As part of our series of blogs about Chinese university and school students, we interviewed two specialists in the global study tour market in China about their thoughts on the market.
Interview with Mr Wenfeng, Product Manager,
Educational Tourism Department
CTO: Some industry partners tell us that the USA is doing better than the UK in the education tourism market at the moment. Is that true? Our clients in the UK will be really interested to know what exactly the differences are between the two destinations in terms of this market.
Mr. Wenfeng: Firstly, yes, America is the most desirable destination for the education tourism market. There are few reasons in my opinion:
- The diversity of learning course: there are more options in the U.S., from language study, astronomy camps, drama schools to art courses. But the UK is more just for language study.
- Culture recognition: we have to acknowledge the strong culture influence of the states, from Hollywood and Disneyland to high tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Tesla, Apple, etc. These brands very much impact on our daily life here in China. From parents to students, they have better knowledge of America than the UK. But of course, if we talk about history and heritage, UK is much more competitive to the States.
- Wider options geographically: In the states, the language schools are spread out across the entire country and each different region has unique features and landscapes. If we talk about language study in the UK, I’m sure most parents will ask why not London, as the impression we all have is that London is the place to learn the most authentic British English.
- Universities: there are more top universities based in the States, but only a few UK based world-class universities that Chinese people are familiar with.
- The cost: Obviously, the cost is also a key factor and UK education trips are more expensive than a study trip to the US.
- Information accessibility: We have better access to the suppliers, schools in the states, but not in UK. The US-based schools and training camps will do regular roadshows and product training or they will point a rep in China to do market development. That has made it much easier for agents like us to get first-hand information.
CTO: What about royal culture, isn’t that a unique feature that the UK has above all the other destinations?
Mr. Wenfeng: Well, it is true that royal culture, history and heritage are good selling points for an in-depth culture experience tour, but we have to understand what students and parents are really looking for. If the key objective is study and school experience, it would be better to focus on something ‘inspirational’ for the future like technology or innovation. Royal culture and life are too far from real life. It’s a shame if the old great empire is still the impression we have about the UK, I believe UK leads the world in many aspects, do we have information and programs to offer to Chinese students?
CTO: What are the key factors influencing the decision-making by the parents?
Mr. Wenfeng: Safety of course, but apart from that, first, will be the School. Second, the details. School is easy to understand; its ranking worldwide, what program is offered etc. By details, I mean the arrangements during free time, where and what to see, how is that relevant to the study etc. For instance, whether there is special course at the museums, or how many world-renowned universities are included in the itinerary, etc.
CTO: Given the current political environment between China and the US, do you think the parents will consider more sending their child to the UK? In other words, do you think now the UK has an opportunity to catch up or even surpass the USA in the education tourism market outbound from China?
Mr. Wenfeng: That’s for sure. Based on the current political and media environment, it’s not hard to say that there will be a difficult time for promoting US destination in the period of post COVID-19. UK comes after the US as No.2 most popular education tourism destination. If the tourism board and suppliers could foresee this and seize the opportunity, I don’t see there is any reason why the UK could not surpass the US.
CTO: We have noticed that most of the UK products are bit similar, visiting landmarks, world-class university… British Museum, British Museum, British Museum… In fact, there are so many exciting museums in London and across the country, but why do you only include the British Museum? Do you think there is a chance to add in more museums into one itinerary?
Mr. Wenfeng: For obvious reasons, the British Museum is must-go attraction. And the other reason is that the students have limited time for touring. But if there are museum programs especially for the student market, for sure, the agents are more than happy to broaden their products. But as far as I know, it’s a quite a challenge for most museums due to limited manpower. It’s equally important to do more targeted promotion in China, keep the high awareness in both the travel industry and the consumer market.
Interview with Ms Liu Na, Product Manager
Educational Tourism Department
China CYTS International Travel Service
CTO: What is the core educational travel product that you have been operating in recent years?
Ms. Liu: The Cambridge University Summer Camp is the most popular. Students study in school from Monday to Friday, and enjoy tour arrangements at the weekend. Basically, they have a chance to visit the landmarks in London, such as British Museum, Big Ben… and those attractions alongside the Thames. We also arrange a day tour to Bath and somewhere a bit further, when there are requests from clients. Or, we just leave it to the school if they have tour arrangements in the itinerary.
CTO: It seems that the weekend tour is just fine, but most agents offer a similar tour itinerary in their educational products. Why are the tour itineraries not perhaps as creative and exciting as they could be?
Ms Liu: There are few reasons. First, lack of destination knowledge. The European tourism department product managers are not only familiar with European destinations, but also have more access to destination training programs, roadshows, FAM trips, educational programs specially designed for them etc. The Educational Tourism department has less accessibility to those programs, we are more focused on school resources. Therefore, the sightseeing part is a bit weak within educational tours. Secondly, the touring time is limited, we have to include the major landmarks in the itinerary, as the majority of students are first time visitors to the UK. Thirdly, we don’t really have museum activity resources as you mentioned. If we had accessibility to book museums’ activities for our clients, we would definitely be willing to diversify our products.
CTO: What are the challenges you are facing in term of product development?
Ms Liu: Lack of school and activity information resources, at the moment, the world-renowned universities are the key ones that we are promoting, it would be really good if we are able to access more different schools overseas. It would be helpful to have proper training, or a roadshow – somewhere we can meet all school reps at once, to be better trained with new product knowledge.
CTO: What are the key factors that impact on the decision making by parents and students when they chose a study tour product?
Ms. Liu: The school is always the first concern when it comes to decision making, obviously Oxford and Cambridge are the most popular ones. Frankly, the sightseeing itinerary is not the key factor in this case, but if the museums and heritage sites could provide some special programs, it will definitely be an add-on value and enhance the product competitiveness in the market.
CTO: Which are the most popular destinations for educational tourism in the market?
Ms. Liu: U.S. has been always ranked as the number one destination in the student market. There are more school options in the States, and more importantly, we have more information resources about the schools and activities. In other words, there are more potential resources and information offered by local suppliers.
CTO: What is your major market resource?
Ms. Liu: We cooperate with China based schools and education organizations. To recruit students one by one from the FIT market is very difficult, I’m not saying impossible, but for sure, it take more time and effort. It is way more efficient to work with Education organizations such as language schools and special talent training schools.
Interviews held in Beijing : June 2020