The warm atmosphere at ALTO’s 5th Annual Conference in Madrid wasn’t just due to the Spanish weather; this event is second to none when it comes to a collaborative spirit, friendly ambiance, and a productive element behind each activity.

The beautiful 5-star Westin Palace in the heart of Spain’s capital city played host to over 60 attendees on May 4-6, 2017. Leaders and decision makers of the language travel industry came together to boost their businesses through top-level networking and professional development sessions. The packed schedule included:

  • Dynamic keynote speakers;
  • Industry panel discussion;
  • Roundtable discussions;
  • Speed dating with potential business partners;
  • Networking opportunities with the leaders of our industry.

Outstanding Guest Speakers

This year’s conference focused on the evolution of the language and educational travel industry, with content designed to help participants prepare and respond effectively in these challenging times and discover how to help their businesses survive and thrive. For more information on our distinguished guest speakers and presentation summaries, please see:

Interactive Roundtable Discussions

The ALTO Conference enables business owners and industry leaders to come together in a collaborative, non-competitive space to discuss shared challenges and best practices. Given the need to continuously evolve and innovate in order to stay fresh, attendees were encouraged to examine their approach to change through a series of interactive discussions led by Jacqueline Kassteen, Owner and Managing Director of Jackfruit Marketing and

Under a session theme of “How Agile Are You? Adapting and Innovating in the Face of Change”, participants were tasked to take a hard look at some of the challenges and obstacles they need to overcome, and discuss various solutions such as:

  • adapting to new techniques in marketing and recruitment;
  • changing our products to go beyond language learning and incorporate 21st Century skills into our educational offering;
  • changing our pricing strategies in order to cater to market conditions.

Jacqueline outlined various strategies leaders can use to cope with change, giving compelling examples of brands that restructured their business or introduced new products or services both as a response to their changing environment and as a way to stand out in a competitive market. Through several examples and discussions, attendees also explored different leadership styles and how to lead their teams through a time of transition.


Industry Panel

ALTO Board Member and former chair David Brown of Oxford International Education Group served as the moderator for the final closing panel, which consisted of:

The group discussed various topics related to the conference theme “Survival of the fittest.” As market conditions get tougher, the need for small schools to find a niche grows. Verne reminded the audience, “You have to decide on who you are going after and then dominate the channels those people are in.”

Meanwhile, Sarah warned us of the “worrying trend of ‘chainification’ with smaller schools going out of business because they can’t find their niche or collaborate with other providers across the educational spectrum (i.e. further education).”

With regards to consolidation on the agency side, Claudio opined, “I think it will be harder and harder for small agencies to survive.”

Managing costs is often a challenge in business, particularly when the cost of customer acquisition keeps rising. Another suggestion that arose during the panel discussion was for sales teams to focus not just on achieving sales, but also on hitting targets related to the cost of acquisition, so that employees are empowered to consider ownership over costs as well as revenues.

The panel also discussed the downward spiral created by discounting, with Claudio urging, “Let’s not ruin our market. The industry is worth it.” But he confessed that it is too late in some countries: “Discounting already happening in some markets and there is no going back.”

With regards to the demand for study abroad, the audience tended to agree that in some markets (i.e. Brazil) it can be difficult to convince young people to go overseas and get out of their comfort zone. “The experience is something you value only after you have it,” highlighted ALTO Board Member Thiago Espana of World Study Brazil.

David Adler, CEO of the Israeli study abroad agency Ustudy, commented on the changing role of the agent and stressed the importance of reassuring students and parents, “Students are overwhelmed with information. It’s hard to decipher what is true and not true. So our role is more to reassure them and confirm what they found online.”

Nonstop Networking

Throughout the conference, ALTO members and guests were treated to a variety of formal and informal networking opportunities. Of course, there were plenty of breaks for tea, coffee and snacks throughout the day, offering a chance to catch up with familiar faces and continue the conference dialogues on key issues of the day.

The ‘Speed Dating’ sessions are always a hit, with participants engaging in 10-minute meetings in a rapid round-robin style format that ensured attendees were able to sit down with nearly everyone at the event.

The conference programme also enabled visitors to explore the city a bit, with an open-top bus tour followed by a drinks reception at the Palacio de Cibeles, plus networking meals at Chef José Raimundo Ynglada, ‘Mundy’s’ restaurant Arahy, and Filandon Restaurant located just outside Madrid, plus an energetic evening at the Florida Retiro nightclub.

See you soon!

Don’t forget to watch our Madrid Highlights video below for a 2-minute event recap, tag yourself in the event photos, and be sure to mark your calendar for our next events, including:

Leaders and Managers Double Event in London, England
Monday, 4 September 2017

AGM and CPD Event in Berlin, Germany
Sunday, 29 October 2017

ALTO’s 6th Annual Conference in New York City, USA
April 2018