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4% rise in tourism could benefit language travel

International tourist arrivals passed a billion last year and will grow further in 2013, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. The trend could be good news for education travel providers, such as language schools, that welcome thousands of students each year on tourist visas. However, some say the benefits should not be overstated as China, the main driver of growth, is yet to mature as an education travel market.

The growth in world tourism could benefit the education travel industry. photo: Go Study Australia

“The sector has shown its capacity to adjust to the changing market conditions"

According to UNTWO there were an additional 39 million international tourists last year, up from 996 million in 2011 (+4%). Europe remained by far the most popular destination, but in general, emerging economies climbed faster than advanced ones at 4.1% compared to 3.6%, with Asia and the Pacific showing the strongest results.

UNTWO said growth would continue in 2013 at similar rate of around 3% to 4%.

UNTWO says growth will continue in 2013 at similar rate of around 3% to 4%

“2012 saw continued economic volatility around the globe, particularly in the Eurozone. Yet international tourism managed to stay on course,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. “The sector has shown its capacity to adjust to the changing market conditions and, although at a slightly more modest rate, is expected to continue expanding in 2013.”

Educational travel is a major component of the tourism industry – thought to represent about 40% of all youth travel journeys and slated to grow dramatically by 2020. Those already benefiting from the link include the Philippines, which is using tourist appeal to grow as an ELT hub via the ESL Tour Programme. It saw enrolments climb 14% to 47,500 in 2012 with language taking the lion’s share (31,000).

English Australia, the peak body for Australian English providers, also says that typically around 40% of the Elicos [English language teaching] market in Australia holds tourist or working holiday visas.

Typically around 40% of the Elicos market in Australia holds tourist or working holiday visas

However, executive director, Sue Blundell, warns against an overall uptick given Chinese tourists are yet to embrace language travel. “The main country driving the growth is China … However this is not reflected by growth in independent, leisure ELICOS students – a sign of a mature markets for education travel as evidenced in counties like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.”

English UK, while recognising benefits of the overall rise, agrees. “It is likely that the major growth in Chinese people going abroad will continue to be limited to countries in the Asian region in the medium-term,” CEO Tony Millns told The PIE News.

He added: “As for the UK, the decline in Tier 4 visas granted for language courses is equalled or exceeded by the increase in Student Visitor visas, so we would urge the government to improve the UK visa service for tourists to include student visitors who come here under the tourist route in those improvements, particularly in countries like China.”

That said, any increase in intra-EU tourism (which is visa free) will likely benefit the UK given its popularity as an English language learning hub.

According to UNTWO, tourist arrivals to Europe climbed 3% to reach 535 million; Asia and the Pacific 7% to 233 million; the Americas 4% to 162 million; and Africa 6% to 52 million.

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