An event report By Matthew Knott ST Magazine News Editor
The Association of Language Travel Organisations, the organisation of schools and agencies, has agreed a number of initiatives for the coming year, including the establishment of a best practice charter, a mediation panel and an industry barometer, as well as a reduction in membership fees.
The plans were presented during the ALTO Online: An Industry United AGM and event last week, during which Association Manager, Reka Lenart , presented the findings of the most recent ALTO Industry Pulse survey of schools and agents outlining the impact of the pandemic. See our previous news story for a report on the survey.
Presenting an overview of the projects for 2021, which were voted on and approved by the membership during the AGM, Leanne Linacre , Chair of ALTO and Director of LILA* – English language school and Sixth Form College , said it will be an extremely busy year and that the association was trying to respond to the diverse needs of its membership.
David Brown, President and Co-Founder of Oxford International Education Group and an ALTO Board Member, presented the idea behind the planned best practice/code of conduct, which has been prompted by the uncertainty created during the covid-19 pandemic. “I’ve never seen the stress and pressure of the agency/school relationship as in the last nine months,” he said.
The code, which will be applicable for both schools and agents, will include “mutually beneficial terms and conditions” and cover areas such as client definition, communication and transparency. The voluntary scheme will work as a sign of intent and those agreeing to the terms would be able to put a logo on materials, David explained.
The content of the best practice charter will be decided through consultation with member schools and agents and a draft version should be available in the coming weeks.
Juan Manuel Elizalde , Treasurer of ALTO and the CEO of Kells College agency in Spain, said that ALTO was looking to attract more agency members and that the introduction of a mediation panel would encourage more to join.
Initial proposals are that the mediation panel for industry disputes would consist of two school and two agent representatives, appointed on a rotating basis like jury service. He said that the experience of Spanish agency association ASEPROCE in operating a mediation panel – both between customers and agencies and between agencies and schools – had been very positive, and such a move might help to avoid potential legal disputes.
Plans to create a regular industry barometer of booking trends during the continuing pandemic to “help leaders to make decisions” were also unveiled.
ALTO also announced a reduction of fees for 2020 and 2021 to assist members during times of reduced budgets.
Board member Selim Dervish, Director of agency Academia United, explained that any organisations that have already paid for 2020 will hold membership until the end of 2021 without further payment, while those that have not paid yet will be able to get two years’ membership for the price of one year, and can choose a payment plan spread over the next 14 months.
In a presentation on membership challenges Maria Castro , Director of German agency Linguland Education and ALTO Board Member, said that these should be addressed by the new fee structure and that the association should be able to retain and possibly grow membership over the coming year.
Fellow Board Member Jonathan Quinn , Marketing Director of Centre of English Studies (CES), gave an overview of association events for the coming year. He said that the ALTO conference in Rome that was cancelled earlier this year was now planned for May 2021, as well as regular events in London and Berlin later in the year.
Leanne said in her opening address that members had recognised the importance of being a member of the organisation during the pandemic. She said “more than ever, the sharing of knowledge and experience of this network” was beneficial.
A guest speaker at the event was Linda Yueh, an economist, broadcaster and publisher, who gave her overview of the impact of the pandemic on the broader world economy, government responses and scenarios in the tourism sector.
By Matthew Knott
ST Magazine News Editor