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Describe the overall business model of american institute

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    As often before, they had discussed foreign exchange hedging, an area of key importance for the company. AIFS received most of its revenues in American Dollars (USD), but incurred its costs in other currencies, primarily Euros (EUR) and British Pounds (GBP). The currency mismatch was natural given AIFS’s business: it organized educational and cultural exchange programs throughout the world. Two of AIFS’s major divisions served American students traveling abroad. The Study Abroad College division, where Archer-Lock was controller and treasurer, sent college-age students to universities worldwide for semester-long programs, and the High School Travel division, whose finances Tabaczynski managed, organized 1-4 week trips for high school students and their teachers. Currency hedging helped AIFS protect its bottom line from damaging exchange rate changes. Using currency forward contracts and currency options (Appendix 1 summarizes currency instruments). AIFS hedged its future cost commitments up to two years in advance. The problem was that the hedge had to be put in place before AIFS had completed its sales cycle, and before it knew exactly how much foreign currency it needed. The dilemma meant that Archer-Lock and Tabaczynski frequently discussed two points. First, what percentage of the expected costs should they cover? Currently, AIFS covered 100%. Second, in what proportions should AIFS use forward contracts and options? Today, Tabaczynski had promised Archer-Lock to put together scenarios for how changes in sales and exchange rates could affect the company. He was eager to see what she meant.
    AIFS Activities and Business Model Through its family of companies, AIFS sent more than 50,000 students each year on academic and
    cultural exchange programs worldwide. Founded in the U.S. in 1964 by Sir Cyril Taylor (HBS MBA 1961) the group had annual revenues close to $200 million. Two of the group’s main divisions focused on Americans traveling abroad:

    •The College division organized study abroad programs for more than 5,000 American university-aged students during the academic year (Academic Year and Semester, AYS) or the summer (College Summer School, CSS.) All courses were for academic credit, with most participants traveling to Europe, and a significant portion to the United Kingdom. Countries with study programs included Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Russia, South Africa and Spain.

    • The Boston-based High School Travel division had been founded in 1978 as the American Council for International Studies (ACIS) and organized chaperoned educational travel for about 20,000 high school students and teachers annually. The groups traveled on 1- to 4-week
    educational trips to Europe, China, Mexico, Africa, Australia and the Americas. For most participants, these trips were their first exposure to foreign countries, and so AIFS organized the whole trip: airfare, transportation, hotels, tour manager, guides etc.

    Overall, the College division had higher margins than the “low margin/high volume” operations of the ACIS division. ACIS was also more exposed to world events than the College division. High school travelers reacted immediately to news of war, terrorism or political uncertainty. Sales could drop up to 60% on such news. In the last 25 years, four events had led to such drops in ACIS sales: the 1986 terrorism acts, the 1991 Gulf War, the 2001 September 11 attacks and the 2003 Iraq war. AIFS also ran several other programs, such as an Au Pair division which annually placed 4,000 young people in American homes to assist with child care, and the Camp America division, which placed 10,000 young people as camp leaders in USA summer camps. AIFS also arranged Academic Year in America (AYA) for students wanting to study in the U.S. Catalogs, Guarantees and Pricing

    By and large, AIFS’s business was “catalog-based.” The College division distributed two main catalogs per year (one Summer and one Fall/Spring) and the High School division had one main Fall catalog, with several smaller catalogs distributed throughout the year. A key feature was that AIFS guaranteed that its prices would not change before the next catalog, even if world events altered AIFS’s cost base. Although the idea often came up for discussion among AIFS management, it was always agreed that it would be hard to abandon the notion of guaranteed prices. The primary customer base (which was not the students, who changed from year to year, but their teachers and academic advisors) based their loyalty to AIFS on the fact that there would be no “price surprises.” When pricing the programs, both divisions took into account their cost base, competitive pricing and also the hedging activities. Their pricing schedules were, however, different. College Pricing The College worked on an academic planning year, from July 1 to June 30. Prices for any given year had to be set by June 30 the previous year. This meant that now in early July 2004, Archer-Lock had just finalized the prices for the College division’s “Summer 2005” and “Fall 2005/Spring 2006” catalogs. During the year, Archer-Lock met regularly with marketing and operations managers, to discuss sales forecasts and events that might affect sales. In addition, these managers put out weekly sales forecasts, on which Archer-Lock could base his hedging activities. High School Travel Pricing Combining tours, seasons and departure gateways, the ACIS catalog contained about 35,000 prices. Tabaczynski set these on a calendar year basis, January to December. One of her main goals was to see that ACIS followed a strategy of slow, but steady price increases year by year. She explained,

    We found that if we increased our own prices $200 from one year to another, the market reacted. So to avoid sudden price hikes, we instead raise prices in much smaller amounts, a little each year. Interestingly, if we become $200 more expensive than the competition, our customers don’t seem to care. We have a very loyal customer base: over 70% of our teachers are returning customers.


    1. Briefly describe the overall business model of American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). Draw a simple diagram that connects the firm, the customers, and the suppliers.

    2. AIFS sends students abroad on programs and tours.
    i) What are the companies two largest divisions?
    ii) How do these divisions differ across sales cycle, volume, and customer risk tolerance?

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