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ALTO proposes industry standard for language travel bookings

The Association of Language Travel Organisations, a globally representative body of language schools and agents, has proposed introducing an industry-wide standard for how language courses are presented to cut down the time and human resources it takes agents to interpret schools’ offerings and make bookings..

Thiago Espana World Study Brazil and Johnny Peters Embassy CES Speed Dating at the New York conference. Photo; ALTO.

95% of the agents polled by ALTO said they find the level of variation in schools' offers overwhelming.

The suggested guidelines aim to establish standards in price listing and the presentation of teaching hours and accommodation options.

Current variation in the ways price lists, courses and accommodation are presented was described as “confusing and difficult to understand”

Thiago España, ALTO board member championing the initiative, told The PIE News the current variation in the ways price lists, courses and accommodation are presented is “confusing and difficult to understand”.

This was reflected in a poll of half of ALTO’s agent members, 95% of whom said they find the level of variation in schools’ offers overwhelming.

In addition, 63% revealed they employ additional staff just to deal with comprehending course data. Not surprisingly, 100% offered their support in a dialogue with member schools.

In response to the survey results, the global association has laid out 11 proposed rules for schools to standardise and clarify their offerings.

They stipulate that schools should include the frequency of fee charges in their price lists and display discounts and agent commissions as a percentage.

Following standardised pricing guidelines would allow agents to update prices more quickly and with fewer errors, according to the association, since many agencies use standardised CMS systems to organise information.

Other proposed rules include laying out whether accommodation allows extra nights and at what cost, and specifying how many hours of teaching a course offers per week, rather than just the number of classes– information  that can be crucial in determining which visa students need.

In the US, for example, students do not need a student visa to enrol on courses with less than 18 hours a week of teaching, but are required to have one for more than 18 weekly hours of study.

Though the standard is being developed by ALTO, the association envisions that it would become a standard for the whole language travel industry.

A working group was formed during ALTO’s annual directors’ conference in New York last month to support España in creating an action plan for launching the Industry Standard.

During a roundtable discussion at the conference, some stakeholders noted that establishing a consensus may prove challenging as some schools may not be in favour of changing their existing systems.

“All these steps would have to be based on detailed consultation with member schools and agents”

However, schools were broadly in agreement that standardisation is needed, and any impact on their business models will be balanced out by savings in the bookings process.

The project already has the backing of a number of ALTO’s members, including some big chains and around 25 agencies, according to España, who anticipates more organisations will come on board once it launches.

The roundtable also discussed the future development of an Application Programming Interface that would reduce errors and operating costs by synchronising course and applications data across both schools and agents’ bookings systems.

This would also enable schools to adjust prices according to market demand– a controversial topic in discussions at previous ALTO meetings.

The API could be followed by standardised documentation in other steps of the booking process, including application and accommodation forms.

To ensure consensus across the global organisation, the guidelines will be trialled by a group of volunteer schools, after which ALTO can provide feedback on the initiative.

“All these steps would have to be based on detailed consultation with member schools and agents and there has to be a clear path with a timeline we agree to,” España commented.

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