Make Travel More Effective in 2020

Guest post by Ben Wilkey, Tour Director, AEO Tour. 

The nature of international recruitment is constantly changing. We are presented with a more competitive environment now than ever before in regards to the recruitment of international students. As more great options are available to international students in various countries around the world and in their home countries, what can universities and colleges do to make their travel more effective and increase their international student enrollment numbers? I would like to answer this question by providing some helpful advice, thoughts, and ideas from my experience as a former International Recruiter for Utah State University and now as a Tour Director for AEO Tour.

I would specifically like to talk about how to make your travel more effective by providing some tips on how to get more leads at school visits and fairs and then offer some general advice about what to do and where to go. Whether you are doing solo travel, small group travel, attending large fairs (paid or free), or using a paid tour service, the following tips below can help you be more effective on the road this next year.

How to get more leads at fairs and school visits?

Stay off your phone and computer
The thing I have seen countless times at college fairs and school visits that drives me nuts is when an institution’s representative is on their phone or computer. Just think for a second what kind of message this sends to prospective students, their parents, and counselors. Emails can wait, apps can wait – you flew all the way to that country to represent your institution and college fairs and school visits are only 30 minutes to a few hours long. Devote all of your time and attention to being present for the students, parents, and counselors and it will make a big difference.

Smile and be friendly
I know this sounds like common sense, but it will surprise you how many reps have a “mean mug” when they are at their table. A simple smile goes a long way. I noticed this when I was a recruiter and especially now that I am leading tours where I get to notice dozens of representatives and how they associate with students and operate at college fairs and school visits. It is not surprising that consistently the representatives that get the most leads are those that smile and are friendly.

Work on your closing
I used to be a door to door salesman and it was by far, the hardest job I have ever had. However, I am grateful for the experience as I have learned more from that job than any other. One important thing I have learned that I still use today is the term, “ABC – Always be closing”. Whether recruiters like to admit it or not, they are selling their institutions. After giving their pitch to prospective students at school visits or fairs, recruiters will generally half-confidently ask the prospective students to fill out an interest card. This close usually sounds like this, “Yeah, if you are interested in learning more, you could fill out this card?” A very common response that recruiters get after a close like that is, “Oh, I am just looking around. Can I just take a brochure?”.


AEO Tour photo - Singapore

Singapore school visit – AEO Tour Fall 2019

Now, I am not saying to pressure kids to sign up for something that they aren’t interested in or if it is not a good fit for them. I am referring to the situation where a student is interested and just by tweaking how you close your pitch to them could be the difference between getting them to fill out your contact card and having them just take a brochure. The close that I always used to give was, “You sound like an awesome student and you would love it here! (hand them a contact card and pen). Here, fill this out and I will send you more information.” Rather than suggesting a possibility to fill out a card, you confidently tell them to fill out a card, because they would love it there. It works almost every time. You don’t have to say those exact words, but be genuine, make it your own and try it out!

Keep your filled-out contact cards on the table (don’t put them away!)
There is a scene from “La La Land” where Ryan Gosling’s character shows up to his night job at a club, where he plays background piano. The first thing he does before he begins to play is pull out a few dollar bills and puts them into his empty tip jar. When I saw it, I started laughing, but then realized that I (as the customer) have never tipped an empty tip jar, but have felt much more inclined to tip when money was in the jar, especially if it had lots of money in it.

I liken this to recruiters and their contact cards. I noticed this when I was a recruiter and even more so as a tour director – most recruiters stash their filled-out cards from prospective students immediately after they are filled out. They either put them in their bag, or hide them behind their table banner. It seems weird, but most recruiters do it. I found I had much more success if I just left the filled-out cards on my table, because other prospective students that came by saw that other students had filled out the cards before and they weren’t the first ones. Students rarely like to be the first ones, especially in Asia. Try it out! Leave your filled-out cards on the table and see for yourself!

Send a poster/flyer of yourself to the school counselor before your visit
Whether you are doing solo travel, small group travel, attending a large school fair, or a part of a tour – send a poster/flyer of yourself and institution advertising your visit to the school counselor beforehand. I can’t tell you how many school counselors thanked me for sending it when I was a recruiter. They loved it and the students loved it! It is a way to stand out from other institutions in your group and it really shows you are interested in that particular school. It requires more work, but I promise you that it will make your visits more effective.

General travel advice

Understanding free fairs aren’t necessarily “free” or effective for everyone
Don’t get me wrong, I attended my fair share of free fairs abroad and I was grateful for all of the hard work put on by the hosts. Some were good, some were great, and some were a complete waste of time. The important thing regarding free fairs is knowing your institution and being realistic. Free college fairs abroad can be great to attend and meet students, but if you have a less well-known institution, you may be overlooked by so many other more famous institutions.

When I was recruiting for Utah State University, I didn’t have much success at these large free fairs, but had much more success on tours (usually around 15-30 institutions), small group travel, and solo travel. Regarding the free fairs, I would justify it that they were “free” and that lots of other institutions were going to be there. But, when I took an honest look at the effectiveness of the fair for me, calculating the cost of flights, hotels, transportation, and perhaps most importantly, time – the “free” fair suddenly became quite expensive, especially when I looked at the ROI.

If I were representing a more well-known institution, had connections to the host school or city, had lots of interest (past and present) in that city, and/or if it fit in my schedule perfectly, then I would capitalize all I could on the big free fairs. Otherwise, it may be more effective for you to participate in tours or small group travel.

Now is a great time to recruit in Southeast Asia
A positive that has come regarding the tariffs on China imposed by the US is that many companies have left and are leaving China and relocating in Southeast Asia. Economies in countries like Vietnam and Malaysia are booming now and it is a great time to recruit in these countries. I have spent most of last year working in Southeast Asia and specifically in Vietnam and Malaysia. I can tell from my own experience that the US remains the number one destination for students and families. According to ICAEW’s latest Economic Update: “Southeast Asia report”, Vietnam is expected to lead the region with the fastest growing economy once again. I have seen first-hand the result of economic growth as more and more factories are being built alongside enormous housing developments. It is an exciting time for this region and if you haven’t recruited in Southeast Asia, I would definitely put this as a place of importance next year.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam school visit - AEO Tour Fall 2019

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam school visit – AEO Tour Fall 2019

The company I work for, AEO Tour, has been running international student recruitment tours in Southeast Asia for 34 years and we focus solely in this area. We run two tours a year (March and September) and the deadline for the Spring tour is January 17th, 2020. If you would like to learn more about AEO Tour, please visit

I hope this information is helpful for you and that 2020 will be your best and most effective year yet. If you would like to reach out to me with any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you. My email is