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Can London’s ELT sector shake the “Olympic effect”?

The PIE News has learned that English language schools in London, and the agencies that serve them, have seen a worrying drop in business for July and August as a direct result of the Olympic Games.

Students have shied away from London language schools this summer, fearing crowds and high prices

Many say that fears of high costs, crowds and security issues have deterred students

Many complain that the high cost of flights and accommodation, along with the prospect of crowds, visa delays and security issues, have scared students off in this usually busy period for schools. Some say that it is the negative publicity surrounding these issues that has been most damaging.

Judy Loren, principal of Excel English, where bookings were down 10% on a usual summer period, says: “July is a lot quieter than normal. When it hits July 20 bookings are way under what they would normally be, and August is really quiet. It’s so noticeable that the drop-off in numbers is happening in the week of the opening ceremony.”

At a recent quarterly meeting for English UK London, more than half of 21 schools surveyed said numbers were down for the summer, a situation described by Chairman Jane Dancaster as “very, very unusual”.

She stresses that other factors, such as visa restrictions in the UK and the eurozone crisis, are also at play. However, in anonymous comments in the survey, around half of schools said the Olympics had been contributing factor.

“Some agents are seeing dips as extreme as 40%”

Oscar Porras, director and owner of Madrid based agency Midleton School, says he usually sends 600 students abroad during July and August but is down 10% because of London business. “Two months ago we thought it would be 30%,” he says, adding that some agents are seeing dips as extreme as 40%.

The Olympic Park will be one of the unique attractions for students this summer (photo courtesy of LOCOG)

Porras says the high cost of flights because of the Olympics have been a major issue. When making advance bookings in November and December, Midleton had to pay an average €430 for Madrid to London flights on non-budget airlines. It has since seen a spate of cancellations. German agency DIREKT Sprachreisen, where UK bookings are down 10-15%, has seen a similar pattern.

“This year, flights for Heathrow in particular got expensive very early, and have reached an extraordinary high price level. Airlines cannot open new flights due to higher demand, as slots at airports are limited, so prices go up,” says owner Andreas van Leeuwen.

“It’s cheaper than it would normally be, don’t believe what you read”

Anecdotal evidence shows flight prices have started to fall as the Olympics gets closer. Summer accommodation in the capital was also priced high (with some halls of residence charging up to three times their normal rates, according to one source), but many providers failed to fill rooms and are offering large discounts – a trend seen across the capital’s lettings market. Other schools avoided problems by working with providers offering fixed rate deals. [more>>]

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