Interview: About FDSV,
the German Association of Language Tour Operators
In an interview with ASTUR, chairman of the German Association of Language Tour Operators (FDSV) Peter Schuto describes the tasks of the organisation, discusses advantages for consumers, who need to find trustworthy operators in the vast field of language travel for adolescents, and gives insight into recent developments within the world of language tour associations.
FDSV has links to a number of other associations in the field of youth travel, in particular to the German Association for High School Programmes (DFH). The majority of DFH members are at the same time members of FDSV and partly also associated with the German Youth Travel Association (Reisenetz e. V.). The German associations of this sector are generally very well interconnected, owed to the comparable portfolio of their associated members.
Certified language tour operators are particularly reliable in a number of ways. Our members allow the independent FDSV council to inspect their product portfolio with regards to transparency and truthfulness. Furthermore, all language school managed by the operator are audited on a regular basis. Our certifications provide an independent quality label for the consumer.
Basically, FDSV members are willing to stand by the promises made in their service offers. Take a standard language course, for example. An operator may promise not to exceed a maximum number of students per language course and stand behind such a guarantee; or they make only vague statements and eventually create language courses of varying group sizes depending on other circumstances. Such variations may in fact prove financially beneficial to operators but detrimental to the students' educational experience.
First of all, both terms need to be defined. Primarily, the terms talk about the responsibility of operators and agencies in legal terms. Agencies manage one or more language schools, but don't assume liability for their offered services. They can be roughly compared to a travel agency.
Operators do hold complete liability for all language tours they offer. They are responsible for tour organisation, realisation and quality standards of any booked service from start to finish.
The difference between the two becomes crucial, whenever something is not handled according to a client's expectations and - naturally - booked services. When clients have to settle such a situation with an agency, they have no choice but to contact the the language school abroad directly. When you deal with an operator, it is their responsibility to settle any issue for you.
The major difference is that agencies employ terms and conditions of a third party, such as a language school located abroad, while operators hold liability according to their own terms and conditions within a national legal framework (in our case Germany). For consumers this brings with it two considerable advantages. First, the legal framework for travelling in Germany is rather consumer-friendly. Secondly, if it has to come to this, German courts shall have jurisdiction for disputes with German operators. This condition makes it easier for consumers to settle issues through one court in Germany, as opposed to possibly a number of courts in several countries.
Until recently, FDSV was an association for outgoing tour operators exclusively, paying attention to the German market and German tour operators sending adolescents abroad.
Ever since its last general assembly in March, this has officially changed. FDSV had been reconsidering its stance on incoming tour operators for about two years. Now FDSV includes operators who hold language camps in Germany for German and international students to learn a new language. Incoming and outgoing operators have to meet the same requirements set by the association. This ranges from content to quality standards or frameworks. We don't differentiate between an operator who sends students to Great Britain to study English and another one who invites students to Germany to study German or any other language. FDSV sees itself as an association for language tour operators in the aforementioned legal sense, not language schools. Our members have to include in their programmes a combination of travel services. Our foundation is the European norm EN 14804 (defining the requirements for language study tour providers). This norm not only applies in Europe, but is on par with language tour requirements all over the world.
Most foreign countries which are the destinations for the majority of our members' services possess an active body of associations. Or there can be found institutions upholding quality standards. Examples range from British Council in Great Britain to FLE in France. The most striking difference between those associations and FDSV is that they concentrate on incoming language travel.