that are important for the early stages of development, such as constructing our agenda, membership benefits, partnerships, etc.

We made the decision to do things thoroughly which, naturally, takes time. However, we have already succeeded in a number of things: our membership benefit programme is now reasonably extensive, with a quality stamp, webinars, seminars, meetings, access to discounts and market intelligence packages. We have moved forward a bit on all fronts.

Our membership has grown organically from five to 15 members with new agencies in the pipeline. With the number of members increasing, so has our presence in workshops. We attended the two main ones last year – Alphe UK and ICEF – and plan to add one or two more in the coming year. We are also becoming more active internally, with quarterly board meetings, monthly meetings with members, and quarterly exploratory meetings with new partners. With the role of the association having increased, so has the workload for the EAQA Secretariat, so we assigned a dedicated association manager to be more available for growth and members. Organic healthy and steady growth was – simply – our main aim and we are glad to be reaching it. EAQA’s mission is to be the voice for quality agencies, and, in this context, as well as in line with the need for constant self-improvement, EAQA has the pleasure to offer an agent training programme, IATC, for free to its members thanks to arrangement delivered from ICEF.

EAQA has started to welcome agencies from outside of Central and Eastern Europe.

Actually, EAQA has always acted as a multinational European association, with special focus on countries and agencies without a representation, or with the desire to be part of an international association. Naturally, where there is a functional national association in some of the European countries, we recommend agencies become members there first. EAQA is becoming quite well represented across Europe, having 15 members from 11 countries, including Albania, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Macedonia, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine and the UK.

What is the application process for a prospective member?

The process is quite thorough, in line with the focus on standards and quality. A potential EAQA member must express that they will follow our Articles of Association and demonstrate they comply with the Code of Practice. In fact, once the application form is submitted, the scrutiny process then is quite comprehensive, all details of the application are checked and verified, including industry, corporate and customer references, business performance, website, brochures and other marketing materials, response times, mystery shopping, etc. Only then, if the agency applicant has come through the process successfully or adjusted accordingly, and has been accepted to a respective category (be it as a Full or Associate Member), does he/she have access to membership benefits – being part of the group voice when talking to organisations, stamp of quality, membership certificate, free market intelligence and access to industry. Associate Members are encouraged and assisted to increase their standards in order to be eligible for Full Membership.

What challenges do you think member agencies face in the next 12 months?

Based on our recent phone survey, most of them notice growth and their challenges are related to matters that come with growth – keeping costs, standards and prices reasonable while having more volume, increased competition especially coming from new and often non-standard performing new agencies, more attention of media and regulations from governments thanks to more volume and also bad stories in the press. The UK, Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine all report the same: rising numbers and competiveness.

What are conditions like in Europe’s outbound student market? Are there any trends members have experienced in the last 12 months?

We have only limited reports from our membership and other references. Based on that, what seems to be repeating in the reports is the fact that the volume is there and increasing, and it finds its destination to study elsewhere – often within EU zone, as it comes easier – if some countries do not send positive or welcoming messages. When it comes to courses, programmes for juniors have increased, programmes for adults notice stagnation or decreases, especially general English courses, and customers opt increasingly more for English for specific purposes or English Plus programs.

How do you ensure that the quality standards for member agencies are met?

During the application process and annually, we check whether they comply with Code of Practice, using industry, corporate and customer references, checking their business licences, marketing materials including website and brochures, mystery shopping, etc. It sometimes happens that we find some inconsistencies. In most cases, however, agencies take the correct measures to uphold the required standards. Also, Associate Members – the ones with high standards that, however, don’t meet the requirements for full membership – are advised and encouraged to improve and become Full Members.

What activities are you planning for the future?

We want to dedicate more time and attention to members and improve the website, to make it more informative and a tool for members, applicants, partners and the media.

An abridged version of this interview will appear in the November 2013 issue of Study Travel Magazine.

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