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Bookings surge as confidence in international recruitment travel returns

Bookings from universities and colleges for international recruitment fairs are increasing as university travel policies allow staff to return to international travel. For the past two years, universities have been unable to consent to staff travel due to safety concerns and the constant changes in immigration policy relating to the pandemic.

Some stakeholders suggest that demand moving forward will be for physical events. Photo: Pexels

A key question moving forward will be how universities manage their travel policy and the balance between online and offline events

With worldwide vaccination now at an advanced stage and key flight paths opening up at affordable prices, there is an understandable appetite for international recruiters to return to their markets in person, reestablish key relationships with schools and agents and meet students face-to-face once again.

“We are seeing a significant surge in demand for participation in our physical student recruitment events across all regions,” Claire Whittingham, managing director at QS Digital & Events told The PIE.

“The world is opening up and confidence is returning for university admissions teams to travel and meet talented prospective students.

“Having successfully pivoted the digitisation of our events during the pandemic, we now offer universities the opportunity to select a combination of in-person and online recruitment events and solutions, enhancing their opportunity to connect with a diverse and engaged pool of candidates,” explained Whittingham.

Particular interest in less saturated markets such as Europe and LATAM are reported to be attracting strong booking demand as universities seek out recruitment opportunities to attract more diversity to their international cohorts. Spring fairs are at capacity as recruiters seize the opportunity to talk to students while autumn enrolment is still achievable.

“We can see in real-time how institutions from around the world are planning their marketing campaigns,” president & CEO at BMI Samir Zaveri noted, adding that they are looking for a mix of in-person and virtual.

“However, due to the pent-up demand and potentially three years of enrolments coming in the next two recruitment cycles, we are seeing larger numbers than ever registering for our in-person events. Normally our fall events which begin in mid to late of September, sometimes have a few places left toward the end of August.

“How we use trips has changed, but they are still a vital part of our international recruitment activity”

“However, we have had record forward bookings and expect almost all events to be sold out before mid-July.”

BMI fairs “have been buzzing,” director Rupert Merrick added.

“There is a collective relief from both students and institutions that they can come together face-to-face again. Students have big decisions to make and clearly want to get their future back on track.”

“In the 35 years that we have been organising international student recruitment fairs, we have never seen so many institutions reporting on the spot enrolments,” Zaveri added.

Pieter Funnekotter, CEO of Intake Education reported a similar picture for its global events calendar.

“We have seen substantial interest in our face-to-face Study World events as they return. Our Nigeria and Ghana events were booked over capacity on the partner side and we have had to add an online event for those who were unable to attend in person or that we were unable to find a space for.

“I was fortunate to be able to attend our Nigeria events and our university representatives who attended seemed thrilled to be back out speaking with students. Students turned out in record numbers happy to see university representatives in the flesh again,” said Funnekotter.

After being grounded for so long, there is understandable pent up demand for travel opportunities in the industry, however a key question moving forward will be how universities manage their travel policy and the balance between online and offline events.

Francis Glover, deputy director International at De Montfort University in the UK explained that travel still remains an important part of their activity moving forward.

“Face-to-face contact will always be an incredibly important part of our industry. Staff at DMU are back on the road in multiple continents, to support our in-country teams with their in-person activity, and remind partners across the world that we are welcoming students to the university,” he said.

“How we use trips has changed, but they are still a vital part of our international recruitment activity. Overseas trips now compliment our digital outreach and engagement to ensure that we are meeting the needs of applicants and partners.”

Intake Education is also suggesting that core, populist demand moving forward will be for physical events, “as face-to-face events return, we are seeing less interest in online activities from our students as they prefer a face-to-face experience now that they perceive their individual risk from Covid to be minimal”, according to Funnekotter.

“We anticipate that our autumn 2022 and spring 2023 will be well attended by partners and will strive to offer them face-to-face wherever possible. In some locations, in particular those with quarantine or positive-Covid test isolation requirements, we will offer a hybrid option for our partners. We have learned throughout the pandemic that there are other opportunities pre and post-event that we will take full advantage of using our newly developed technology both for students and partners,” he said.

There are growing calls, however, for the international recruitment sector to take a stance on environmental sustainability. Just last year, the UK hosted COP26 in Glasgow and the higher education sector has a key role to play in reaching those environmental impact goals. Staff and academic international travel cannot be seen to undermine the world leading research that UK universities are taking into climate action, technology and policy.

King’s College London is currently in the process of reviewing its environmental strategy according to its website. “In 2018/19, King’s caused over 6,500 tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) through flying, our fourth biggest source of emissions,” it states.“Our first priority is to reduce the number of flights taken at King’s. However, we recognise that some flights might be necessary.”

“In-person recruitment fairs should be seen as the anchor that allows institutions to structure much-needed face time”

The institution also advises staff on prioritising sustainability first when considering booking flights, and suggests staff consider whether they can achieve “equal benefits” by joining meetings remotely, giving digital presentations, or only sending a set number of staff from one team to any given meetings or conferences.

“We see many institutions who are still prohibited from or cannot afford to travel using our virtual fairs, and our regular clients are using both,” Zaveri continued.

“They are able to target regions and cities that they would not normally recruit from virtually or don’t have the time or budget to travel there. For example, we have hundreds of institutions coming to our fairs in Brazil which take place in the seven leading cities for international student recruitment but if there are about 18 or more cities that would be targets for institutions. A tour to 18 cities would take over a month, so they can reach the other cities via our virtual events.”

The pivot to digital events provided an immediate recruitment solution during the pandemic and BMI stands behind a blended future.

“We believe in-person and virtual events are very different marketing methods that can not be directly compared. They are fundamentally different tactics,” Merrick explained.

“We see virtual recruitment fairs as another string to a well rounded digital marketing strategy. Comparing your leads costs from Virtual Fairs versus Adwords, Facebook or online portals is a more accurate marketing conversation,” he said.

“In-person recruitment fairs should be seen as the anchor that allows institutions to structure much-needed face time with students, parents, agents, alumni and other partners. After so long out of key markets getting on the ground in the country again is more important than ever.

“We understand the need for institutions to make connections with a range of key partners to justify the ROI of a trip. We, therefore, incorporate high schools visits, high school counsellors workshops and Scholarship Summits into our tours.”

Other stakeholders see virtual events as the only viable option long term. In 2021, The PIE reported that FPP switched to exclusively virtual recruitment.

“As we acclimatise to a new normal, convenience, cost-saving, and sustainability, in our view, will prevail”

Founder and CEO, Julio Ronchetti spoke to The PIE in response to this demand for physical events.

“Professionally run virtual fairs are not only far more economical than in-person alternatives, but they also allow technology to bring comprehensive and actionable data to admission counsellors for leveraging in the recruitment process,” he said.

“We’ve all been over-exposed to excess screen time in the last two years, so it’s understandable that recruiters wish to go back to in-person. But as we acclimatise to a new normal, convenience, cost-saving, and sustainability, in our view, will prevail. Fairs, whether in-person or online, are ultimately lead generation events. We strongly believe that the core activities of showcasing universities and having connections with students can be done online – and the huge savings in budget put towards strategic trips, partial scholarships, and other forms of online advertising.”


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