Delegates at the International Association of Language Centres workshop in Dublin, Ireland, mused that a system akin to booking.com would help speed along the process of booking students and allow more to be fed through the pipeline.
However, for smaller agencies – especially solo agents – the idea of taking out the negotiation and relationship may be too much in terms of interfering technology.
“I would be open to something like it, but I would prefer to keep control over the situation – I’m too small as an agency to maintain it,” Christine Bonneux, president of the I Love Lingua agency, told The PIE News.
“As a result, I also don’t think I would end up being contacted through my website, because of SEO issues; and I have a lot of communication with parents especially, so that needs to be taken into account,” she continued.
Claudia Herrmann, an educational consultant with GLS Sprachenzentrum Berlin – which sends students across Europe, but mainly to the UK and Ireland – said such a program wasn’t “really necessary” when asked about the possibility.
“I think with the changing market in language courses, you need your counsellors – it’s not as simple as just book and go,” she added.
Maria Hernández Muratalla, the commercial director of the Joma Student Experience agency, still stressed the need for something that helped centralise the process.
“[The idea] could work especially to better coordinate when things are changing so fast. It’s harder to manage when you’re working with many different schools.
“We need something that’s more put together,” she told The PIE.
During a panel discussion at the conference that touched on the streamlining of booking students onto language courses, Wimbledon School of English CEO Jane Dancaster recalled a similar discussion around a replication of the booking.com model over 10 years ago.
“We’re constantly trying to improve the lives of our admin staff who are dealing with agents sending in bookings… if we can find the technology to take the grief away from them, we can streamline the booking process.
“We had this discussion in Brisbane [at IALC] ten years ago, and we haven’t got very far with that,” she noted.
On the same panel, director of ALTO Reka Lenart pointed out that it is the reluctance of agents, and of schools as well, that has been holding it back.
“Before anything else, there is a mentality change that needs to happen”
“There’s a feeling that the individuality and the personal attention would be lost if we moved the industry to a platform like that.
“Before anything else, there is a mentality change that needs to happen within the industry,” Lenart affirmed.
The idea that it should be easier definitely resonated with IALC delegates – Joh Ahmed Suhail, CEO and founder of Angelstream, said, as an agent, he would like to see variants and filters on such a platform to make the process simpler.
“I think it would make things easier, but we also have to consider that unless it’s closed off, students then be able to do it themselves,” he pointed out, speaking with The PIE.
Suhail also made the point that such a platform would need to include stringent, complicated cross-checking in order to be viable – making sure that aspects like British Council accreditations are accounted for when agents make bookings with schools.
Additionally, he mused that if the idea of making a streamlined portal would become too commercialised, the market would become too saturated with options and thus nullify the whole point of the platform.
Edvisor has been one of more-used technology companies in the language school sector for some time, and is currently aiming to capitalise on the gap in the market.
Its recent release of an add-on that essentially acts as the precursor to a streamlined booking portal, EdCommerce, will mean that at least, more of its customers might come around to the idea, according to sales manager Jamie Gibbs.
“The objective here isn’t to replace the agency or to replace the school”
“The reality is that as purchasers – for example, how did you book your flight to get here? How did you pick your hotel? – there is a behaviour tendency that we all follow. Education is just way behind on that,” he said.
“The objective here isn’t to replace the agency or to replace the school or to modify the school, it’s to give them the tools in which they can better adapt to the tendency that purchasing is taking.
EdCommerce, which is aimed primarily at taking payments on bookings, was released in early April to Edvisor’s current customers, and is currently only available as an add-on prior to a gradual wider release in the coming months – but will always be tied to using the rest of the Edvisor platform.
Whether a comprehensive, streamlined booking portal will be implemented in the next ten years after this IALC conference, the sector will have to wait and see.