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Alan Machin's Blog - June 2009

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The postings this month will continue the reminiscences about the Leeds Met Tourism Management course over the years since it started in 1992. This month there will be no photographs! To read them in time order, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Any opinions expressed are entirely my own and not necessarily those of the University or of other colleagues.


Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And think of all the great things we would do

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way


Who Learns The Most?


Students or staff?

Education is supposed to be the place where the young learn wisdom from the old. Leaving aside the obvious crack about the old not having much more wisdom than their juniors, it’s easy for any teacher to see – and admit – that they deserve an award for what they learnt.

The rich array of cultures from home and abroad and all levels of society ought to rub off in rich quantities all round. New situations bring new endeavours which lead in turn to new situations. The energetic youth culture (well, after about mid-day anyway) has a lot to teach older people who would be foolish indeed not to consider it thoughtfully. I would hazard a guess that anyone of a Certain Age who does not feel that way shouldn’t be in education anyway. We teach in order to learn. We learn because we must in turn teach others – our followers in work, communities and families. Teaching tourism is about learning about people and places, their stories, aspirations, their working towards their own futures.

I hate the supposed saying in school education that ‘everyone should have prizes’ because if everyone gets a prize for doing what everyone else does, then nobody wins anything.

But if teachers and learners were assessed for what they had all gained from the educational process and its life-context during the years in school, college and university, then everyone really ought to have their own prize for their own progress made.

A Different World


Retiring at the age of 65 does mean that comparisons are inevitable.

First, with 1962 entering teaching under the old Temporary Assistant Master scheme (what a portentous title) before going to university myself. The school leaving age was 15, I was only 19 and most schools were either grammar or secondary modern, not comprehensive. I taught a full timetable and was only responsible to the headmaster rather than any departmental head. I taught in the school in North Staffordshire for two years. There was little theory and lots of practice thanks to a set of helpful teachers who were probably a bit bemused at this junior amateur in their midst – though there was another ‘student teacher’ as we were usually known, as well. It was, as I said earlier, like an apprenticeship. Most children didn’t go to university and most of them in this school had already been made to see themselves as second best to grammar school products like me. I believe it was the year I moved on that most schools stopped teaching formal grammar which would be one of the nails in the coffin of communication ability.

Then to university, in my case that though seen-as-provincial (or foreign) University of Wales, Swansea. Instead of being known by surnames alone as in school at that time we were prefixed with ‘Mr’ or ‘Miss’, a mark of respect for our new status. We did an essay every three weeks, had tutorials in group of three and lectures in groups of about fifty.

On the other hand it was less a case of ‘teaching’ and more of ‘lecturing’. In other words there was less support general , less interaction outside tutorial and lecture times and fewer – far fewer – advice and support services. It was expected that the small percentage of people who went to university as opposed to polys, further education or teacher training colleges were prepared for it and knew how to perform well without anyone having to bother about it.

Personally, with a few exceptions (such as far more formative assignments – essays, and student numbers that tutors could cope with) I prefer the modern system.

Can’t say I admire the use of targets and the marketplace system of running courses, though. In that respect higher education is fast losing its way, a view becoming shared generally, I believe, by many who have a longer and broader experience than others.



Let's balance yesterday's recognition of how some students fail (and rack up debts in doing so) with the realisation that others succeed against heavy odds. I'm thinking of those who came from families with no experience of what higher education is about, those who suffered serious illness and others who had some family-or-friends crisis. It might sound like dramatising the university experience, but let's face it, being an HE student is a challenge for anyone let alone those with the bigger types of problem thrown at them. for some, living at home it's only a step beyond the situation that they faced in school. For others it's independent living with all the stresses of finance, domestic chores and social changes stacked on top of what their tutors throw at them.

Some say the trend is towards more living at home while in higher education. Maybe. I certainly see some who do, including those who might not have got near to university a few years back and families which want their offspring to stay within the protection of mum and dad. For most a large part of the education is being away from home. Not only because they're learning how to cope with those old pressures of general life but the new opportunities that uni creates for them.

