The agent panel discussion at the Eaquals International Conference
Agent perspectives discussed at Eaquals conference

Customer service, problem solving, demographic changes and the value of counselling in the digital age were among the themes in a series of agent-led sessions at the Eaquals International Conference 2017 in Latvia last week.

A special agent panel discussion was hosted by Justin Quinn, Chair of Eaquals and Managing Director of Centre of English Studies, and Walter Denz, Eaquals Vice-Chair and Owner of Liden & Denz, and introduced a range of agency viewpoints to delegates at the annual gathering of the international language school accreditation body.


Julia Richter, Managing Director of the German association of language travel tour operators FDSV, and Pablo Martinez De Velasco, representing Spanish agency association Aseproce and Director of Ad Astra agency, outlined the quality control measures that the organisations have in place. Julia commented on Germany's rigorous consumer protection laws, and Pablo advised that the practice of schools in Spain sending groups overseas without an agency is technically illegal, and cautioned against using agents that do not pay VAT.


In terms of awareness of Eaquals, Pablo said it was not recognised enough and should be connected more with the agency associations, while Julia added that it has to be more introduced to agencies so that they are familiar with the accreditation procedures and standards.


Regarding dealing with problems, Pablo advised that issues are rarely with teaching. Maria Castro, Managing Director of Germany-based agency Linguland, who was also on the panel, added that Eaquals-led customer service training would be useful for everybody.


In a discussion on the rise of direct booking and internet-based agencies, the panellists stressed the importance of the consultation process. "Counselling doesn't really exist with online agencies," said Julia. "Counselling and coaching can never be replaced," argued Maria. "Students need orientation and guidance."


Considering challenges to the sector in demographic and demand shifts, Pablo said that junior mini-stays of less than one week had become very popular over the last two years, but could not really be considered an educational product and may soon be assimilated into the broader travel agency sector. Meanwhile, Julia explained that FDSV's annual research over recent years has shown an increasing number of younger students participating in language camps in Germany, using this as a stepping stone to a full international experience.


In a separate session on 'the importance of quality when an agent chooses a school', Maria advised that the study abroad industry has become a very hostile environment and that it was becoming more difficult to survive and grow, adding that agents need visibility online to get enquiries.


Maria said agents valued customer service from schools in responding quickly to agent enquiries and dealing with issues promptly. Treating agents as partners and identifying their needs are also key factors, she added. "If the school does its job of providing service, the agents can concentrate on selling."


She gave delegates a list of things to avoid in agent relationships, including telling agents that no slots were available and cancelling courses with booked students, and advised that her agency used international associations such as Eaquals, IALC and Quality English as trusted kite marks of quality.


The Eaquals conference gathered around 250 delegates to the Latvian capital of Riga for three days of professional development sessions and networking opportunities. See our previous report for a round-up of other seminar topics.


The Eaquals International Conference 2018 will take place in the Czech Republic next year, and a members' meeting will be held in Malta in November this year.



By Matthew Knott

News Editor