August 2006 issue

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LTM Star Awards shortlist

The LTM Star Awards are the first industry-specific awards that honour best practice in the study abroad industry on an international scale. Our agent readers have been voting for

educators in various regions and education institutions around the world have been busy nominating agencies that deserve the accolade of winning an award. We profile the shortlist of nominees that have received the highest number of votes in each category and talk to some of these contenders.

It is excellent to see that our work is being recognised and makes us proud and willing to work even more!" says Tatiana Mendes of Star Award-nominated agency association, Belta, summing up the feelings of many of the contenders for the LTM Star Awards. The shortlist of 2006 nominees, revealed in this article, represents a range of businesses and industry associations from around the world – and all are proud and honoured to have been singled out by their peers and colleagues as worthy of winning an LTM Star award.

"We are grateful for the nomination – we believe that we have a very friendly relationship with agents and it is good to see that the feeling seems to be reciprocal," states Dorothee Robrecht, Marketing Director of GLS Sprachenzentrum Berlin in Germany. In Switzerland, Agent, Michael Eck of STA Travel in Zurich, says, "It is absolutely exciting" and in France, François Pfeiffer of Accord Langues in Paris, who terms himself "very surprised and very pleased", says simply, "This means that the efforts we make towards quality service have been recognised." Luis Carrion of Escuela de Idiomas Nerja in Spain adds, "The directors and our team are proud and thankful to the agents for appreciating us so much."

The efforts towards providing a high quality and efficient business service along with personal care and attention to clients and partners are what make these nominees all stand out, according to our hundreds of voters. Reasons given such as, "A small very friendly school that looks after the students very well" or "So efficient as well as precise in all their work. It has always been a pleasure to work with them" are typical of the praise given to industry partners. It is inspiring and commendable that so many nominees – a handful of whom made it into the shortlist – are so well estimed in the industry.

"Our students are always very happy and extend their courses," says one agent voter. An educator tells us an agency is "a dedicated family business yet extremely professional, they send us students and are lovely people".

Great agency-school relations

At the core of many successful business relationships seems to be a genuine affection or respect for school or agency staff at companies overseas and an admiration for the work they do. All of the education institutions shortlisted for an award were keen to stress that their relationships with agencies were absolutely fundamental to their success and helped contribute to the enjoyment gained from their profession. "This industry is great and very enriching," states Damien Renaux of French nominee, BLS. "It would not be that way without the positive cooperation, energy and friendship we have with [our agents]."

Patrick Semidei, Managing Director of Did Deutsch Institut in Germany – who says the entire office forgot about the World Cup for a while when the shortlist was announced in late June – relates, "Many of our partners have not only been to one of our schools but also visited our headquarters in Stockstadt and became familiar with our team. Some partners are closely connected with us even since 1970 and have become very good private friends."

At World';s Best Language Schools, nominated for the LTM Star New Agency award, Jacqui White underlines, "From the very beginning we have maintained a professional but collegial relationship with our schools and worked very hard to deliver what we promise them…. We have been impressed by their feedback about our service. We are definitely operating in a team environment!" Eck adds, "We are proud to say that we do not only have excellent business relationships but also close friends all around the world."

In the mainstream travel industry, travel agencies seem to have been sidelined by the public, who often choose to book flights and holidays online now, and therefore big suppliers such as airlines have declined their support – and reduced their commission structures – to travel agencies.

Despite concerns, this has certainly not happened in the study abroad industry, and education institutions understand that an agency is still in the best position to counsel a client and accept a booking on the school';s behalf – avoiding orientation and translation problems and working with the best understanding of local market trends. Bob Burger at Malaca Instituto says, "The ability of agents to adapt to changing circumstances, fluctuating demand and the challenges of technology is a continuing feature of our business sector and contradicts those who thought that with the development of the Internet, the day of the agent would be over. Long live the agent!"