So here's a glass of wine (or a can of coke) raised to the students who had to cope with cancer, family crises, chopped-up credit cards, splits with partners and car accidents amongst other mega-probs. Being bombed with chemicals or pinned back together is extremely rare but has happened. There was the student (now well recovered from the kind of situation involved) who was called in to the bank to have their credit card cut up and to be wished goodbye. And there was the student subjected to a serious knife attack who lost the use of their writing hand part way through their course. It happens (still rarely) in any walk of life.

Smaller-scale problems are common. Being a student is, in the eyes of the rest of the world, a life spent drinking beer from the bottle and tipping uneaten pasta in the sink. Far from it.

Of course, I could point out to our students - indeed I occasionally do - that all these grim experiences are really good experiences when looked back on in later life. But it does risk getting a sink-tidy of cold spaghetti thrown at me. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Where Did I Go Wrong?


No, not me – that would take several pages for my own tutors to tell me – but our present first-year students who have just received their own results.

It’s a question frequently heard. “Can you show me where I was going wrong?”.

With some students a poor result is just that: a wrong turning when navigating down the path taken by a particular module, needing a small correction to get back on the road.

With others …. the answer is that the problem point where they made a ‘little mistake’ was at the very start. They failed to move at all. Didn’t get the map out, in fact. Didn’t attend the lectures. Or the workshops. Or download the handouts ready for adding notes during lectures. Maybe they didn’t take any notes during lectures from the pearls of wisdom dispensed by their tutor.

Small error.

Failed to do any work.


The Results Are Out


Final year awards were notified to students on the Leeds Met tourism course yesterday. As usual the stresses of the last year have resulted in celebrations for some and disappointment for others. First-class degrees are not given away by the course team – they have to be worked for, and there is no culture of awarding some fixed percentage. If no student reaches the right level then that classification records a zero number. By the same token third class degrees and fails are not dished out on any quota system. There is one change that has appeared in the last decade which eases the pain for a very small number, though. At one time the result was the final result and that was it. Nowadays there might be the chance to resubmit, for example, a dissertation if it was a fail but only just a fail. A heavy penalty has to be paid if the candidate accepts because they cannot join their friends at the July Awards Ceremony but must wait – if they are subsequently successful – the next year.

It’s difficult to get used to the fact that being awarded a certain classification of degree or level of HND – don’t let’s forget those – only means that someone was of a certain standard at that point in their lives. If ex-students were classified each year on their levels of skills and knowledge then they might rise up the scale to dizzy heights at some stage. A few do, who take a postgraduate Master’s or Doctor’s degree. The vast majority don’t. Perhaps then it could be of comfort to the also-rans and ‘fails’ to remember that in the long run they might turn out to be the most successful, the biggest achievers and the most influential. I remember back in the sixties when understanding these things was not easy, seeing people who had got the top awards and the course prizes and thinking that life was made for them. Not necessarily so. The years rolled by and some did great things while others languished, even failed.
For three or four years most of my school class who had reached the leaving age in 1959 met up in our home town for a pub drink or restaurant dinner. This was forty or so years later after one of our number set us going on a Friends Reunited and local newspaper hunt for our erstwhile school mates. Out of around 34 who had been in the class we made contact with almost 30. One had moved to Canada, one at least to Australia, one southern Africa, another Spain. Most were still in the UK. One was a university professor of standing, another had set up a string of businesses. One went into civil engineering, spending time in Africa. Two were church leaders. One had become an electrician but also an outstanding wildlife photographer. Somebody made a successful and rewarding career in accountancy and another helped handle Rolls Royce’s finances. A couple of them entered teaching, three went in to local retail and one or two – in due course – became software specialists.

It was remarkable just how much we still saw in each other the classmates of 1959 and yet how much we had changed. At that age we had been a mixed bag (and a set of mixed blessings, our teachers would have said). There were close friendships and some mutual dislikes, no doubt. After four decades growing up and older on the trials of life the two dozen who got back together had mellowed and mutually respectful as you would expect. Going through the mill of employment changes, illnesses and a divorce or two had hot-rolled some very different characters from the imperfect metal of 1959. I guess that many predictions made by us in that year about who would be successful and who not had turned out to be wrong, sometimes the opposite of what we had thought then.

It’s fifty years on since we left school. Today our students who are leaving university will be thinking about their successes or failures and predicting their own futures. I bet there will be as many surprises in fifty years’ time when they look back at 2009 as there were for us as we looked back to school-leaving in 1959.

