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STUDY TRAVEL MAGAZINE - ASTOI's ‘travel study’ division

STUDY TRAVEL MAGAZINE - ASTOI's ‘travel study’ division

30 Maggio 2019

This week, we interview Flavia Franceschini, General Manager of Italian tour operator association ASTOI, about the activities of the association and the Italian outbound language study sector.

 Firstly, can you please introduce the overall ASTOI organisation to us?

Founded in 2000, ASTOI currently represents over 90 per cent of the Italian tour operators’ market, and has become the key point of reference for all the institutions, media and stakeholders in the Italian tourism sector. Today, ASTOI is therefore a highly representative professional association, with whom most of the tourism operators identify themselves and is a high-quality organisation with the expertise to be able to successfully guide and represent the sector’s leading companies.

ASTOI is an independent business association within Federturismo Confindustria, based in the Confindustria headquarters in Rome. 

 According to the statute, the mission of the association is:

  •        to provide legal and trade union representation to every business member and to protect their economic, professional and cultural interests;
  •        to perform national and international activities in order to promote an organised tourism industry as a factor of progress;
  •        to provide the group members with legal, tax, administrative and other kind of advice;
  •        to promote training courses for human resources;
  •        to boost relationships between intermediary travel agencies, primary service providers and their associations;
  •        to give the right media coverage of the tour operators’ activities, of the guaranties they offer as well as of every law or measures which are taken for the protection of consumers' interests;
  •        to develop collaboration with other touristic associations;
  •        to introduce proposals and initiatives to political, economic, trade union, cultural, university – national and international - institutions and organisations, who are interested in the development of the organised tourism industry, protecting and representing their members’ interests.


ASTOI also protects the final consumer.

In compliance with law 115/2015, which has established the repeal of the National Public Guarantee Fund under the MIBACT and it has introduced the obligation - from 1st July 2016 - for tour operators and travel agencies, to independently equip themselves with a coverage for the risk of insolvency or bankruptcy, ASTOI has created its own Guarantee Fund which, in such cases, guarantees customers the refund of the price paid for the purchase of the tourist package and the return to the place of departure, using a 24-hour operations centre, active 365 days per year.

ASTOI has also recently launched a multi-channel communication campaign (in print, TV and digital) to promote to the final consumer the importance of relying on the organised tourism chain, an added value that can satisfy every need.

It is a "system" campaign aimed at making travellers understand that the success of a holiday is guaranteed only if one relies on experts - tour operators and travel agencies - that is, professionals who have all responsibility for the services provided, who know how to advise and guide the customer, relieving them of any worries or doubts.

And please tell us about the education division within ASTOI. 

Twenty per cent of our associates are established companies in this sector that organises study trips abroad; they have important certifications for quality standards of their services. Moreover, they collaborate with important Italian and international institutions, universities and foreign colleges. ASTOI's ‘travel study’ division covers European and non-European destinations with different types of courses and destinations.

The 15 tour operators that constitute the division are: Accademia Britannica, Avec, Euro Master Studies, Giocamondo, Inter Studioviaggi, Itermar Tour Operator, Language Team, MB Scambi Culturali, MLA – Move Language Ahead, STS Education, Trinity Viaggistudio, Travel4target, You Abroad, Wep – World Education Program, Master Explorer.

In addition to a regular coordination with the ASTOI management, every two months, the representatives of the tour operators members of this division have a meeting in order to discuss any relevant issues and to identify the best solutions.

What has the education department been up to in the last year?

Thanks to the fruitful dialogue with the INPS’ Credit and Welfare section, it has been possible to discuss and share the set-up of the INPS calls for study trips by presenting some proposals aimed at improving the usability of the calls and also highlighting the application criticalities for the operators.

Thus, some important results have been obtained, such as the release of the INPS call three months before the normal practice, the simplification of some procedures and, more importantly, the commitment by the authority to inform its own users (final customers of tour operators) about the legal requirements necessary to carry out the activity of a tour operator, in order to sensitise them in the choice and in order to direct them towards legitimate and qualified operators for this work.

