Malta’s English language schools are hoping that 2022 will be a positive one for the industry, as restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be lifted, making travel to the country easier and a stay more enjoyable.
Although 2021 was a torrid year for such schools, the Federation of English Language Teaching Organisations of Malta (FELTOM) said indications so far give cause for optimism.
In comments made to BusinessNow.mt, FELTOM CEO Caroline Tissot explained that bookings over the Easter period “are looking healthy, especially when compared to the bookings registered over the last two years”.
However, she quickly added that the numbers are still much lower than those registered in 2019.
“Interest in the summer programmes is increasing though the ongoing war in Ukraine is generating a sense of unease and prospective students are adopting a wait-and-see approach prior to finalising bookings.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, apart from contributing to general uncertainty, is also a problem for the industry due to the importance of the Russian source market for local English schools.
According to figures released by the Malta Tourism Authority, in 2019 Russia accounted for 7.2 per cent of all students travelling to Malta to learn English, making it the fourth largest source market, behind Italy (21.9 per cent), Germany (11.7 per cent) and France (10.6 per cent).
Ukraine does not make it to the top 10 source markets for the local English learning sector, but industry stakeholders confirm that it is also traditionally an important market.
Ms Tissot however explains that Russia and Ukraine’s position as key markets had waned during the pandemic, as their vaccine certificates were not recognised locally.
“They’ve been very quiet,” she says, noting that their loss pushed many schools to look at alternative markets to make up for the shortfall of students.
“Early in 2022 and prior to the outbreak of war, our member schools reported renewed interest from both Russia and Ukraine which, due to the unrest, has now stopped completely.”
In December, Ms Tissot had called out the “unfair” approach of authorities, noting that attendees to the popular SIGMA conference for the gaming industry who had received the Sputnik vaccine were not only allowed the enter the country but were also exempt from the required quarantine period – in stark contrast to the treatment afforded to English language students.
Recently, FELTOM reached out to the Ukrainian Honorary Consulate to offer its support.
“As a gesture of goodwill, our member schools are offering sponsorships of English language courses to any displaced Ukrainian nationals who fled their war-torn country and reached the safety of our shores, to help them integrate into society.”
Unfortunately, the English Language Teaching (ELT) sector has more than one conflict weighing down on its future plans. Ongoing strife in Libya is also interfering with plans to nurture ties with the North African market.
In December, Ms Tissot described the emergence of new markets like Libya as a source of hope for the industry, and called Libya’s potential “very promising”.
Four months on, she admits that while the Libyan market did generate a lot of interest, “it has yet to deliver due to logistical measures which still need to be addressed”.
“Even so,” she continues, “enquiries have been received and a number of bookings have also materialised.”
One source of good news for English schools is the announcement that travel rules will be loosened significantly, including the acceptance of negative PCR tests and recovery certificates in lieu of vaccination certificates for travellers to Malta.
“Our competing destinations have lifted measures and opened fully to travellers,” says Ms Tissot. “We need to get Malta ready to be as attractive as can be. It’s the only way to survive and thrive in these challenging conditions.”
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