Agents influencing product development

Kathrin Dobmann at Italian nominee, Scuola Leonardo da Vinci, underlines that agents are "very important" for their business: "They represent about 60 per cent of our business and they are fundamental in our long-term strategy in the sense that agencies know, better than us, how the market is going in their countries." She continues, "Agents often give us the best suggestions in offering new courses or in targeting "niches" or in opening new school centres in other cities. [Quite simply], agents give us all the relevant information needed to better satisfy clients."

At Study Group, Marketing Manager, Lucy Greaves, agrees. "We understand the value agents bring to our business," she says. "Their services are irreplaceable and we are proud to say that our tremendous achievements over the years are testament to the unique partnerships we have managed to develop."

Not only are agents good at helping influence new ideas and product development, but as Alessandro Adorno, Director of Babilonia in Sicily, Italy, points out, they can champion a product they believe in and help it succeed from inception. He points out that 15 years ago, the idea of an Italian language school in the south of Italy was still relatively unique. "We are proud to have taken the risk and contributed to a positive image of Sicily and the south of Italy," he says. "I want to thank all agents that have believed in us and especially those who have believed in us since the beginning."

Agencies also underline the importance of their relations with educators on the development of their businesses. At Eduquality.net, which is shortlisted as LTM Star New Agency, Director, Marcelo Cuestas explains that it is the support of schools for what is a new hybrid of traditional agency and online portal that has helped his business succeed. "At the beginning it was a bit difficult for [schools] to understand our innovative booking system [that allows students to contact schools directly]," he says. "But now most of them are trusting us and seeing the results. We appreciate very much their flexibility and openness to new ideas."

Mark Alway at Spanish Abroad agency in the USA simply observes, "The better the communication we have with our partner schools, the better experience our students will have."

Reasons for nomination

As well as the solid business relations between partners that all nominees seem to enjoy, reasons for nominating a particular candidate may include particular attention to quality control, course development, 24-hour assistance to clients, technological development or plain hard work and dedication. "Professional, efficient" and "friendly" are the two most common themes but there are other individual factors that led to schools and agencies standing out.

For agencies, reasons given by educators included: sending fully-briefed students; following up on students while on their course; working with an internet-based system; remaining faithful to partners; young management; providing feedback to partners; caring for pastoral needs of clients; being successful with visa applications; paying on time; sending a high volume of students; being more concerned with quality than commission.

For education institutions, the reasons given for nominations were more varied and display some great examples of best practice, among both our nominees listed here and a great range of schools who were singled out by some agencies but who didn';t make the shortlist.

These reasons included: providing reliable support; answering queries promptly; having many products and locations; kind staff members; a great location; regularly updated facilities; modern methods of learning; providing updates for parents of students'; progress and behaviour; flexibility; good after-sales service; a good curriculum; study and travel options; easy channels of communication; superb atmosphere at the school; good pricing or "cost-effective" services; a safe environment; very good host families; interesting programmes; great feedback; the personal touch.

Many tributes were inspiring. One voter simply said, "The most friendly and humorous team of directors and teachers, offering excellent quality."

Innovation Award

As well as all the testaments to excellent service, we received a really interesting array of nominations for the LTM Star Innovation of the Year category. Technology played a role: online booking facilities, using Skype to talk to agencies and online language courses were all mentioned, while individual programmes such as our shortlisted English on the bus programme; French and surfing for juniors; a soccer camp; an English and cinema course; young learners programme; work experience programmes; and English and computer training were all given the thumbs-up by agencies.

Perhaps a special mention should be given to Nudgee International College in Queensland, Australia, for having earnt the most unique vote for enabling its agents to access the group homestay list by password.

Riad Touah is Director of Academy of English Studies (AES) in Folkestone, UK, and a contender for the innovation award for a programme, English on the Bus. The course consists of a group of students and two teachers touring the UK in a bus, learning as they go using surveys, questionnaires, listening and reading comprehensions about places visited on the trip, while travelling to locations such as Loch Ness in Scotland.

