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A needs analysis survey: The case of tourism letter writing in Iran

Katayoon Afzali


Mehrnoosh Fakharzadeh


Sheikhbahaee University

The aim of ESP courses is to equip the learners with a certain English proficiency level for a situation where the language is going to be used, i.e., target needs. In the last few years, needs analysis researches have tended to an increased interest in investigating the most effective ways of improving the ability of workers in using ESP in the workplace. One of the skills required in the field of travel and tourism is writing. Accordingly, the current study aims to determine the letter writing needs of tourism students. To this end, a complete list of sample business letters was taken to experts in the field of travel and tourism and hotel managers. The long list was truncated to be more easily handled in the second phase of the study. The newly drawn list of letters was sent to five hotels and twenty travel agencies in Iran to find the most frequent topics they deal with in their daily correspondence as their needs. To have confidence in the agency choices, the researchers also measured the interrater reliability coefficient among different agencies and hotels.


The advancement of business and communication technology in the course of past twenty years has revolutionized the field of English language teaching and has radically swerved the attention of course designers from teaching English for Academic purposes to teaching for more specialized purposes (Al-khatib, 2005).

The aim of ESP courses is to equip the learners with a certain English proficiency level for a situation where the language is going to be used, i.e., target needs (Sujana, 2005). It is agreed that any decision made in designing language teaching programs in ESP contexts should hinge on the learners needs for learning English (Robinson, 1991, Strevens, 1998; Dudley-Evans and St. John, 1998; Sujana, 2005).

However, pinpointing the students needs is a challenging task since needs have been defined from various perspectives. In this respect, Hutchinson and Waters (1993) have classified needs into necessities, wants and lacks. According to them necessities or target needs are concerned with the demand of the target situations (i.e. what the learner needs to know in order to function effectively in the target situation). Lacks refer to the learners existing language proficiency in order to help determination of the starting point of the teaching and learning process. And, wants relate to what the learner would like to gain from the language course. Therefore, course designers must be well informed of the workplace culture, the vocational needs of the workers and the constant changes that are taking place in order to help improve communication in the work place (Leung, 1994).

In the last few years, L1 and L2 acquisition researches have tended to an increased interest in investigating the most effective ways of improving the ability of workers in using English for specific purposes in the work place ( Li So-mui and Mead, 2000; Al-khatib, 2005). Nowadays English is necessary to obtain a job, get promoted and perform effectively in the world of work. This demand has generated the incursion of a new linguistic branch within the field of ESP, namely, English for occupational purposes. (EOP) (Dominguez & Rokowski 2005)

One of the skills required in workplace is writing which is among the most laborious skills at tertiary level. The need to develop the skill stems from the rapid change and development of the job market that requires graduates to acquire certain level of writing skills. Consequently, writing courses offered at university level should be based on skills related to job needs and job functions to ensure that learners are provided with the essential writing skills to perform at the workplace (Stapa, 1998).Therefore, in ESP context, the pragmatics and types of texts have to be explicit and narrowed. This not only helps the learners to realize the importance of acquiring the skill but also leads to a well-structured and organized programme (Stapa, 1998).

Accordingly, the crucial issue to ESP is the necessary starting point in material development and course design. This is considered critical because material developers have to be selective at specific content-based materials and topics to ensure relevance (Stapa, 1998). In this respect, Clarck (1999) has recognized templating as a needs analysis approach to analyze the training content by the careful review and analysis of a template. This technique is used to determine content or developing learning objectives associated with the operation or maintenance of a specific system.

Considering the above mentioned facts and employing templating approach, the researchers aim to analyze the contents required by tourism students for writing letters at work place.


