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News & Press: Events 2013

ALTO's inaugural conference in NYC

24 May 2013   (0 Comments)
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Jennifer McEleney and Bonita Vander by David NilandNathan FarrugiaSpeed dating- Victoria Lee and Leanne Linacre with Paul Schroeder photo by David Niland

New York was the venue for ALTO's first stand-alone conference designed to be a breeding ground for ideas and collaboration between senior stakeholders in the language school and education agency industries. The city and the conference did not disappoint, with stunning socialising opportunities in the Big Apple providing a perfect backdrop to seminars and speed-dating that sought to help ALTO members develop and grow their business.

An opening night dinner at revolving restaurant The View kicked off proceedings, followed by a day which started with Adam Bryant, author of the Corner Office, whose insight into how CEOs operate was well received. One piece of advice that got all the delegates smiling, given that they operate globally every day, was to cut down on email and try and talk more! This was one of the core opinions that Bryant realised many CEOs from various industries espoused.

A speed dating session worked well, setting up delegates with 5-minute slots to talk to potential partners in the sector. And the subsequent industry panel with big names from the agency world was the focal point of the event. Discussions on discounting, using technology in business and direct bookings fostered much cross-conference discussion.

The panellists were Krister Weidenhielm of Switzerland-based global agency ESL; Victor Hugo Baseggio of CI in Brazil which is one of the two largest student travel operators in the vast country; and OJ Kim, a big name from the Asian scene who has built his iAE agency network out of Korea to become an Asian powerhouse in terms of outbound travel.
 There were some contentious issues discussed; the concept of "lazy" discounting was raised, with some educators claiming agencies were sometimes too quick to discount, while Weidenhielm contended that educators could also be guilty of "panic" discounting without sound logic, observing that education is an investment into personal development.

The issue of whether agencies should work with a net price and mark prices up, or within boundaries of an agreed gross price tag, also captured attention and a range of opposing views. Kim suggested that agencies should be able to set their own price for products that they sell. He said, "We have to evolve, we cannot be fed by schools anymore." Weidenhielm argued this might create a "souk" mentality.

Dynamic pricing, rather than working from a fixed price, was also discussed as all stakeholders conceded that in other sectors, technology had made a greater impact on the distribution chain. Whether a standardised system could be developed that would evade the need for duplication of effort in the booking process between school and agency was another idea many backed, although it was acknowledged that financial and logistical hurdles are significant. Baseggio said, "I want to improve the quality of life of my employees, they could better use their time rather than inputting data and amending details."

With more than 60 business leaders for the study travel sector focused on dissecting such issues, there were many interesting views to be heard. One delegate warned that simplifying the booking process too much might lead to commoditisation of the product.

The issue of direct bookings also created sparks, with Weidenhielm arguing that every direct booking has a processing cost, and warning educators that developing a direct platform without consideration of agency partners could risk alienation.

All panellists agreed that further consolidation in the agency sector was also likely and delegates finished the day with some great talking points to continue over dinner and a yacht cruise.

First however was an inspiring speaker in the form of Nathan Farrugia, whose story of how he ran 27 full marathons in 27 days in 27 European countries provided motivational mettle. His experience of endurance and commitment were easily transferable from track to boardroom.

Given the senior rank of ALTO members, day 2 wrapped up with a business expert Nick Niemann giving advice on how to ensure a business's longevity by "fourth quarter" planning to ensure a business has long-term stability in the event of acquisition. An expert in growing and managing business as well as exit strategies, Niemann encouraged delegates to consider their evolving business model and back-up management plans. His insight and knowledge of big brand success was a great sign-off to the event focused on creative business solutions for leaders.  

The initial feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive, a more detailed follow up will be sent to all members shortly. As always, we have video recorded the sessions of our keynote speakers, please log in to the members' area and watch them online:

Adam Bryant: Lessons from the Corner Office- Indispensable and unexpected lessons from CEOs on how to lead and succeed
Nathan Farrugia: Breaking Limits for a Cause
Nick Niemann: Your Fourth Quarter Game Plan For Business Owner Succession and Pre-Exit Planning

A special thanks to David Niland from Galway Cultural Institute for the photos above featuring Adam Bryant, the Industry panel and the seminar room. 

Ed Ivy, David Walker, Declan Millar, Andrew Hutchinson, Amy Baker and Chris WalkerDavid Brown, Stephen Roberts and David AnthoniszFernando Aguilar and Juan Manuel Elizalde