"At AES we strive to be innovative and different from other schools and we are honoured to be recognised for it by our partner agents," says Touah. "These days people have very little time to spend in other countries, and English courses are very expensive, so I think to combine travel and learning, students feel they are getting value for their money – two things for the price of one!"

Another contender for this category is St Giles in San Francisco, USA, for its California Experience programme – again, a product that sees students getting out of the classroom and seeing the sights. Lucy Heron at St Giles International explains that the course was formed as a result of the successful implementation of learning and leisure programmes in London, UK.

The first two weeks of the course combine English language lessons with a varied afternoon programme of tours and events within San Francisco. A further week-long tour, "California Delights", is available in the third week, which allows students to continue improving their English while visiting sites further afield, such as Los Angeles, Yosemite National Park and Santa Cruz. "We strongly believe that language learning is more than just about what happens in the classroom," emphasises Heron.

The other two shortlisted nominees include the "Workit" programme offered by the Australian College of English (Ace) at its six campuses around Australia, which comprises a language course with guaranteed paid work opportunities, and an online learning course, or the opportunity to continue learning online after studies, offered by Wisconsin English as a Second Language Institute (Wesli) in Madison, WI in the USA.

"We work closely with our agencies and they have seen the satisfaction of students who used our traditional and online classes," reports Jasmine Jia, Manager of Marketing & Admissions at Wesli. "We will continue our effort of innovation in this industry and best serve our students."

At Ace, Rob Brown, Head of Strategic Marketing, reports that the school is delighted to learn of its nomination. "The Workit programme has struck a real chord with agents worldwide for three reasons," he relates, explaining that it guarantees one offer of paid work and significantly helps students look for jobs; the programme is available at all of Ace';s six campuses – "this allows Ace students the flexibility to effectively choose which city they want to work in"; and the language studied by students is highly targeted to their needs and intended place of work. "Students on working holiday visas tend to change jobs – even cities! – quite frequently as they discover Australia and use the English they';ve learnt at Ace in an everyday context," Brown relates.

New ideas in the pipeline

Innovation is a feature of the industry and many shortlisted candidates point to dynamic ideas to stay on top of their game. At Ryugaku Journal in Japan, Miki Harada says that the company is developing a more extensive database on its website with details of accommodation availability, activities, area information and so on. "The information is updated regularly and school representatives can make revisions simply and quickly anytime," she says. In Brazil, nominated agency Central de Intercambio (CI) notes that it launched its own educational fairs for the first time last year (see Language Travel Magazine, April 2005, page 11).

OJ Kim of IAE in Korea explains, "IAE has embarked on a new exciting concept of marketing and recruitment management under the brand name IAE Global" (see page 10). As well as expanding into India and Nepal, Kim explains that over the next year, "IAE Global plans to expand the recruitment network into several new countries including Taiwan, Japan and South America."

In Canada, Mariane Spielmann at Canada Live points out that being a small agency and a Canadian specialist means that the company can remain responsive and easily adapt to trends. "We are able to customise programmes for interested clients because we know Canada and the possibilities available over there," she says. "This year, we introduced new programmes such as Cambridge & campus, Work & learn and Work & travel." And Marcia Mattos at STB in Brazil acknowledges, "We believe STB has been nominated due to STB';s principles of quality, commitment, professionalism and innovation."

Innovation is not limited to the agencies and educators of course. Among insurance companies in the sector and industry associations, there are efforts to evolve and remain responsive to partners. Brian Burns at MEI~Relsa, the Irish schools'; association, observes, "The publishing of our own EFL textbook, Exploring Ireland, has contributed to an increased awareness of Ireland and the MEI~Relsa brand, particularly in the Far East."

At insurance company AVI International, Director, Jean-Luc Guermont, says, "On our website, we have a page for frequently asked questions (FAQ). With almost 20,000 hits since January, we can tell this is a big hit with visitors." He adds his thanks for nomination: "We thank our clients for their support and to show them our appreciation, we will work harder to show them we care."