Losing Their Way


Today’s Daily Mail quotes the results of a Travelodge survey which confirms the view expressed in an earlier posting that British children have a weak knowledge of their own country.

“A total of 2,500 children aged 5-16 were challenged to place well-known UK locations correctly but were hundreds of miles out in their calculations, the survey found. As many as 19 per cent of the youngsters thought Cornwall was in Scotland and 46 per cent believed the Lake District was in the Midlands or in Wales. Also, 32 per cent were baffled by Blackpool's exact location with some thinking it was in south west England, while 49 per cent could not place Bournemouth and 25 per cent did not know where Devon was”.

The Mail quotes Travelodge managing director Guy Parsons as saying: “This is the year of the 'staycation'. By holidaying at home, youngsters will certainly find out why Britain is a top holiday destination. In addition, they will learn more about their country and, most importantly, identify where key British holiday locations are.”

I remember a student – not on the tourism course – who got a First Class degree for excellent work, but who nonetheless thought that the Romans were around in the 12th century. I’m not sure that all tourism students would have placed them any better either. So perhaps Travelodge ought to run a history-knowledge survey, too, and promote their accommodation as places to enjoy some exploration of the past in Britain, too.

Dissertation Dry Run


The most challenging module in the final year has always been the dissertation. As an individual piece of research work carried out (and marked!) to an exactingly high standard it also represents almost a quarter of the marks counting towards the student’s final Award classification. It might be stating the obvious to say that in teaching the student always needs to be shown how to do something and then be given a chance to try it out with good feedback about how well they did. Only then should they be faced with doing it as an assessed assignment with the result counting towards their year’s-end grade. Even better would be a situation in which the student gets more than one chance to practice the process and receive feedback on their attainment level.

Some universities run modules from level 1 (the first year) teaching research methods. They have some kind of suitable assignment built in to test their students’ progress. In Leeds Met we have modules which give practice in different components of research and for two years at level 2 ran a research methods module. Usually we have done that at level 3 and there are arguments in favour of both, though better would be to have research methods at both and not just one of those levels. For two or three years my colleague Dr Nigel Morpeth and myself ran assignments as part of a field studies module at level 2. Nigel led the York field week and I ran the Malta week.

The students had to pick a topic about their chosen field visit destination and carry out a literature review about it. In other words, find out what had been written on that topic, especially in connection with that particular destination, so far. They then had to propose how they would try to add to that body of knowledge by carrying out their own research while on the visit itself. Their work was submitted, given an indicative mark as to its overall quality, and more detailed feedback comments.

During the residential each student carried out the research. Some chose questionnaire surveys, others in-depth interviews with managers, a small number tried observational studies of visitor behaviour or, for example, traffic flows of different kinds. While in York or Malta they had plenty of chance to discuss their work with tutors, during lunch breaks (ideally sat out in the sunshine on a Maltese beach or a York street café). Evenings could be used in the same way just before dinner or later in the bar. There is always the flexibility of talking with one student or a group if they wanted to. In Malta we sometimes were sat in the hotel entrance area in small groups on sofas with some of the hotel guests joining in. The whole exercise took on a dimension not possible in the university itself. For example, some students wanting to use a survey to find out why people spent holidays in Malta could test out their planned questions informally with some hotel guests. In a way it was a focus group helping shape the questionnaires because in these discussions students found out the variations in customer perceptions and decisions that existed, often within family groups or between couples. Motives that they hadn’t thought about were discovered. In Malta some ex-military people visited places intimately connected with the emotional stresses of service life, sometimes not in their own past but in that of parents or close relatives. We met people whose families had suffered during the war. And they were not always on the Allied side, either. This was particularly relevant when our German or Italian students shared these encounters with our British, French and other 'allies' nationality students. Thank goodness that their generation deals with such questions in a very different way than those of a few decades ago.

The visits to York and Malta over, the groups returned to Leeds to write up and discuss their findings. Again there was time to talk with tutors about the process, including with specialists who had not been taking part in the residentials. The work was submitted, marked and returned. It has been a ‘dry run’ on the dissertation process that they faced for real in the final year. Sadly, the field week module was dropped and so was the whole principle of having every student taking part in an affordable, intensive, residential week half way through their course. A skiing trip for those who wanted to ski took over. Later, a trip to the Gambia, much more expensive though with good, solid visits and talks, was added. It has not been level-specific but open to students of any year. At 500-plus it has attracted only small numbers. Some would say that PR opportunism has taken over from educational value.