In particular, ASTOI has supported the INPS by sending a document that illustrates and lists all the obligations pursuant to law that a TO must carry out for its activity (license, RC, technical director, coverage for bankruptcy or insolvency risk, CCIAA registration, etc). This is because, at the moment, unfortunately, there is no qualified supplier register and the INPS user can freely choose on the market, risking to rely on subjects that could not carry out the activity (eg ACLI, non-profit associations, institutions of various nature, etc).

Moreover, ASTOI has reported to the appropriate Ministry - MIUR - the critical points raised by our associates who propose language stays abroad linked to the POR and PON projects; ASTOI has also sent proposals for solutions aimed at conferring homogeneity to the calls.

How is business in the Italian study travel market from ASTOI’s perspective? Are there any particular trends emerging?

Regarding the study courses abroad, there is a tendency to travel more during the summer holidays, and on average with packages of two weeks: for students from 14-to-16 years old the European countries are the most frequently requested ones, whereas students from 16-to-19 years old are also really interested in non-European destinations, such as the USA, Canada, Russia and the far-off Australia.

English is the first and main choice as language that students want to improve; Spanish and some emerging languages, such as Russian and Chinese, are also of great interest for the new generations; the learning of French and German is less requested.

Lately, “thematic” study holidays, such as sport cams p or those linked to the study of journalism or the cultural ones driven by visits to important universities, are having great success.

The High School Program is also of great interest for young Italian students because it gives them the opportunity to attend a period of studies (from three to six months) in a foreign school, having a full immersion in that lifestyle, living in a college or with a local family.

The Italian language study market is really the star of the industry in Europe and is by far the biggest source country for the UK, Ireland and Malta. Why is there such strong demand for overseas English study in Italy do you think?

The great demand for study trips abroad by Italian students is most probably due to a demerit of the Italian school compared to European standards - especially regarding the teaching of English language - and to an increasing desire of Italian young people to visit foreign countries. It follows the need for Italian students to participate in linguistic stays abroad to improve their language skills, with a view to a possible future job abroad.

What issues are affecting the outbound study travel market in Italy, and what is ASTOI doing to address those issues?

One of the main problems is surely that unauthorised and illegal TOs damage the professional image of the competent TO, such as those belonging to our sssociation.

Exactly for this reason, in order to prevent users from turning to operators that do not guarantee the necessary professionalism for this type of stay, ASTOI has developed a sort of "vademecum" containing information about the requirements of companies and the minimum standards of services contained in this type of packages, aimed at guiding users in the choice.

Are members concerned about the impact of Brexit, and particularly the ID card issue? Are organisations encouraging that Italians apply for passports to avoid this problem in the future?

After a few years of declining demand for the specific destination, in 2017 our associates have showed an increase in requests for language courses in the UK. The collapse of the pound is certainly the main reason for this newfound attractiveness of the United Kingdom.

Regarding to the ID Card and passport issues, I prefer to report here what is mentioned in Viaggiare Sicuri website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Crisis Unit:

"The British government has indicated that the UK's exit process from the EU will not, at least until to December 2020, bring any changes to the legislation that regulates the documentation required for entry into the country, both in the case of negotiated "Brexit" and of "No deal".

Obviously all the ASTOI Tour Operators will be ready to implement any new regulations if necessary. In any case, our associates working in the sector have always strongly recommended the use of passports among young people, and also to encourage them to visit non-EU countries to live important international experiences.

What does ASTOI, and particularly the education department, have planned for the next few months?

On the occasion of a forthcoming meeting, the representatives of the interested tour operators will discuss possible problems and solutions aimed at improving the operation and usability of the INPSIEME summer calls (thematic stays in Italy, summer camps in Europe, language courses abroad) and the ITACA Program, a study programme designed to spend a term time in a EU/non-EU country.

Moreover, ASTOI is currently planning many actions to enhance the visibility of the education division on an international scale.