Broadly defined, needs analysis (NA) is a procedure to collect information about learners' needs (Richards, 2001). The importance of NA is emphasized in English for Specific Purpose (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987) and English for Academic Purposes (Jordan, 1997), and also in general language courses espousing learner-centered curricula (Nunan, 1988; Tudor, 1996), task-based curricula (Long & Crookes, 1992), as well as performance-assessment (Norris, Brown, Hudson, & Yoshioka, 1988). The teaching of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) falls within the framework of what is generally called English for Specific Purposes (ESP), taking place in essence, and as its name suggests, in an educational environment. The reasons for its increasing relevance is due to the fact that English has changed from simply being another foreign language into having become a universal form of communication in all walks of life. Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998:95) state that the teaching process of any kind of language for occupational purposes should take as a starting pint the analysis of the four traditional skills within an appropriate context, that being, as far as possible, the conditions given in the workplace. Moreover, they subscribe to the idea that an effective syllabus must attempt to overcome the deficiencies of the educational system under which they are operating. EOP therefore encircles a reaction against the conventional humanistic approach wherein both teachers and students abide by the academic objective of knowing everything about the language being studied instead of concentrating attention on those skills most relevant within the workplace in the time allotted in the educational environment. (Dominguez & Rokowski 2005) EOP can be defined as "the portion of the curriculum which prepares students for gainful employment in occupations ranging from low-skilled to sophisticated jobs in technical fields. (Anthony, 1997, p.56).EOP programs focus on developing communicative competence in a specific field, such as aviation, business, or tourism. EOP is more general compared to ESP because it does not focus on the specific job disciplines but it is more on general basic skills required by students in order to prepare students for the workforce. Examples of basic skills in EOP are reading, writing, listening and speaking. In the context of this study, writing skills required to perform in job functions are for example report writing, letter writing and memo (Anthony 1997).Some courses prepare students for various academic programs such as offering a seminar for graduate teaching assistants to train them in public speaking skills, while others prepare students for work in fields like law, medicine, tourism and graphic design.(Hortas 1995).Among the many vocational areas that make the world of English for specific purposes, that of English for tourism is one of the most attractive because all of us are tourists on countless occasions, bringing our own real experiences to the classrooms. In the field of English for tourism students most of the studies have focused on the analysis of the required skills and needs in work place, adequacy and appropriateness of instructional materials and strategies, and involvement of students in the procedure of syllabus design.

The skills required in the related job were addressed by Martinez (2001),Murphy and Brown(1998), and Sujana (2005).The study conducted by Martinez (2001), indicated that EOP programme mostly incorporate basic job readiness skills such as job search, interviewing, preparing resumes, letters, and filling out work-related forms. Murphy and Brown involved three different groups of adult learners who were doing English courses revealed that it is important to provide tangible evidence to these learners that the courses would help them to obtain employment and would facilitate a variety of job readiness and employability skills. (1998). Competency based approach in designing English curriculum for tourism students was proposed by Sujana (2005). In establishing needed competencies in a particular workplace, he holds, a course designer can start from target needs, identify the duties of professional workers, translate the needs into competencies, translate the competencies into linguistic and other specifications and develop teaching/ learning activities to develop competencies. Stapa (1998) investigated the needs and expectations of Tourism and Management students with regard to the writing courses offered in three collages in Malaysia, and sought to see if the current writing programmes for hotel management and tourism students reflect the specific writing needs required at the workplace. The need to write formal letters and reports were the two highest skills required performing the jobs. Most respondents also indicated that they are not satisfied with the present syllabus offered at the collages and believed that the syllabus dud not equip them well in order to enter workforce.

Al-Khatib (2005) examined the communicative needs of tourism and banking personnel by shedding lights on their perceptions of needs, wants, lacks, and attitudes toward English in order to include what is needed and exclude what deemed less important to them. It has been observed that the type of work plays a significant role in evaluating and using of English. The most common reasons for communicating as a travel agency worker were found to be offering destination guides, writing and sending email and faxes, making on-line ticketing, browsing the internet, making on-line hotel booking, etc. Travel agency users were found to be heavier users of English than their banking counterparts. The results of the study indicated that the most important skill for tourism personnel is writing.

When instructing an EOP course an issue to take into consideration is that using adequate language learning and professional strategies are required in tourism field. (Laborda 2002). Inclusion of the strategies development in the academic process was found to provide both group and individual improvement.

In designing a course for students of culture and tourism, Barancic (1998) used an integrated approach to get the students involved in the syllabus he wanted to teach. The approach he invented consisted of 8components: knowing the class and their knowledge, determining the goals to achieve, the way we measure the success, making decisions with students involved, creating syllabus, deciding on the real teaching techniques and method and getting feedback during the course. The application of the approach indicated that the teachers are faced with needs which are of a less academic and more realistic nature.

In a study on the contribution made by students with work experience to the development of courses for Hotel management and tourism, Leung (1994) found that: a- student's involvement in syllabus negotiation based on the experience in the industry(Hotel management) help the design of a need-based course, b- students provide valuable information on changes in workplace culture, for instance subservient politeness on the part of Hotel staff is giving way to a more outspoken, decision-making politeness, c-students suggestions as to what has to be learnt to cope with the vocational needs for tourism management can inform both the immediate learning environment and subsequent course planning activities. (Leung-1994)

Rationale for the study:

In the tourism field, English is used widely for inbound and outbound travel as well as in client contact (Leung, 1994). Moreover, tourism is rather a nascent course at the tertiary level; therefore, it is quite a demanding task to write the English syllabus and develop the course (Walker,

As Carson (2000) holds carefully identified needs and appropriate teaching materials for tourism students will produce satisfied customers as well as plenty of professional fulfillments for those committed to doing a good job.