Residential Role-Playing: 'Destination Malta'


As referred to in the previous posting, this was a role-playing game in tourism development which ran during the whole week in Malta. A great deal of preparation went in to the setting up of the game, though once done it could then be used in the form of a template for subsequent visits. The exercise seemed to work well but was dropped in favour of devising a ‘dry run’ dissertation-style assignment, of which more later.

Every student was allocated an individual role which they had to use in order to consider a fictitious development proposal for the island. This was usually given as a resort to be created on Manoel Island in Sliema Creek. A housing development with resort elements is under way now, having been the subject of speculation for many years. It has been the subject of criticism however because of its position within the attractive historic environment of Sliema Creek. The game-playing that I devised was labelled Destination Malta and aimed at bringing out the important elements of community decision-making that are – or at least should be – required in tourism development.

In 2002 56 students took part in the Malta Residential, so there were 56 roles given. Here are a few: Nationalist Party MP, Labour Party MP, Vittoriosa Councillor, Mdina Councillor, Mgarr Councillor, Owner of Printing Company, Building Construction Company Owner, Food Wholesaler, Coach Operator, Maltese Banker, Floriana Investments Company Director, Mgarr Projects Ltd CEO, Bar Owner, Owner, Les Pecheurs Restaurant, Diving Centre Owner.

Each person was given three targets in terms of making profit, gaining fame and gathering popularity. These were expressed in numerical terms. They also were ‘given’ a capital sum of money ranging from a couple of thousand pounds (for easier understanding by mainly UK students) up to several million.

The students were told to consider a development project for somewhere in Malta – either in the form of a physical construction, an event or a new service. As a guide to costings a table of costs was provided for a series of possible projects from a five-star hotel to an arts festival. Only ‘one-off’ capital sums were given, rather on the Monopoly game principal of nominal figures. Students either had to work within their own budgets as given or had to find others with resources and a willingness to partner them.

During the whole of the week in Malta the students had to work on ideas having listened to a series of lectures by Maltese leaders from a range of sectors, and having seen much of the islands. Full attention had to be given to the local situation, people’s opinions, policies and aspirations. They could discuss with tutors and with the local leaders that they met their early ideas, then they needed to get on to develop them, producing a written outline and a simple map or plan as appropriate. At the end of the end of the week the proposals were presented formally to a panel of a commercial director, and two Institute of Tourism Studies tutors. They then made comments on each proposal and chose one that they would support to go ahead – in theory, of course. A prize was given.

Each student had had to prepare for the exercise before setting out for Malta. When they returned there was a de-briefing to decide what they had got right and what wrong, and what lessons they had learnt about the process of creating and putting forward their projects.

Practising Research Techniques


Malta and York both gave the chance to students to find out what happens when you step ‘into the field’ to do research. Right from the start the groups had to do some in-depth interviews and questionnaire studies. In the first couple of years this meant, as all students were studying a foreign language, identifying someone who was a visitor and spoke that language as their first language. They then had to speak in the same language while asking questions about their visit. Later on the course was modified to allow students not to learn a foreign language if they wished, so the interviewing exercise changed accordingly.

Malta being a small country it was relatively easy to obtain opportunities for in-depth interviews with senior executives and officials. The very first visit set up contacts with the National Tourism Office (later the Malta Tourism Authority), the Environmental Planning Authority, the University and the Institute of Tourism Studies and the Civic Trust, as well as a number of commercial operators. Over the years of course the contact list grew to the advantage of the students, making for an invaluable resource for teaching in other modules as well.

Andrew Eaglen set up a task for group work. Each set of five or six students had to produce and perform an advertising jingle for Malta. They panicked a bit at first but the results were generally quite impressive. Some had taken CD players and used background music for their choral efforts.

