English language schools have experienced another drop in bookings, citing a recent spike in COVID-19 cases acting as a deterrent to students’ cautious parents.

The industry has been operating at just 9% of last year’s occupancy throughout July and was looking at 10% in August.

However, the CEO of the Federation of English Language Teaching Organisations Malta, James Perry, said language schools have seen further booking cancellations following an increase in coronavirus cases.

Last week, a group of 24 Danish language students aged 15-16 were put in isolation after their group leader tested positive for the virus following an all-weekend pool party. On Saturday, the new cases included six linked to “a language school cluster”, as did three of the cases on Sunday.

The federation is currently working with Deloitte on an impact assessment to see how the latest occupancy trends will impact the industry.

“We have to understand that most of the demographic of students are teens and youngsters. If something happens that is of great concern to parents, in this case a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, then they’re not going to take the risk and travel,” Perry said.

“Travel education is one of the first industries to take a hit because of the nature of the business.

“It typically takes anywhere between three to six months to convert a booking into a sale. Unlike regular travel, education travel cannot be finalised as quickly, there are a lot of different decisions that the student usually needs time to consider.”

Last year, the industry saw some 40,000 students from overseas go through the doors of language schools. But with the first round of COVID-19 restrictions in March coming at a peak season for the industry, schools were only seeing meagre fractions of those numbers.

“We reopened on July 1 in solidarity with the government, despite the low numbers, partially because we believe in a gradually restarting the economy,” Perry said.

“But the reopening of the airport was somewhat abrupt, we were informed maybe a month in advance. And the fact that mass events were allowed to go on was a worry.”

“We are now once again in a fresh cancellation stage, with a lot of students wary and unwilling to travel.” Perry also said that on top of low numbers, schools were also running up costs to cater to the current students.

“Because English as a foreign language is taught at five different levels, a group of 10 students don’t necessarily equate to a single class, but potentially up to five different classes,” he said.

“In order to not lose credibility, schools still need to cater for the level of every student and with such a diluted intake of students, this has meant driving up costs on resources for fragments of the return.”

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