Keeping this in view, it is felt that writing courses offered at university level should target on skills related to job needs and job functions to ensure that the learners are well equipped with the required writing skills in order for them to perform at the workplaces.


Since EOP (English for occupational purposes) is more concerned with the content and format, initially a complete list of sample business letters containing 591 letter topics was downloaded from letters and forms website. Due to the length of the list, it was speculated that checking such an exhaustive list might not be manageable, hence time-consuming. Consequently, a pilot study was arranged to firstly, truncate the original long list into a more relevant one and secondly, to become familiar with likely hurdles that one may face in dealing with travel agents and hoteliers.

To this end, the tourism students were given instructions to take the complete list to the travel agencies and hotels. They were required to ask a concerned travel agent to tick the titles they mostly deal with in their foreign correspondence.

As Bhatia (1993:35) has predicted it was "difficult to find a truly resourceful specialist informant". Furthermore, it took effort and time to explain the purpose of enquiry to both travel agents and hoteliers. To cope with these problems, the letter writing list was translated into Farsi and the attempt was made to explain the goal of the research to the travel agents and hoteliers.

Based on this pilot study, out of the 591 topics, 103 topics were sieved to be included in the final truncated version to be taken to the agencies. The rationale behind selecting these 103 topics was the number of the topics most frequently ticked by hotels and agencies in the pilot study. The newly drawn list was predicted to be more manageable and relevant to the job.

To specify the corresponding writing needs of tourism students, the newly drawn letter writing topics list was handed to 74 tourism students to take to 14 travel agencies and 4 hotels in Isfahan and 6 travel agencies in Tehran. Finally, the frequency of selected topics by agencies and hotels was counted and the interrater reliability coefficient was computed.

Data Analysis & Conclusion

For the present study the tourism students' letter writing needs are defined as the most frequent letter subject marked by experts in travel agencies and hotels. Those letters the frequencies of which were higher than 10 i.e. marked by more than 40% of experts were selected as their writing needs. (Table1)

The frequency count of letters revealed that "Reservation" is regarded unanimously as a pressing need for tourism students by all the agencies and hotels. (Frequency= 224, 100%)

The second and third commonly marked letters were, as the table shows, "Thank you for tour" and "Announcement of special discount offer" with frequencies of 20 and 18 respectively.

Out of 24 agencies and hotels which received the letters list 17 marked 'Complimentary letter to hotel ", 16 marked "Announcement of price reduction" and 15 considered equally "Announcement of price increase", "Apology after cancellation of order" and "Bill of sale as important, i.e. as the forth, fifth and sixth frequently marked subjects.

"Complaint letter", "Congratulation for increased sale", "follow-up letter to travel agency" and "Apology for delay of refund" all were similarly regarded as significant by 13 experts (54%).

The next predominant letters were "Announcement of new discount" (frequency=12), "Guarantee" (frequency = 11) and "Reply to complaint", "Reply to inquiry ", "Employment agreement", "Announcement of change of address "and " Inquiry letter"(frequency=10). (Table 1)

To answer the second research question as to the degree of consistency between the answers from receivers of the list as well as the reliability of the instrument correlation was calculated for total agencies in Esfahan and Tehran and hotels and separately for Esfahan agencies, Tehran agencies and hotels.

The correlation value for all 24 participants was 0.83, demonstrating a considerable degree of consistency in experts' decision on the significance of letter subjects for tourism students. The Cronbach's Alpha for 14 Esfahan agencies amounted to 0.79 and is considered high enough in terms of consistency. Among 6 Tehran agencies the calculated value of was 0.49. The widely- accepted humanities and social science cut-off is that correlation value should be 0.7 or higher. The low degree of consistency among Tehran agencies compared to those in Esfahan can be attributed to the accessibility of larger number of agencies in Esfahas, for the research was conducted in Esfahan, so much so that if we had doubled the number of Tehran agencies, the coefficient alpha might have been higher and hence the result would has shown more homogeneity.