Another exercise was aimed at getting them to look for and test out evidence. It involved a ‘murder mystery’ in which a series of named suspects, each of whom had a mini-biography of varying credibility, had given statements about where they were at the time of the crime. They all included factual references to places or events in Malta. For one, the murderer, the facts were incorrect. To find out which the students, given a sheet with the brief statements on, had to observe the island and decide where the problems were. For instance, there might be a reference to a particular restaurant that the suspect claimed to have been in at the time, but gave it quite the wrong location in an effort to make an alibi. The students took to it a little too quickly – or else the checking requirement was too easy, and it was solved within the first 24 hours. But they had learnt a bit more about the place and they had learnt a little about checking evidence. Since the York and Malta residentials were replaced in 2006/07 by a skiing trip all of that kind of practical exercise was lost.

The biggest exercise, however, was the role-playing tourism development work, of which more later.

Bridging The Gap


Another way of breaking down the gap between our student group and the diverse set of other hotel guests was to have the students take on a formal exercise. As one of their tasks investigating tourism in Malta they were asked to interview some of the other guests to find out why they came to the country. They were also told to find out more about the background to their interviewees in order to understand the reasons better. “Put yourself in the customer’s shoes” was the advice. “Don’t see the destination in any kid of tourism through your own eyes alone or else you will fail to appreciate just what consumer perceptions there are out there”.

We also told them that it was a fairly informal exercise and if they found some of the other peoples’ stories interesting then yes, talk about it and get to know more. The students had to report back to one of the evening sessions about their findings. They were put in to groups so we could get through the discussions within an hour. After each person recounted what they learnt the others in the group were told you ask questions to clarify points or to highlights interesting areas. It soon became obvious where any lost opportunities had occurred for probing further in the original interviews. Something was therefore also learnt about research methods. What also was noted by the student group as well as by the tutors was the way in which some friendships were formed between the older and the younger guests. They were seen greeting each other and sometimes chatting about what they had each been doing during the day. Students commented later on the interest they found in understanding some of the human history that they heard. That helped them to understand Malta itself. Adding that new knowledge to the other exercises they were engaged in made a much better picture emerge about tourism in the country.

One of the problems that all of our students exhibited during every Malta visit was the weakness of their knowledge of history. It has always shown throughout their studies. They often had a thin knowledge of geography, too, though that varied enormously according to the individual. Some were very good, others were, and I choose the words carefully, woefully ignorant of their world. This might have been because they came from a country which had a limited world view in general. Working in a foreign language, studying in a place far from home, makes the problem greater. Some students came to us already well travelled. Even that was no guarantee that they had a world picture better than that of other people, or understood basic geographical principles. You might imagine that people opting for a tourism course must have some interest and knowledge about world patterns of places and peoples. Not so in many cases: tourism operations and the pursuit of the good holiday can be a very narrow focus. The fact that places and peoples are also the product of history, and to understand them you need some kind of historical framework of knowledge seems alien to many students of tourism.

These students were often taught history and geography piecemeal as an offshoot of some kind of ‘integrated project work’. It’s an approach to education that forgets all learning is integrated. Project work is useful and can be inspiring, but its integrative nature is largely internalised. It fails if it fails to integrate its findings into some systematic, wider picture.

More Cake!


Cake can be a management tool. An earlier posting recalled the cakes made for a placement returnees party in 1995. On the first Malta trip two tutors, myself and Helen, shared the same birthday. OK, we have always shared the same birthday but this time we shared celebrating it. Funnily enough we also sent greetings to another colleague who also has the same birthday. Anyway, we were presented with a decorated cake by the students on the evening of our final night in Malta. Everyone had chosen a local restaurant for a last-night social dinner. The cake went along and the restaurant manager was happy enough to cut and serve it to everyone as the dessert.

Whether or not that was the start of a tradition, I don’t recall, but on another trip I thought we should build in the cake tradition. Er – sorry – create a cake tradition. When students filled in their application forms to take part in the residential they were asked for their date of birth. We didn’t really need it, but it allowed us to see who might have a birthday during the visit. Invariably someone did. One year there were two sharing. Once out in Malta we casually told some of the celebrant’s friends what we planned and asked them to collect a small contribution from as many as possible. There was never any problem doing it and often there was money spare for a bottle of wine or other gift or two. As I write this it occurs to me that the cake idea started after 2001 when we first went to stay at the Bugibba Holiday Complex, a much nicer and better venue than that of St Georges Park. Staff there were always very friendly and helpful.

