This week we interview Genevieve Abela, Chief Executive Officer of Malta’s English language school association Feltom, regarding the recently released industry data for 2014 and market growth.

StudyTravel Magazine recently reported on statistics from Malta’s National Statistics Office (NSO) for 2014, showing a 3.4 per cent increase in international students coming to study English in Malta and an 8.8 per cent rise in student weeks.

In a fairly competitive year globally, Feltom must be pleased to have recorded an increase in 2014? What factors do you attribute this to?

“Yes we are very pleased with the results. They were not easy to achieve especially when we are constantly watching this sector become increasingly competitive. It takes years of solid work but we are delighted to see that our efforts are bearing positive results. Our close work with the Malta Tourism Authority to increase Malta’s visibility in new source markets – especially in Asia, Middle East and South America – is one of the main factors for these results. In fact, last year we had even reported that encouraging growth was registered from these markets. 

Our annual ELT Workshop, which we are hosting every March, is seeing the participation of numerous agents from established but also from new markets and these are giving a very good impression of the standard of education and service in Malta. We have also been working hard with our member schools to ensure they all operate according to a strict code of conduct.

We have also been placing a lot of emphasis on our accreditation system which contributes a lot to ensure the best quality standards are met and adhered to. We review schools every year and we encourage them to follow up on our continuous feedback. Over and above all this, Malta remains a very attractive destination not only for its unique cultural and historical legacy but also for our bilingual population and the warmth of our people, aspects that no other market can ever replicate.”

There was a significant increase in student numbers and weeks from Italy. What do you think caused this? Do you see this continuing through 2015?

“The favourable rate of exchange of the euro compared to the pound is a definite plus and we intend to leverage on this throughout the coming months. However, our market’s experience of more Italian students stems from other factors besides the intensive marketing. Over the past few years, Italy has been increasingly giving more importance to the English language. A gradual shift to more service-based industries, more jobs in the marketing and internet-driven sectors and a steady rise in the need to look for job opportunities beyond Italy are, in our opinion, the three main factors that are leading more Italians to look at the English language to widen their job prospects.

Having said that, we are also aware that many Italians, by nature, prefer sticking to familiar environments and Malta, being so close to Italy and sharing so much from its culture, especially history and cuisine, make Malta the ideal destination to learn English. Our proximity with Italy also means that a big part of the present Maltese generation speaks Italian rather fluently, mainly due to high incidence of Italian television viewership. This helps us be even more attractive to the Italian market.”

Overall 2014 looks a bit of a mixed bag, with about half of the top 20 markets up and half down. Were there any recruitment markets that disappointed in 2014?

“What came out from the most recent figures showed us that the major declines came primarily from Russia, which is predominantly a junior market and which saw a decline of 23 per cent. Spain saw a decline of 20 per cent and there was a decline of 17 per cent from Turkey.”

How are attempts to attract more non-EU students on longer stays progressing? Is the slight increase in average stay (up to 3.2 weeks in 2014) a reflection of this?

“Due to a change in how we are marketing our product, we now see mature students coming to Malta. Most schools see a large cohort of students arriving during their gap year, as some European countries require students to spend three-to-six months in an English speaking country before they can receive their degree. Other students from non-EU countries like Brazil, China and those in the Far East, naturally tend to come for longer stays of three, six or even nine months.

The proximity that we enjoy on such a small island, the fact that so many people find Malta a safe destination to visit, the fact that English is spoken by practically everyone on a daily basis and all amenities are always within walking distance are some of the factors that encourage students to opt for longer stays.

One must not forget that students are finding more value in the overall product that Malta offers. We are not just another cosmopolitan city where people visit just to study. Students visiting Malta come here knowing that every day there is so much one can see and visit. The heavy concentration of history, culture and entertainment is a unique proposition that no other market can match. This is the basis of our marketing efforts and yes I would safely say that this slight increase in average stay is a reflection of our efforts.”

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