Case study

Riding Waves of Success: Belong's Post-Pandemic Resurgence

April 28, 2023
| minute read
Riding Waves of Success: Belong's Post-Pandemic Resurgence

A few years ago, international student education was Australia’s third largest service export. Overnight, the pandemic halved the value of the market. From scaling down to scaling up, read about Belong's journey through the pandemic and beyond.

Helping international students live better and study better

Betzy Olivier has worked with international students for over 8 years so she understands the struggles of studying abroad well: adapting to a new lifestyle, navigating a new culture and language, and dealing with the stresses from being away from home.

That’s why, in her role, she strives to help her customers “live better and study better.”

Belong is an international student accommodation company on the mission to make the transition for newly arrived international students easy. They provide furnished residential apartments, as well as other support services such as a welcoming community, training and events to help students settle into the local community.

Betzy Oliver, Property Manager at Belong

Tackling a $37 billion dollar industry

Australia is one of the top destinations for international students. With numbers growing steadily each year, foreign students make up over one quarter of all tertiary enrolments. 

NSW alone accounts for almost 40% of the entire population of students from abroad, meaning that there’s no shortage of international students that need support.

As applications started to flood in, Belong’s small team realised they needed extra support when it came to tackling Australia’s $37 billion dollar international education industry.

Beyond coworking: connections, collaborations and growth

Belong found its residence at Haymarket HQ back in 2018. Initially wanting to set up a base in the Sydney CBD, they soon found that the community offered them more than just flexible coworking space but also a community of founders and entrepreneurs, many who also operated in the international education space.

This opened access to a whole range of resources: translators, interns, promotional channels, connections, and general guidance from in-house mentors. Belong could offer more than just accommodation but work to create other services that could benefit students in their transition.

They were also able to expand their networks with NSW universities and Study NSW, with their co-founders invited to speak at events and acting as mentors in several programs including FFWD, a student entrepreneurship program in partnership with Study NSW, and the China Canvas Challenge, a China market-expansion program. These opportunities provided new avenues to reach international students, widening their customer base and promotional audiences.

Belong co-founder and director Jenny Jia speaking at an event

“Through networking in the HHQ community, we were able to find a knowledgeable program manager to run events with students to help them come together, meet each other and integrate to the community,” recalls Betzy.

Belong’s student community now had access to social activties to help them make new friends, workshops to help them improve their employability and to find internships, and events around local culture. They collaborated with AussieYou, a fellow member at HHQ, to host a game night for students to learn about Australian culture.

In 2019, Belong’s team grew to more than ten people, including a wellbeing officer dedicated to student welfare.

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Students enjoying games and cultural workshops with Belong and AussieYou

An entire industry comes to a halt overnight

Belong was eager to expand its business and increase its customer base until the entire industry came to screeching halt seemingly overnight. The global pandemic forced border closures and shuttered university campuses.

Amidst travel restrictions and prolonged lockdowns, Belong faced the challenge of international students being unable to enter the country, which led to a temporary scaling down of their operations.

“It was fortunate that HHQ really understood the needs for all companies in-house throughout the pandemic," says Betzy. "They provided the best support and flexibility during the tougher times.”

Despite the challenges, Belong remained resilient and committed to their mission of providing accommodation solutions for international students.

After a long period fraught with uncertainty and difficulties, campuses slowly started re-opening up and Sydney’s once-empty streets began to bustle with activity. In late 2021, the NSW State Government launched a pilot plan to welcome back international students in slow batches—the first sign of a recovering industry.

Meeting a flood of new demand head on in 2023

Fast forward to the present and 2023 has marked the start of a huge upswing for Belong properties.

Using the more quiet months to prepare for the eventual return, Belong made new hires and launched several new campaigns. They were simply biding their time.

“The HHQ community has really helped us, not just to connect, but partnering up with several education agencies across the board in order to rebuild the customer base after the pandemic.”

In February, China announced a snap decision to ban online learning for citizens enrolled at foreign universities. This meant that roughly 40,000 Chinese students were scrambling to return to Australia and were searching for accommodation in an already competitive housing market. 

Almost overnight, Belong received hundreds of applications for their properties across Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne and Auckland. In a short time, they managed to fill all their vacancies.

As for the future, the team is optimistic. On the horizon, a number of Belong-branded full apartments are currently under renovation and set to launch launch later in the year, marking a significant milestone in their journey. 

“I’m excited for getting more bookings due to NSW getting more international student enrollments than it ever did before COVID. The more students that come to study in Australia, the more students we get to support and accomodate. We’re excited for Belong to grow alongside!”

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