New school buildings and facilities

As well as new ideas and products, some school nominees point to their own innovation in terms of new premises, residential buildings or facilities. "GLS just moved to its own campus in trendy Prenzlauer Berg," relates Robrecht at GLS Sprachenzentrum. She explains that locals also attend the campus to learn foreign languages. "We are working on creating [opportunities] for these two groups to meet and interact; in Berlin as well as online in the virtual world."

Also in Germany, Lennart Güthling at the Humboldt Institut explains that the company has opened a year-round residential institute for juniors and teenagers. "With its capacity of 180 beds, a superb infrastructure, high quality food adjusted to children';s needs and well trained staff, our centre in Lindenberg is a unique [study environment]," he says.

In France, Stefan Adenet-Kaven at Institut Linguistique Adenet in Montpellier has turned his attention to computer facilities. "We';ve adapted ourselves to the increasing demands of students for Internet use," he says. "We now have 22 computers with flat screens as well as wi-fi (wireless connection) areas in the school – use is free of charge."

Nominee, Kurt Krummeancher of Boa Lingua in Switzerland, sums up the aims of all professionals in the industry. "The customer is always the driving force behind everything we do – it is as simple as that," he says. "We will continue to have high quality expectations of all our partners. If the performance is good, all of the involved will benefit and business is bound to grow."

LTM Star English language school:
- ILAC, Canada
- Intuition Languages, UK
- St Giles, international
- Study Group, international

LTM Star French language school:
- Accord, Paris
- BLS, Bordeaux/Biarritz
- France Langue, Paris
- Institut Linguistique Adenet (ILA), Montpellier

LTM Star Italian language school:
- Babilonia, Taormina
- DILIT - International House, Rome
- Linguaviva, Milan/Florence
- Scuola Leonardo da Vinci, nationwide

LTM Star Spanish language school:
- Don Quijote, international
- Enforex, international
- Escuela de Idiomas Nerja, Nerja
- Estudio Sampere, international
- Malaca Instituto, Malaga

LTM Star German language school:
- Carl Duisberg Centren, nationwide
- did deutsch-institut, nationwide
- GLS Sprachenzentrum, Berlin
- Humboldt Institute, nationwide

LTM Star High school programme:
- AIFS, Stamford, CT, USA
- Bodwell College, Vancouver, BC, Canada
- Fairmont High School, Durbanville, South Africa
- Saskatoon Catholic Schools, SK, Canada

LTM Star Innovation:
- Academy of English Studies, Folkestone, UK - English on the Bus
- ACE Australia – Workit programme (language course/part-time job)
- St Giles, USA – California Experience
- Wisconsin English as a Second Lan guage Institute, Madison, WI, USA – online English/additional online training

LTM Star Agency Americas:
- CI Central de Intercambio, Brazil
- Spanish Abroad, USA
- STB, Brazil

LTM Star Agency Europe:
- BoaLingua, Switzerland
- Canada Live, Switzerland
- Cosmolingua, Switzerland
- STA Travel, Switzerland

LTM Star Agency Asia:
- Gio Club, Japan
- IAE Edunet, Korea
- Ryugaku Journal, Japan
- Uhak.com, Korea

LTM Star New Agency:
- Discover Canada, Mexico
- Eduquality.net
- Kolumbus Sprachreisen, Germany
- SIOC, Norway
- World';s Best Language Schools.com

LTM Star Insurance provider:
- AVI International
- Isis
- Site
- Student Guard

LTM Star School association:
- English UK
- International Association of Language Centres (Ialc)
- MEI~Relsa
- Quality English

LTM Star Agency association:
- Belta, Brazil  
- Kosa, Korea
- Tieca, Thailand
- Salta, Switzerland

The LTM Star Award winners will be revealed at an awards ceremony on August 27 at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London, UK. Visit www.hothousemedia.com/ltm/star.htm to book!
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