“We’ve seen a growth in bookings to both our junior programmes and our UK schools. If the currency stays the same we expect to have a very good year ahead,” said Stephan Roussounis, managing director at Stafford House International, speaking at the annual English UK marketing conference in London.
Keven McNally, owner and managing director of Torquay International School, meanwhile said the centre had seen “a huge difference in enquiries and bookings have increased”, but added that the conversion rate of enquiries is much lower than it was this time last year. “There are more enquiries, and more activity, but lower conversion rates,” he said.
Leanne Linacre, co-founder of LILA in Liverpool, also reported having “loads of enquiries and loads of requests, mainly for the summer”. Interest from Brazil and other South American countries is booming, she said, adding “but we started from a really low base”.
“I don’t think many schools have built a long-term strategy on this recent development, but they are using the situation as much as possible”
“We’re hoping that continues because it’s not just a summer business, it’s a year-round business.”
Roussounis also observed a “huge swing back to us since June last year” in Latin American markets.
Representing the state-funded sector, Hannah Alexander-Wright, international sales and marketing manager at the University of the Arts London, said Brexit was an initial shock for agents in Asia, but bookings have now increased from the region as a result of currency fluctuations and assurances from the university.
“I had conversations with Chinese agents asking: ‘Is it safe for my students to go to the UK? Are they going to be kicked off busses because they look different?’,” she told delegates.
“But actually, we found because of the pound and other things happening in the world, especially in America, we are getting groups of students from South Korea and from China a lot more, which is really good.”
She also credited efforts by the university to assure agents that Brexit would not change UAL operations with helping maintain partnerships after the referendum.
The sudden increase in interest follows three years of tumbling enrolments and goes against the global slowdown in the ELT market. According to market intelligence firm StudentMarketing, global growth is down to 2.7% after several years of double digit gains.
The UK especially has seen ELT enrolments slide. Figures from 2015 revealed an 8% drop in student enrolments and a 13% decline in student weeks.
Anecdotal indications from around 1,000 agents surveyed by StudentMarketing show a good appetite to send students to the UK this year, especially among agencies in Europe. Trumpism and increased marketing activity from English UK will help buck downward trends of previous years in the UK, Samuel Vetrak, founder and CEO StudentMarketing, predicted.
“I’m sure this year we’ll see an equivalent shift of that growth in Ireland back to the UK”
“Demand is picking up this season, both for juniors and adults, but this is mostly thanks to exchange rates and it’s temporary. I don’t think many schools have built a long-term strategy on this recent development, but they are using the situation as much as possible,” he said.
“All in all, this picture indicates the fact that one year we have more students in Ireland, the other in the UK, and next year maybe Canada will be very popular based on what’s going on in North America.”
Economic improvements in some student source markets are contributing to the bounce, mostly related to recovering oil prices, noted Vetrak. “Bookings from oil rich countries are coming back.”
Roussounis said he expects the short-term gains of currency drops to be “very good” but “we’re not guaranteed to have this value of the pound for the long-term future”.
“I’m sure this year we’ll see an equivalent shift of that growth in Ireland back to the UK, but this isn’t a growth in the market, this is just a change in direction from destinations they probably didn’t want to go to as their first choice but from a price point of view it probably made the most sense.”