Short on time? Here are the highlights:
- Destination marketing organisations are becoming increasingly active in international student marketing
- Many are developing, or are already implementing, formal international student marketing strategies
- Some take a very broad view of destination marketing, with initiatives and services that contribute to student recruitment, student satisfaction during the term of study, and alumni engagement
- DMOs are also emerging as an important lever for the recruitment marketing carried out by individual institutions and agents, and as an enabler of new partnerships among government departments, institutions, and travel operators
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) points out that international travel has skyrocketed over the last 50 years or so. In the mid-1950s, there were 25 million international arrivals whereas last year there were 1.2 billion. The UN travel agency conservatively predicts that this number will reach 1.8 billion international arrivals by 2030. As these numbers suggest, tourism is big business – in fact, it now accounts for a staggering 10% of world GDP.
And youth travel – broadly framed as travellers aged 16-30-years-old – has seen corresponding growth. Younger international travellers amounted to roughly 270 million in 2015, or about 23% of all international arrivals, and are projected to reach 360 million by 2030.
The UNWTO notes as well that youth travellers have a profound impact on the travel landscape. They tend to stay longer for one thing and this means that the average spend of younger travellers (at €3,000/US$3,300) considerably outstrips the global average of €750 (US$823).
Youth travellers are also early adopters for new destinations. “They are less service oriented,” says the UNWTO’s Eunji Tae, “and more experience oriented.” And because they are heavily engaged online and via mobile, this “always on” generation can help to quickly attract more travellers to both established and new destinations. This means in turn that they are driving a pronounced shift in tourism marketing as well, one that sees the industry changing its orientation not just from B2B (business-to-business) to B2C (business-to-consumer) but now also P2P (peer-to-peer).
Where student travel fits in
Student travel is a significant, high-value component of the broader youth travel market. With 4.5 million post-secondary students abroad, another 2.3 million for language travel, and roughly 400,000 overseas for K-12 study, the market is valued at about US$120 billion per year.
The international education market research firm StudentMarketing calculates that a destination realises €10 million (US$11 million) in economic impact – and support for 300 full-time jobs – for every 1,000 international students that it hosts. Part of this impact is derived from the fact that foreign students, along with their family and friends, tend to make repeated visits to their destination country, region, and city. Further, as many as 30-40% of student travellers wish to stay, work, and live in the destination after graduation. This means the student travel segment is also “a great source for acquiring a talented, skilled workforce,” adds StudentMarketing CEO Samuel Vetrak.
The scale and scope of that economic impact is not lost on tourism marketers and StudentMarketing points out that there are increasing numbers of destination marketing organisations (DMOs) actively engaged in promoting student travel. This subject was in focus earlier this week at a special “Destinations Meet Student Travel” forum that was convened just before the ICEF Berlin Workshop.
Education-focused DMOs are now active at the country, region, and city levels, and they are helping to drive new partnerships with allied groups, including government ministries, institutions, airlines, and other travel operators. Many are also developing, or are now implementing, formalised international student marketing strategies.
Many of the new linkages arising from expanded DMO activity in student marketing are informed by the underlying economic impacts of student travel that we noted above. “Data talks,” agrees Study Melbourne’s Jane Favaloro. “The more specific we can be about consumer behaviour and student mobility patterns, the more we can make the case that an education strategy or brand has to cut across all [government and tourism] sectors.”
Ms Favaloro stresses as well the importance of P2P marketing, and the power of the student experience in driving awareness and interest in a destination. “Authenticity is the new authority,” she adds in remarking on the strong experience orientation of student travellers as well as their readiness to share experiences online.
The Study Melbourne approach recognises that different students will have different needs at each point of their interaction with the destination.
ICEF VP Asia Pacific Rod Hearps agrees and provides several concrete examples of DMOs that are focused on major aspects of that broader student experience, including recruitment, student satisfaction and retention, and alumni relations. The opportunity for tourism organisations, in recognition of this more-complete student experience model, ranges from recruitment campaigns that promote the destination to special welcome and orientation services for new arrivals to alumni outreach.
Particularly on the recruitment side, some of the more prominent DMO initiatives in student travel have focused on online channels, including the use of video, social media, and messaging platforms.
Mr Hearps notes the example of a recent Education New Zealand campaign that offered three years of scholarships (one semester per student per year) for foreign students to study in New Zealand. A 2014 pilot of the campaign saw 1,000 students from 615 US universities enter to win a scholarship package that included return flights to New Zealand (in partnership with STA Travel), a semester’s tuition at a New Zealand university, institute, or polytechnic, and an accommodation stipend. A year following the campaign, visa issuances to first-time US students in New Zealand increased by 23%.
An advertisement for the Education New Zealand scholarship campaign.
In another compelling example of an initiative aimed more at reinforcing and promoting student experience, Study Melbourne’s “Ultimate Day Out” campaign provides foreign students with an all-expense-paid day excursion in the surrounding Victoria region.
The trip occurs at the end of the academic year with the experience of winning students captured in a bilingual video series. The videos are released in partnership with each student’s host institution, and promoted in their home countries as well (which recently included Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Indonesia, India, and Australia).
Study Melbourne has also played a role in strengthening the student experience by establishing a special welcome desk for international students arriving in the city. The service provides information on temporary accommodation, transportation, general information, and a free welcome pack, from multilingual staff.
A similar welcome service operates at the Sydney International Airport with funding from the Study New South Wales and Destination New South Wales DMOs (along with several other institutional and association sponsors). In an interesting twist that benefits both the participating volunteers and arriving students, it is staffed by local and international student volunteers via an integrated work-study programme.
Beyond welcome and orientation services, other DMO-related initiatives are exploring issues around work experience for international students, student housing, and alumni relations. They also pursue a wide range of marketing initiatives, including market research, trade missions, media campaigns, and familiarisation tours.
In a nod to the P2P aspect of student travel marketing, Study Queensland has also looked to video as its medium of choice for providing a window into the experience of foreign students in the region. The regional DMO runs a “Best Semester Abroad” competition through which students are invited to create their own YouTube videos of up to a minute long. The winning students, along with receiving special contest prizes, also become international student ambassadors for Queensland and in that capacity then make regular video and social media posts about their study experience in the region.
As these examples suggest, DMOs are becoming increasingly active in student travel marketing. Their efforts represent an important lever for the international recruitment activities of both educators and agents, but they also open the door to new and more effective, integrated approaches for both promoting a given destination but then also strengthening the student experience and helping to drive student and alumni engagement.
For more on destination marketing, please see “Leading with the destination: A case study in location-based marketing” and “Where are you? The importance of location in international recruiting”.