An Expert View With…

andrew hjortANDREW HJORT

PRINCIPAL, Melton College

How does group travel fit into your language training role?

We host about 900 language students each year. Open groups join our advertised courses and are placed in classes with other students. Closed groups are different. They arrive as a group and are taught together, and are nearly always from the same school or college. Although we have had groups aged from 10-60+, the vast majority are mid to late teens. During their stay with us, visits form an important part of their experience.

What have you learnt about organising group visits for your students?

Groups are a fairly recent development for us, but are now a major part of what we do, particularly outside of the high season. We arrange visits and activities to fit in with projects and work being covered by the students back in their own country. Some of these are predictable (visits and activities based around literature or history), some – a whole course based around cricket springs to mind – less so!  Sometimes visits are chosen by the group, but we will nearly always make the arrangements and have a lot of influence in persuading groups to make changes. Price is an issue, particularly if there are two competing attractions in the same area. Required ratios of staff to students can also be a factor in our choices, as are other rules and restrictions. A lot will depend on the group, of course, but useful features would include reasonably priced catering and space to eat packed lunches. Safety is a concern and enclosed sites with no hazards are obviously popular with teachers! Finally, don’t forget the groups are often high spend and looking for presents. They may be noisy and touch everything in the shop, but they will often be very good customers.

Do you have tips on tailoring the british tourism offer to visitors’ expectations?

The image of the UK as seen from abroad has common features for most countries, but there are also some fascinating variations. Quite often, the central image is slightly dated, based on older guidebooks, traditional films and TV series that have been sold abroad. It’s important to understand how our self-image differs from our actual image abroad. It is worth knowing which aspects of UK culture have exported well and I would start with film, TV and books. For children and teenagers throughout the world, Alnwick Castle is Hogwarts, and the castle has utilised this! Goathland Station in the Yorkshire Dales is also well known to Potter fans, but is instantly recognisable to older visitors from Finland as Aidensfield Station from the TV series Heartbeat. That and Emmerdale still have an enthusiastic following in Finland! Likewise, we might associate Devon with Daphne Du Maurier or Agatha Christie but to a large market in Switzerland and Germany, it is home to Rosamunde Pilcher, an author not so well known here. If the film or the book is enduring then so is the association. The drawings in the Beatrix Potter books are incredibly popular in Japan and explain the very high Japanese numbers at her house, Hill Top, and possibly in the Lake District as a whole. We can build on other associations like British food. Yorkshire pudding, cream teas, haggis, and traditional British drink all generate interest. And also animals – we have even had a very successful collaboration with a Swiss travel agent based on the image of Yorkshire Terriers.

Andrew Hjort is Principal of Melton College, York, the oldest private language school in the north of England, which has welcomed students to York for over 50 years. He is Coordinator of English UK North, the regional group of language schools. He also represents English UK on the board of Accreditation UK, the most widely known and respected accreditation scheme for English Language Teaching institutions.