The lowest correlation value was obtained from the calculation of consistency among 4 hotels (0.39).Similarly the limited number of hotels referred for data collection may be for the low value.

The findings of the current research can have two major implementations for teaching English for tourism. Firstly, this can provide English for tourism (EFT) teachers with a list of letter writing genres they are mostly in need of. Since according to Cubo (2006) whenever a teacher of EFT encounters with creating or adapting materials, the first drawback s/he faces is to obtain accurate and reliable information on the genres and discourse patterns used in the targeted professional settings. To remove this problem Cubo (2006) proposes that we can bridge the gap between the teacher of English for tourism and corporations in the tourism industry by knowing about the genres (both oral and written) used by a particular discourse community in a particular professional setting.

Secondly, the present findings can serve a useful reference for syllabus design in general and designing an appropriate writing syllabus in particular. As Munby (1979) and Donna (2000) state to adjust the course material to particular needs in working environment, we have to follow real demands and interests from the academic and professional worlds. In ESP courses this relies on detailed information taken from questionnaires, interviews and tests for the evaluation and measurement of interests, demands and needs in the target context, i.e., agencies and hotels in the present study, as the future work place.

In a nutshell, due to budget limitation, the number of English courses currently offered to tourism students is quite limited. Therefore, using a template-based approach to letter writing needs analysis may be helpful in optimizing and economizing the course.



Letter title






thank-you for tour



announcement of special discount offer



complimentary letter to hotel



announcement of price reduction



announcement of price increase



apology after cancellation of order



bill of sale



complaint letter



congratulation for increased sale



follow-up letter to travel agency



apology for delay of refund



announcement of new discount






reply to complaint



reply to inquiry



employment agreement



announcement of change of address



inquiry letter

 Table 1. Frequency count and Percentage of letters marked by experts




Esfahan+ Tehran+ Hotel


Esfahan agencies


Tehran agencies


Esfahan hotels

Table 2- Total Correlation between Esfahan Agencies, Tehran Agencies, and Hotels and Correlation among Agencies in Esfahan, Tehran and Hotels separately


Al-Khatib, M, (2005).English in the Workplace: An Analysis of the communication Needs of Tourism and Banking Personnel. Asian EFL Journal, Vol.7, No.2, article11.Retreived August 27, 2007from,

Anthony, L. (1997). ESP: What does it Mean? ON CUE. http://interserver. http:// Retrieved April 6, 2007, from World Wide Web.

Barancic, M. (1998). On Realistic Approaches in ESP Syllabus Design. English for specific purposes: Contradictions and Balances. Pp.211-217

Bhatia, V.K. (1993). Analyzing Genre: Language use in professional setting. Harlow : Longman

Clark, R. (1999). Retrieved June 19, 1999

Cubo, N, B. (2006). Products to train tourism professionals: A valuable source of ESP materials to raise genre awareness and achieve sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences.

Retrieved April 9 2007, from World Wide Web

Domínguez, G. A., & Rokowski, P. E. (2005). Bridging the Gap between English for Academic and Occupational Purposes. ESP World .Retrieved on November 22, 2007

Donna, S. (2000). Teach business English. Cambridge. CUP

Dudley-Evans, Tony and Maggie Joe St John, (1998). Developments in English for Specific Purposes. Cambridge: CUP

Garcia Laborda, J. (2005). Travel and Tourism Students' Needs in Valencia (Spain): Meeting requirements in the ESP classes Professional

Garcia Laborda, J. (2002). Incidental Aspects in Teaching ESP for Turismo inSpain. The Turismo Learner Hortas, J, D. (2008). English for specific purposes.

Retrieved October 11, 2007.

Hutchinson, T. & Waters, A. (1993). English for Specific Purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hutchinson, T. & Waters, A. (1987). English for Specific Purposes: A Learning-centered Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jordan, R. (1997). English for academic purposes: A guide and resource book for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Leung, H. (1994) How students' work experience contributes to course development: English courses for Hotel and Tourist Industry Personnel. Forum. Vol32, No 3, July-September, pp.42

Li So-mui, F., & Mead, K. (2000). An Analysis of English in the Workplace: The communication Needs of Textile and Clothing Merchandiser. English for Specific Purposes, 19, 351-368

Long, M. H., & Crookes, G. (1992). Three approaches to task-based syllabus design. TESOL Quarterly, 26 (1), 27-56.

