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Bookings expectations suggest ‘corner not yet turned’ on Covid-19

Language schools in seven key destination countries have “consistently reduced” booking expectations since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, indicating that the sector “hasn’t turned the corner yet”, according to research by the Association of Language Travel Organisers.

language travelThe language travel sector expects to remain under pressure while travel restrictions remain in place. Photo: Unsplash

50% of UK schools said they would require government support if revenue streams stay the same

Garnering responses from 123 schools, 91 agents, 14 associations and nine service providers, the report found that on average providers predict that they will see 66% of pre-Covid bookings by summer 2022.

“Almost every destination country consistently reduces their booking expectations every quarter”

The average revenue participants expect to see in Jan-May 2021 is 23% of the same period in 2019.

In previous iterations of the Industry Pulse survey in 2020, participants were asked to predict future bookings but the latest survey, carried out in January 2021, shows how revenue and booking predictions have changed during the pandemic.

“Almost every destination country consistently reduces their booking expectations every quarter when we ask them to complete the survey, so we haven’t turned the corner yet,” the report noted, suggesting slower recovery than first hoped in early 2020.

While in the Q4 2020 survey schools in Malta said they expected to see 20% of 2019 revenue in Jan-May 2021 and 33% in Jun-Aug 2021, the latest survey shows that schools in the country now expect to see 23% of revenue Jan-May 2021 and 39% in Jun-Aug 2021.

UK schools have again predicted that they anticipate 63% of 2019 levels in the Jan-May period in 2022. They have also made their largest prediction since the surveys began, suggesting that they will see 75% of 2019 figures by summer 2022.

Compared with predictions made in the previous report, all other schools expect lower enrolments.

The trend is also reflected in the answers collected from agents. While agencies with multiple country locations “are sticking closely to their autumn projections”, others predict fewer bookings, with Asian agents consistently below industry average and projecting the “most cautious recovery levels every quarter”.

One positive to take away is that survival chances and business sustainability has not decreased in the latest survey, Reka Lenart ALTO association manager highlighted.

“I was happy to see that the survival chances of companies, how sustainable businesses are for the next six month hasn’t gone down. If the number of those participants who answered in October ‘yes, I can sustain my business for the next six months’ would have gone down significantly, we could be in a really scary situation,” she said.

For the first time, the pulse also asked about the possible timeline for the return of the junior market.

Predictions from schools for summer 2021 ranged from 16% of 2019 bookings in Ireland to 37% in Germany.

Agents in Asia predict 14% of bookings for the summer, while those in Europe and Russia predict 29% of bookings.

“Agency average projections… show that juniors are expected to return at a much slower pace than adult learners,” the report read. School and agents expect summer 2022 to see 54% and 52% of 2019 bookings, respectively.

“The international education industry is under immense pressure as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and it’s clear that some of our partners and colleagues may not survive the consequences,” the report continued.

However, while in the last pulse survey 87% of participants said they think more schools and agents would need to close, the latest survey found 81% said the same.

“It’s still a very high figure,” the report said. “Making tough decisions and cuts have become a daily routine.”

Providers and agents indicated that government support was necessary to “manoeuvre through the storm”.

In the UK 50% of schools said they would require government support over the the next six months if revenue streams stay the same.

“The current border restrictions have serious cost and logistical implications for students travelling to the UK for English language courses,” English UK reminded, following a UK government announcement revealing an easing of lockdown restrictions on February 22.

While schools will be permitted to open on March 8, border restrictions “make it impossible for most students to travel and damage already fragile market confidence”, English UK said.

“If there is little recovery ahead of the crucial summer season, these sectors will face a perpetual winter”

“If there is little recovery ahead of the crucial summer season, these sectors will face a perpetual winter, and many businesses will not make it through,” English UK said.

“It will be really nice when the survey projections for a certain period are higher than in the previous quarter,” Lenart added.

“That’s going to be the signal that people are really taking a positive attitude and we’re coming out of the tunnel.”

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