ALTO Memories

ALTO began back in 1998 and over the years, has grown and flourished thanks to an engaged membership and knowledgeable leadership of its board. As ALTO celebrated its 20-year anniversary in 2018 and we asked our founding members to share their answers to any of these questions:

  • What’s the ONE thing you remember most about ‘the old days’ of ALTO?
  • What has been your favourite ALTO event so far and why?
  • Use 3 words to describe ALTO then, and 3 words to describe ALTO now.

We celebrated the anniversary at each of our events throughout 2018:

Read on below to hear some of the personal ALTO memories from several of our long-time, passionate members.


Robin Adams, Global Village English Centres

My best ALTO experience was the event in San Francisco in April 2016.

There was a particularly open discussion among agents and schools. My sense is that our industry can really benefit from sharing experiences and discussing some challenging topics normally reserved for our own internal conversations/speculations. Hopefully, future ALTO events will facilitate this kind of dialog so we can all make better decisions for our businesses.

Justin Quinn, CES Language Schools

I remember we split from FIYTO as they no longer fulfilled what we needed and wanted an association for language providers and suppliers that had the same vision and goals. We needed schools and agents to sit together to map out where the sector was going and what was the best way to get there. It was an exciting journey and it was driven at the time by the “new schools“ and the “new agents” who wanted to develop and grow the whole sector. We were young and ambitious for the language sector.

My favourite ALTO event was in London a few years ago. One of the speakers talked about the importance of leadership and why this needs to be a clear vision. This really helped me look at where CES was going and the best way to get there.

ALTO back then was all about Collaboration, Co-operation & Shared Vision. ALTO now is Leadership, Quality and Shared Vision.


Jonathan Quinn, CES Language Schools

I rejoined what is the current form of ALTO about 10 years ago. The more meetings I went to, the more involved I wanted to get. The chance to listen and engage with our industry’s most dynamic and influential people was a big draw. London and Berlin professional development seminars and forums cemented this feeling.

In the last few years I took the leap of faith, pushed on by Andrew from EC, to put my name forward for the Board. I was delighted to have been elected and I now get to see first-hand how involved and passionate my fellow board members are about our – and I stress OUR – association and the future wellbeing of the industry!

My first New York Conference was in 2015 and what a place to hold a think in! The best people to spend a weekend away with, serious discussions with some serious relaxing! That’s ALTO in a nutshell!

Mauro Biondi, Emerald Cultural Institute

I would say that witnessing the birth of ALTO 20 years ago coincided with my own coming of age, professionally speaking, from adolescence to maturity. At the time, there were very few international events where those involved in our industry could meet. ALTO was an unmatched opportunity for meeting colleagues, agents and educators – providing a forum for us to get to know each other, to do business together, to enjoy the social aspect and to have the opportunity for real professional development.

If I were to pick one ALTO event that really stands out for me, it is also one that brings back mixed feelings. It was the workshop in September 2001 in Mexico when ALTO was still part of the larger FIYTO federation. It was a very dramatic moment immediately after 9/11. Obviously, there was a lot of uncertainty whether to hold the conference at all and there were many concerns about security. In the end the event went ahead and I was deeply moved by the motivation shared by all participants: the desire to show support and solidarity to our American colleagues and at the same time, the deep conviction that many of the values and elements which characterise our sector – education, cultural exchange, hospitality, desire to travel and to meet new friends, sharing of traditions – are essential parts of a clear message saying NO to violence and looking to the future with hope.

One word to describe ALTO then was “incubator” and one word to describe ALTO now is “think-tank”.


Odile Migieu Acet, Active Centre of English Training

ALTO is about the people, the atmosphere and the long-lasting bonds and relationships that we formed.

A favourite event for me is always London. It’s the start of a new marketing season. The busy summer is behind us and we have a new blank canvas on which to paint our next year. Everyone is full of ideas and ALTO’s inspiring speakers motivate me to ‘get painting’.

Three words to describe ALTO then: fun, adventure, parties. Now ALTO is: business, inspiration, knowledge.

David Brown, Oxford International Education Group

It was a perfect opportunity for the growing language travel industry to form an association that allowed it to be recognised as an important subsection of the youth travel market. Later on, separation from the youth travel industry provided our own industry with identity.

My favourite event was the ALTO Conference in San Francisco in 2016. It was a time of crisis for the industry, but we saw a real sense of shared problems and support at the event.

ALTO then was: focussed, innovative, identity. ALTO now is: network, resource, relationships.


Sharon Curl, Oxford International Education Group

I originally joined ALTO 20 years ago when I was with Vancouver Maple Leaf Language College, which is now part of Oxford International Education Group. What I remember most about the old days of ALTO is the excitement of having an international voice for our sector after having been lost in FIYTO then WYSETC for all those years. I think the association has evolved to fill a void in the sector and found its way.

My favourite ALTO event has been Verne Harnish – Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.

My three words to describe ALTO then: The Language-Sector Voice. Three words to describe ALTO now: Share The Experience.

Want to share your own ALTO memory?

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