Martinez, P. (1993).Learning from the Learner. English Teaching Forum 31, 2, pp.44- 47

Munby, J. (1979). Communicative Syllabus Design. Cambridge: CUP

Norris, J. M., Brown, J. D., Hudson, T., & Yoshioka, J. (1998). Designing second language performance assessments. Honolulu, HI: Second Language Teaching and Curriculum Center, University of Hawaii Press.

Nunan, D. (1988). The learner-centered curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J.C. (2001). Curriculum Development In Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP

Robinson, P, C. (1991). ESP Today: A Practitioner's Guide. New York. Prentice Hall.

Stapa, S, H. (1998).Transforming Knowledge into wisdom: Writing courses for Hotel Management and Tourism Students and Tourism Students. http:/ www. 2004. Retrieved August 21, 2007, from the World Wide Web.

Strevens, P. (1988). "ESP after Twenty Years": dalam Tickoo, ML. (ed.) ESP: State of Art. Anthology Series 21. Singapore: RELC

Sujana, I, M. (2005) .Establishing English Competencies for Students of Tourism Department. Retrieved September 13, 2007, from the World Wide Web

Tudor, I. (1998). Learner-centeredness as language education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Walker, R. (1995). Teaching the English of Tourism. IATEFL ESP SIG Newsletter. Retrieved April 15


Simple Business Letters (Letters and Forms)

1- Acceptance of order with delivery in lots

2- Acceptance of resignation

3- Acknowledged receipt of goods

4- Acknowledgement and Acceptance of Order

5- Acknowledgement of application

6- Acknowledgement of cancellation of backorder

7- Acknowledgement of change in meeting date

8- Acknowledgement of customer praise of employee

9- Agreement to extend Debt Payment

10- Announcement of Additional location

11- Announcement of catalog price reduction

12- Announcement of change of address

13- Announcement of change of address for billing

14- Announcement of new area representative

15- Announcement of new discount

16- Announcement of price increase

17- Announcement of price reduction

18- Announcement of special discount offer

19-Apology after cancellation of order

20- Apology for delay of refund

21- Application for license

22- Appointment for employment interview and testing

23- Assignment of contract

24- Bill of sale

25- Business credit application

26- Commercial account analysis form

27- Complaint letter

28- Complimentary letter to hotel

29- Confirmation

30- Confirmation of acceptance of employee Suggestion

31- Confirmation of interview appointment

32- Confirmation of purchase agreement

33- Confirmation of telephone report of problem

34- Congratulations on a job well done

35- Congratulations on increased sales

36- Congratulations on outstanding achievements

37- Customer service request form

38- Demand for delivery

39- Demand that future payments be by certified check

40- Employee suggestion for company meeting

41- Employee agreement

42- Employee information form

43- Employment letter

44- Financing statement

45- Five-day demand for payment

46- Follow-up letter, Travel agency

47- Guarantee

48- Inquiry letter

49- Negative response to job application

50- Negative response to job candidate interview

51- New employee welcome

52- Notice of change of address

53- Notice of inability to ship

54- Notice of promotion

55- Notice to employee of new vacation policy

56- Offer of 2% discount for speedy payment

57- Part arrival notice, Request to schedule service

58- Payment on specific accounts

59- Photo and recording release

60- Pre-employment checklist

61- Pre-employment checklist form

62- Promotional letter, accountants

63- Promotional letter, bank

64- Promotional letter, catalog sales

65- Promotional letter, corporate security

66- Promotional letter, direct mail service

67- Promotional letter, domestic service

68- Promotional letter, insurance

69- Promotional letter, office space

70- Promotional letter, public relations

71- Promotional letter, service business

72- Reply to complaint

73- Reply to inquiry

74- Request for advertising rate information

75- Request for advice

76- Request for attendance at meeting

77- Request for clarification on applying payment

78- Request for employment interview

79- Request for full refund

80- Request for information from credit reporting agency

81- Request for listing of employee to be tested

82- Request to locate former employee

83- Retirement party invitation

84- Retirement party invitation and gift (internal)

85- Return of check missing signature

86- Reservation

87- Termination of employment

88- Thank you for hiring

89- Thank you for interview

90- Thank you for offer to help, Accepted

91- Thank you for payment after phone call

92- Thank you for support during illness

93- Thank you for tour

94- Thank you for uniform design

95- Thank you for your inquiry (price list enclosed)

96- Thank you for your kind comments

97- Thank you from restaurant following luncheon

98- Thank you to applicants for testing

99- Time note

100- Verification of employment and letter of recommendation

101- Welcome new customer

103- Welcome to our family of customers and friends


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