We needed that help for the cake. The restaurant obtained a cake and decorated it as we wanted – Happy Birthday to whoever and so on. At this point it needs to be remembered that in the restaurant our group usually sat together for dinner, which was usually for us at a set time and fairly early, and that as on every trip the other guests might still be a bit unsure of this student group, livelier and a bit noisier than themselves.

Word had been put round our group not to go for a dessert. The victim – sorry, birthday boy or girl’s friends had the task of getting them to hold back from dessert without knowing the real reason. We needed to coordinate well with the restaurant manager, whose first priority was obviously to ensure everyone was helping themselves to what they wanted for dinner and that the chefs serving at the buffet were ready. When he signalled that he was ready we made sure all our students were sat chatting and also ready. Out went all the lights in the restaurant. Everyone was a bit surprised and for a second or two probably thought the power had failed. In a moment however the restaurant manager swept out from the kitchen with the cake, sparklers showering coloured light over the scene. As he reached the table where the student sat our party sang out Happy Birthday to You and the lights came back on. Loud applause followed, usually with many other diners joining in as they saw what was happening. At that point they realised that here was a friendly, sentimental group of young people enjoying a long-standing tradition. The birthday boy or girl was delighted and received hand shakes or hugs and kisses all round – including from their tutors and the restaurant staff. The cake disappeared for cutting. On its return there was always plenty for its owner to pass round the party with some left over. At a quick suggestion they were always happy to circulate round the restaurant offering pieces to other guests. The effect was a joy to watch. The students had their traditional birthday party (usually they thought they were going to miss it that year) and the other hotel guests found themselves joining in with the event, impressed that it was happening. Which must have done a bit of public relations good for the University, too.

Unveggie Omelettes


Learning happens in many ways. In the early days of the Malta visits we used the St Georges Park complex of self-catering and catered accommodation. Unfortunately the way we were catered for was not perfect, although there were advantages in the fact there was plenty of meeting room for our evening workshops and occasionally rooms with sea views.

In 1998 we stayed there. As usual there were quite a few elderly British visitors wintering in the Mediterranean at costs lower than had they been living at home in the UK. At meal times in the L-shaped dining room our group were seated in the shorter arm of the L and everyone else in the longer section. As we found throughout our visits to the islands the arrival of forty or more young Brits tended to make the elderly Brits a bit nervous. The lifestyles appeared to them so different. It would always turn out, with a bit of judicious management, of which more in a later posting, that they could get on beautifully once they had chance to talk.

One evening everyone was seated for dinner and orders being given for what was quite a limited choice of dishes. Some students asked for the vegetarian omelette. Now, it needs to be said that there had been quite a few incidents of poor service and small things going wrong. The restaurant staff were pretty nondescript. They were used to ‘serving’ retired British visitors who had here been mainly in the military (“don’t complain”) and were living on pensions. Perhaps their lifestyles were more limited for lots of reasons. On the other hand here were lively British students brought up in the never-had-it-so-good culture of the late twentieth century. Most of them had been out on placement and, it also needs to be said, some of them had waited on tables in well-run hotels and a few had duty-managed restaurants. So when omelettes arrived which had cubes of ham in them, our gang were not amused.

One of my colleagues on that occasion was Martin Wright, an excellent addition to the University team who had worked extensively for major hotel companies and taught marketing. Not only that, Martin was no bar-room salesman but had a strong sense of customer service. For my part I had spent enough time over many years leading commercial special-interest weekends to have learnt a thing or two about how hotels work and what to do when they didn’t deliver. Both of us could recognise a learning situation when it stood up on its hind legs and barked at us.

