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ALTO celebrates 25 years and looks to the future

Published Bernice on Tuesday, July 18, 2023 12:00 PM

ALTO celebrates 25 years and looks to the future

ALTO Istanbul marked the 25th anniversary of our association and was another fabulous opportunity to network and reconnect with leaders from across the international education industry. The 5* Swissôtel Bosphorus provided a stunning backdrop for delegates to enjoy a programme of inspirational speakers and workshops where we discussed the current challenges and opportunities in play.

Opening the event, Leanne Linacre, co-founder of LILA* Liverpool and current chair for ALTO welcomed guests saying “It’s a real testament to the vision of the original founders of the association, that so many years later we are still coming together to share ideas, discuss challenges and have some really candid discussion about the sector and make sure our businesses are surviving and thriving.”

Christopher Thebing, managing partner of College of English Language in California said, “I joined ALTO for the first time around 2011 because it was recommended to me by a colleague. It’s fun and business wise you always go home with new ideas. Then it’s on you to make them happen.”

The event also provided a chance for us to reveal a new logo and allow our members to suggest ideas to the developers of the new website aimed at enhancing our growing community and calendar of professional development events.

Nicholas Cuthbert, director of insight at The PIE moderated an industry panel on the second day, that focused on many of the macro-level forces in play since the pandemic including accommodation shortages, staff recruitment and retention challenges and opportunities such as harnessing the digital power of advocacy online.

Soaring global inflation was also on the agenda with school operators and agents able to provide insightful perspectives across Asia, Europe and the Americas.

While student mobility, pent up demand and work rights have fuelled recovery, the new threat to operators is inflated consumer costs including flights, food and amenities, margins that are all hitting the homestay market especially hard.

Jonathan Kolber, co-president of ILAC explained the issue, calling it one of the biggest threats to the industry in memory, saying “for 20 years we barely raised our homestay prices, and in the last year we’ve raised it 30% and it’s still not enough. The pool of homestay families shrunk during COVID and we haven’t got a new pool coming. That’s a supply issue and the cost of feeding kids in their houses and providing internet have gone up dramatically.”

Annual budgets and a heavy reliance on agents to support applicants for language courses has meant that dynamic pricing continues to be difficult in keeping pace with fluctuating energy and travel costs as well as competition.

Colleagues from the Irish sector also reported on homestay capacity being reduced by families either using their spare room to work from home or in some cases welcoming Ukrainian refugees.

Turkey itself is consistently ranked as a top source country for language travel, and Istanbul was a fitting location for industry leaders to take stock of the current climate.

Selim Dervish, director of Academia United, an agency in Turkey explained that despite the country being ‘the champions’ of inflation, which now stands at 25%, there is still a strong demand to study languages abroad.

“The reason is Turkey has a very young population”, Dervish explained. “They want to explore emigrate all around the world, so they somehow find the funds and money and go with or without inflation.”

Delegates attending the event took the opportunity to raise funds for victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, raising almost £5,000 – an amount that was generously match funded by event sponsors

David Brown, director and co-founder of Oxford International Education Group, raised a toast to ALTO at a special anniversary dinner, saying, “I think there’s no point in being involved in an industry unless you actually belong to it. Everyone here genuinely belongs to our industry and that’s what I like to call the power of ALTO.”

Plans are already underway for the 2024 conference with an announcement on the date and host city coming soon.

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