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On the move

BONARD’s Ivana Bartosik and international education experts discuss travel trends for English language learners, post-COVID.

Uneven recovery across destinations in 2023 continues as the ELT Travel sector emerges from the pandemic crisis, shaped by new trends.

Looking back at the now seemingly distant past, 2022 brought mixed recovery. The return to English language student mobility was built around three main challenges: capacity issues, such as teachers, accommodation, flights, as well as visa application workload; ongoing restrictions in key markets; and increased costs.

As an established model, BONARD’s annual research into the global ELT sector spans eight destinations – Australia, Canada, Ireland, Malta, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and the USA – and serves as a comprehensive performance benchmark for the sector. The figures given are based on student weeks. This is because, in a sector where students can enrol in language centres for between four days to an academic year, or longer, this gives a more accurate picture of the student income per market.

Destination benchmark: obstacle race with mixed results

Source: BONARD, 2023

In 2022, the sector recovered 63% of its pre-pandemic student week volume and 55% of its student numbers. However, recovery was not uniform, and varied on a destination-to-destination basis.

In terms of absolute numbers, Australia registered the best performance, followed by Canada, which enjoyed a robust Q4 in 2022. While in 2021 Canada was the best-performing study destination, accounting for the largest number of student weeks spent, complications with visa processing in the second half of the year prevented Canada from achieving a more positive recovery in 2022. Visa processing times and grant rates are key factors that will determine Canada’s standing in 2023.

The UK also registered an impressive increase in the number of student weeks between 2021 and 2022, but it still has a long way to go to reach its 2019 market volume. With a limited recovery from some of its key source markets and Brexit redirecting some students to other ELT destinations, the country reached 53% of the pre-pandemic situation.

The recovery for the USA was slower in 2022 compared to other major destinations. In 2022, the USA welcomed 70,579 students, which represents 52% of its pre-pandemic volume. The USA saw a decline in numbers even before 2019, and factors such as long visa processing times and visa denials hampered growth.

Source: BONARD, 2023

Conversely, Malta and Ireland enjoyed a strong rebound in 2022. In fact, Malta was the only destination to outperform its 2019 levels, while Ireland was very close to achieving this significant milestone, recording a 97% recovery.

Source markets ranking: LATAM going strong, while Asia slowly recovers

Dr Ivana Bartosik, BONARD’s International Education Director, explains, “The global sector is reconfiguring, with markets in LATAM growing fast and other traditionally strong source countries which the sector relied upon – such as China and Italy, for example – being slower than expected in their recovery. BONARD’s data, which provides a power ranking of the 90 largest source countries in the world, points to some important shifts in the global landscape.

Source: BONARD, 2023

Key highlights

Latin America showed the greatest rebound, recovering 87% of its 2019 student weeks in 2022. With the exception of Brazil, the largest markets in the region (Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador) registered impressive growth between 2021 and 2022, and fully recovered their 2019 market volume. Initial data for 2023 points to continued growth from the region, mostly to Australia and Canada.

Japan outperformed China to become the largest market in Asia. China dropped to the 4th spot as a result of the travel restrictions, which were only removed earlier this year. The rebound in group travel, in particular, is expected to manifest itself in summer 2024.

The return to the new normal in Italy lagged behind other EU markets. The country only reached 57% of its pre-pandemic volume, which was far below the European average of 80%. Italy is the largest source market for junior students. The market has continued to gradually recover in 2023; however, it still lags behind the other European markets and has not reached its pre-pandemic volumes.

Turkey posted impressive year-on-year growth, which resulted in a 97% market recovery. Strong demand for English abroad continued to translate into bookings throughout the first half of 2023.

Image courtesy of Library
Ivana Bartosik
Ivana Bartosik
Ivana Bartosik, PhD, is an International Education Director at BONARD. She specialises in bespoke market reports applying both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Over the course of six years, she has worked on numerous projects for associations, education agencies and individual education providers providing data-driven guidance.
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