There had already been a number of problems with the quality of staffing and food delivery before the ham-lettes arrived. So we were determined that lessons must be learnt. We complained to the waiter. No satisfaction there. We demanded the manager. No satisfaction in his very offhand answer either. So it was time to take centre stage. We stood. We raised our voices a notch or two, and moved to the corner of the L-shaped dining room. The students fell silent, fascinated. The Brits fell silent. Things Were Said. Customer service here was low, the staff appeared not to care. Students were customers just like anyone else and must not be given second-class service. Actually, we guessed rightly from later comments that the other guests were being treated equally badly. Martin and I made sure everyone could hear what we said. Like Shakespearean actors getting into their stride we identified the tragedy of the restaurant and contrasted it with the comedy of the hotel’s claims to offer a quality experience. We managed not to cry “England and St George!” but we wanted at least proper vegetarian omelettes as ordered, we sat down. Cheers erupted from the students. The older guests took a little while to restart their conversations, but the points had been well made. The two sets of Brits present in the hotel began to talk to each other. Drinks were bought. The younger group got to know about the older group, who they were, why they came to Malta and what their lives in the military had been like. So many, of course, had served in Malta and made deep friendships in the country.

By the end of the week our tourism students had discovered so much more about the place and why it was what it was. They found out from within the local community mix of hosts and guests why Malta looked as it did and what made it tick. None of that evening’s dining-room drama had been arranged in any course Scheme of Work. Text books might refer to customer service but seeing the practices in action was the real way to learn the whats and the whys and especially the hows. Even more important, groups separated by a great generation gap learnt from each other.

Higher education is much more than Schemes of work, text books and PowerPoint slides. It is about real experiences in the right kind of setting, often well outside the classroom.



The most ambitious and longest-running overseas residential series was that to Malta. It was devised by tutors Peter Dewhurst, Helen Horobin and Andrew Eaglen in 1996. I joined them for the first visit that year and became the main coordinator for subsequent visits. There were nine in all, each a week in length and packed with solid educational content – lectures, workshops, visits and investigations. The evenings were occupied either with review and discussion meetings or group tasks. These included, for a number of visits, student groups writing and performing jingles advertising the island country, some of which were quite outstanding, and some of which were …. er … not. Malta had a price advantage which made it affordable for students, though from the beginning there was always a low-cost field week for those who chose not to go. The latter took place in West or North Yorkshire and the City of York was the focus of all the later versions under tutor Nigel Morpeth.

Malta also had other advantages. It is an island state. It has both mass tourism and specialised tourism. As a small country it is easy, even for students, to access senior personnel at national and local government level as well as in commercial and voluntary organisations. Being English-speaking it held no language barriers for the student group, but as a Mediterranean destination students were able to use their language skills in exercises requiring them to carry out research interviews, for example, in the language they were studying in University. Malta’s heritage is remarkable, spanning not only the best part of 6,000 years but a number of Mediterranean and north European cultures. Many Arabic influences mark the country. Of later years the industrial basis of its economy allows an interesting study of the interplay between heavy and light industrial communities and tourism. The University of Malta and the Malta Institute of Tourism Studies help supply various supporting services for visiting academic groups. On the other hand the country is small, its economy is not the strongest and the level of landscape quality varies accordingly. In other words, the mix of experiences and case studies available is extremely useful.

We also made many good friends in the islands over the years with links forged to the benefit of students and staff alike. This web site carries many pages illustrating the country and the residential visits we made and the students who spent time there rated the activities there amongst the strongest educational and social features of the whole course.

Bruges, Booze And Back To Blighty


The return trips from Zeebrugge to Hull on each of the two years we went to Belgium were lively. We hadn’t realised that ferries might carry Ships’ Policemen and have cells on board. On one trip some football supporters from Belgium were on their way to Scotland. Most were behaving perfectly normally like any other passengers, but a few became very drunk. Some arguments broke out. In the restaurant one of the policemen almost put handcuffs on a rowdy supporter. He calmed the man down instead.

Of course a student party, mainly made up of young adults away from home and feeling on these trips as though they were on holiday, congregated round the bar. Apart from TV somewhere, a small disco and some bar games there wasn’t much to do. Over a hundred students from Leeds made up the party with four staff. On returning from the second trip to Bruges a few students drank too much. Which means, of course, that around a hundred did not drink over any kind of limit (apart from perhaps their pockets, that is) and some of the party did not touch alcohol at all. Of those who did sink too many bevies a couple became problems, though again not in any really big way. One young lady became maudling and was in floods of tears in the bar turned midnight over some affair of the heart, but it turned out to have been the result of a break-up the week before this particular trip. A male student felt ill and the ship’s purser did wonder whether a helicopter might be called from Grimsby to whisk him off to hospital. It was a false alarm with too much alcohol involved in it somewhere. Some time after 2am the ship quietened down properly, most people having turned in long before, but a few had been playing hide and seek around the companion ways. At least, that’s what it might have been…….

