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German outbound language travel market recovered to pre-pandemic levels in 2022

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • A recent survey of German language travel agencies indicates that outbound language travel from Germany has slightly exceeded 2019 levels
  • English remains by far the language in greatest demand, and the UK continues to claim the largest share of outbound students from Germany
  • However, top European destinations — notably Spain, France, and Italy – recorded important gains in market share in 2022

The 2022 annual report from the German Association of Language Travel Organizers (FDSV) finds that outbound language travel from Germany has recovered to a level slightly above pre-pandemic volumes.

Based on a survey of 17 language travel agencies in Germany, representing an estimated 25% of the total market, the FDSV estimates the value of language travel bookings increased by 11.3% between 2019 and 2022 while the number of outbound students increased by just under 4%.

Roughly seven in ten outbound German students pursue English language studies (down nearly 10% from the 79% share of market for English studies in 2019). In contrast, demand for Spanish studies increased from about 10% (pre-pandemic) to nearly 17% in 2022. French (9% of outbound in 2022) and Italian (7%) were among the other top language choices for German students. The growth in demand Spanish, French, and Italian, notes FDSV, “Is certainly due to the COVID-related focus on European language travel destinations.”

Top destinations

Not surprisingly, the UK remains the leading study destination for German language students and was the choice of just over 35% of outbound students in 2022. This was down, however, from the roughly 50% share of British providers before the pandemic. “The total number of participants in Great Britain was comparatively very high in 2019 at 50.11%, as many used the year 2019 for a language trip to Great Britain before Brexit,” adds the FDSV.

“Malta has settled back into second place with 22.45% [of bookings for 2022],” adds the report, “[for] an increase of 4.98%…Due to the pandemic, some European destinations that could be entered without any problems were also able to increase significantly. Spain recorded an increase of 7.21% compared to 2019 to [reach 15.01% of outbound in 2022], France increased its participation by 2.82% to 8.82% and Italy recorded 3.29%, an increase of 1.07%.”

The average length of stay for German language students was just under two weeks (representing a slight increase over 2019). Just over four in ten outbound students were adults, with juniors accounting for the majority of bookings at just under 60%.

FDSV notes as well that many language travel agencies narrowed the range of programmes on offer in 2022 (relative to pre-COVID times), adding that, “Due to COVID-19, the companies offered a reduced selection. Agencies also shifted their marketing spend more notably to online channels in 2022, with roughly 80% of budgets focused on digital marketing.

Looking ahead for 2023

Even with the encouraging rebound in outbound numbers, it is clear that the 2022 results were still heavily impacted by the pandemic. FDSV explains: “It was not until spring 2022 that the Corona requirements, especially in the European destinations, were relaxed and language trips could take place again. Therefore, language trips within Europe were mainly requested and booked. Countries such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand only relaxed their corona requirements very late last year, so that bookings have fallen significantly compared to 2019. The FDSV is therefore forecasting increased demand for long-distance travel destinations in the current year.”

The association notes that the war in Ukraine, along with the pandemic, have had a major impact on group bookings for juniors, a market segment that is expected to strengthen this year: “Especially with young people, safety is the top priority and parents weigh up to the last whether the safety situation allows them to send their child on a language trip. For this reason, school trips have mostly been canceled without replacement during the pandemic. The association also expects high demand in this segment in the current year.”

While many areas of uncertainty remain for 2023 – notably rising inflation and the post-Brexit travel context for the UK – the FDSV is optimistic for a further expansion of the market this year. “Pupils and school leavers in particular are thirsty for language learning formats and the demand for educational leave is also picking up again…After all the restrictions and challenges of recent years…people want to travel again and learn and experience the language.”

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