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Language schools fear losses due to COVID-19 outbreak across Italy

Following a number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Italy, sector stakeholders have told The PIE News of the impact that the postponement or cancellation of student trips could potentially have on their businesses.

Pina Foti president of IALCA explained that it is “hard to say” if the suspension will be extended beyond 14 days. Photo: pixabay

The ministry has frozen every kind of school trip and study trip in Italy as well as abroad for 14 days

The Italian ministry of education has restricted school educational trips with in the country and abroad due to the virus for a period of two weeks at least, while individuals can still travel.

Principal of inlingua Cheltenham, David Arrowsmith, noted that three Italian groups booked for March will likely be affected due to the ministry’s decision, as well as individuals for the school’s general and business English courses.

“At the moment we have only received a cancellation from a company in Italy who had four corporate clients booked with us for the month of March – they may come later in the year – we do not know,” he said.

“We anticipate that the three groups booked in March will cancel, although still no word.

“Financially we will lose about £60,000 in March and going forward up to £150-200k”

“I am thinking the Italian agents likewise are holding back cancelling at the moment in the hope the ban will be lifted. But I think the March groups will cancel and from April onwards we will see.”

If the ban continues into the summer inlingua would “potentially have five-six groups cancel and other individuals,” Arrowsmith said, adding that the impact will then become “significant” for his school.

“I should imagine for the large chain schools the damage would be hard to deal with as Italian is such a huge summer market for the UK,” he said.

“If all cancel, financially we will lose about £60,000 in March and going forward up to £150-200k which for a single school like us is significant.”

Chinese and Japanese group cancellations is also compounding the situation for many, Arrowsmith added.

The Lombardy and Veneto regions in the north of the country have the majority of confirmed cases of coronavirus.  On February 25, however, more cases were detected in the south of the country – in Tuscany and Sicily.

Italy’s minister of education Lucia Azzolina said the suspension of educational trips since Sunday is a “precaution that in my opinion is necessary for this scenario”.

“The government and health authorities are doing serious and painstaking work taking into account a rapidly changing picture,” Azzolina said.

The Italian Association of Language Consultants and Agents added the ministry has frozen every kind of school trip and study trip in Italy as well as abroad for a period of 14 days.

“As a result, those groups of students that have already booked flights, courses and accommodation have remained and will remain in Italy,” IALCA said in a statement.

Pina Foti president of IALCA explained that it is “hard to say” if the suspension will be extended beyond 14 days.

“For certain it has had an immediate negative impact both on Italian agencies and foreign schools,” she said, adding that the group will maintain direct contact with the ministry in order to provide updates on the evolving situation to agents and school partners.

“IALCA trusts in the foreign schools’ understanding and flexibility with regard to a possible rescheduling of school groups’ departures and dates of stay.”

“For certain it has had an immediate negative impact both on Italian agencies and foreign schools”

But regardless of the destination, school groups have been cancelling their departure, Paolo Barilari, IALCA vice president and owner of Lingue nel Mondo told The PIE.

“In low season most of the business is with school groups,” Barilari said.

Reimbursements and postponing courses were vital to “reduce to the minimum the negative economic effect of this situation”, he added.

“Groups give a very low net profit to the agents; being forced to reimburse the students would be very difficult. That is why we rely on the flexibility of the language schools and of the airline companies.”

Delfin English School London general manager, Mike Summerfield, explained that one group due to start this week had cancelled on Monday.

“We have a contract this summer for more than 350 students over six weeks across both our locations. Hopefully, the travel ban will be finished by then,” he said.

St Giles International‘s Group Sales and Marketing director & deputy CEO, Hannah Lindsay, said that despite not having any Italian groups arriving imminently the school has groups for the summer who are still planning on coming.

“We believe that the fears surrounding the virus are affecting Italian bookings though, according to our overseas partners there,” she added.

Commercial manager at Bayswater College, Jamie Tyler, said he does not expect any groups to travel from Italy before March 8, resulting in some cancellations.

“We remain hopeful that these groups will postpone their travel rather than cancel and are working with our partners to offer flexibility with travel dates,” he noted.

“This is a time where we need to be supportive of our partners”

“This is a time where we need to be supportive of our partners and be aware that decisions from parents may be delayed and be prepared for shorter notice of travel.”

Co-founder and president of Italian agency Crewative Fabio Boccio told The PIE that although he didn’t have any groups for the next two weeks, he does for the summer.

“I hope the situation will be better, which despite my positive mindset, I don’t think will be the case,” he explained.

“What it is happening is pretty much catastrophic, but the fact that I have been able to diversify my offer in the past two years has protected my business.”

Jodie Gray, interim chief executive of English UK, said: “We are working with IALCA, the Department for International Trade and the British Council to get the most up-to-date information for our members in a fast-moving situation. We’re also seeking legal advice on the situation around refunds which we hope to be able to share in the coming days.

“Many of our members have groups booked over the next two or three weeks and we really feel for them.”

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3 Responses to Language schools fear losses due to COVID-19 outbreak across Italy

  1. A subject close to me given i have worked in language industry for more than 17 years and coming from a financial background, I have always emphasised the wafer thin, single digit margins, schools operate on. This outbreak with covid-19 could not have come at a worse time. Coronavirus could easily be the final nail in the coffin for many small operators struggling with higher operating costs. I sincerely hope not and hopefully this virus can fade away. Not one for negativity yet realism, if there is one silver lining, the industry has been through tough times and crises before and always proved resiliant.

  2. The cancellation and postponement of 5 Italian groups in early March has been pretty devastating not only for loss of revenue for the school and the groups who will not be able to recoup fixed costs but in terms of lost work for excursion leaders and teachers.
    We have also had a Thai group cancel amid fears of discrimination against asian students, which is pretty devastating.

  3. Italy may be protecting their own students, but what about the UK? Schools such as Harris Academy Battersea are still forcing their students to go on a school trip to Italy in a few weeks unless willing to lose all of the money paid.

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