Members of the director-level organisation convened in London this month to hear John Knell, business strategist, deliver an “80-minute MBA”, offering advice on leadership, engagement and innovation.
Knell energised delegates and encouraged them to reframe their approach to business leadership (charisma is not essential but clear vision is) and building a team (allow solidarity, energy and autonomy in the workplace). “Work is incredibly important in people’s lives,” he reminded, pointing out that the old dictum that work has to be endured has no place in modern day life.
He was insightful on the new marketing paradigm: the four Ps are replaced by the four Cs in business 2.0: Conversation; Customisation; Community and Co-creation. Fostering dialogue and feedback among consumers and employees is important to harness innovation.
“Agents need to understand they offer clear added value, and market this”
He also dissected the study travel sector as an outsider, observing that it is an “under the radar” industry.
It was timely then, that in the afternoon of the ALTO Seminar, an industry panel presented their thoughts on topical discussion points such as how to gather better global data to reflect the size and importance of the sector.
Panel members comprised of independent consultant, Susan Goldstein, Dave Anderson of ELS Language Centers in the USA, Torsten Pankok of Travelplus Group in Germany and Barbara Jaeschke, owner of GLS language school and education agency in Germany. Panel moderator and fellow contributor was ALTO Board Member, Andrew Mangion of EC.
One of the debates that drew the most contributions from the floor was on the need to better position the study travel sector globally and with governments by eliciting better data about the scale and financial importance of the industry.
Susan Goldstein questioned the industry’s commitment to this venture. “Data is not something you get but something you give,” she counselled, while a Spanish agent delegate backed up a concern about an appetite for data that translates into action.
Sue Blundell of English Australia, representing the federation of language school associations, GAELA (which is seeking to legally incorporate), then told delegates that this international body was also considering investing in extensive and reputable data analysis to fully capture the study travel sector.
Vetrak added that using methodologies that can be respected by governments is also crucial
Samuel Vetrak of Student Marketing, a research expert, involved in the scoping project for this venture, added that using methodologies that can be respected by governments is also crucial; as is the value of “the industry owning its own data”.
Commission payments, and the question of whether rising commission payments are sustainable, also attracted inevitable heat from the room – comprising education agencies and their educator partners, both of whom rely on each other for their businesses to prosper.
Anderson, representing a chain of many on-campus English language teaching centres in the USA and with operations overseas, said his organisation was not one of those that might push commission payments to agencies up to 40% or 50%. “Commissions only move in one direction,” he said.
Nevertheless, there has clearly been a push upwards from some agencies, and with some schools responding accordingly. “It’s getting hot out there”, observed delegate Hauke Tallon of The London School of English.
Jaeshke, understanding well both sides of the business, rejected the point that agencies were losing business to clients using their services and then booking directly; impacting on the commission squeeze.
“Agents need to understand they offer clear added value, and market this,” she counselled.
And another delegate pointed out that if schools could afford to offer 40% or 50% commission, there was clearly no margin for re-investing in a quality product; reminding other ALTO members why it was a dangerous game.
Dynamic pricing was also touched upon again when printed brochures were being discussed, as a possible obstacle. Anderson reminded fellow members that in many parts of the world, education counselling still happens “across a table” and parents still felt comfortable purchasing when the offer was accompanied by printed brochures, even if these were evolving in terms of content and presentation.