Over-drinking can be a serious problem. From many years of experience of having to tick off noisy students in the middle of the night in all kinds of locations, I think there have been hardly any serious incidents. On the other hand other hotel guests have been disturbed and that is serious enough of its kind. Some of the ship’s cleaning staff were upset by the state of a couple of the cabins – left extremely untidy and littered - after the very first trip out and refused to clean them. That earned the whole group a very public warning before they got back aboard at the end of the day in Bruges. And some staff have refused to join further trips away if they stood a chance of having to sort out problems and complaints when they were supposed to be enjoying their beauty sleep. Which they needed and deserved, of course.

That was one of the reasons why there were only the two night-time ferry crossings to Belgium and back. First year students are not as mature as second and third-year people – that first year in university makes a big difference. On top of that, a year in industry makes even more difference. One year when we were flying out to Malta with some second year students and some third years who had been on placement, it was three of the post-placement students who commented how different the people were who had not yet faced the discipline of the industrial year. We twice took final year students to Amsterdam, city of brown cafes, a very public red light district and plenty of good bars. There was not the slightest hint of any kind of problem, which is more than can be said of some residentials there.

It was that case of them coming back from a placement year three years older, as I quoted in an earlier posting.

To Belgium for A Day


David Hind, the Tourism Subject Group leader, found an interesting package for a first-year trip which was almost a residential. North Sea Ferries were offering a night crossing from Hull to Zeebrugge followed by a coach transfer to Bruges. After spending the day there the visitors caught the coach back to the ferry for a second overnight home. It wasn’t a residential in Bruges - but the ship would become a residence, for two nights.

The North Sea was calm both outwards and inwards. As the early morning mists cleared the ferry manoeuvred up against the wharf. Breakfast was being taken as the ship made fast. Soon after we were disembarking and walking across to the coaches for the short journey into Bruges. The first stop was a lecture hall for an introductory talk, after which the party was able to explore. The Bruges visit was repeated the next year and on that occasion it included a visit to a brewery where some of the excellent local beer is made. The city is also famous for chocolate, lace, art and architecture and it is a World Heritage City and so attracts very many tourists. To first-year students the shops and cafes might have been the most attractive. Even so, the essence of the city was obvious just walking around on foot, the best way to explore somewhere which for thousands of years had kept much of its medieval character even when it made later additions. Some of the group found the glorious chocolate shops a gourmet heaven. Others were happy to sit drinking coffee in the open in one of the squares, watching people pass by. One or two might have discovered some of Belgium’s famous comics shops and at least one revelled in a shop devoted to the most famous Belgian comic hero, Tintin.

A day is OK but it means there can be only some brief visits. Carrying out field work is not really possible without time to orientate yourself and get in the hours necessary to gather meaningful results. One of the consequences of expanding higher education is the sea-saw effect: as numbers increase the quality is likely to decrease. Staffing, budgets and time remain fixed resources or get smaller and so having more students means spreading those resources more thinly. Being creative and innovative is all very well as an objective, and some progress is made on supporting activities such as library and IT support, but the heart of education at every level is the person-to-person interaction between staff and students. Giving a lecture, a handout or an academic paper to read does not automatically mean that the student understands, interprets and uses the contents properly. Yet that is the approach of so many teaching teams who seem to think that knowledge and understanding is something packed in a box and handed over. To put it another way, the educational process is like that of the potter shaping a single dish on a wheel. It must be raised and shaped and smoothed to make a beautiful end result. It is becoming like an assembly-line process in which clay is squirted into a mould, pressed into shape, sprayed and glazed over in order to turn out thousands of identical units in the brave new world of higher education. It isn’t brave, it isn’t new, and isn’t what the world needs in any way.

Alton Towers


As the numbers taken in to the first year of the course increased and Scarborough became impossible for a residential, day trips became the replacement. One of these for a couple of years was to Alton Towers. A day in a leading theme park (in a leading county, too, if I might say so) was at least a useful way of introducing students to a tourist attraction. It also gave some chance of them socialising with rest of the students. A lecture about the Park was followed by chance to explore the three elements which make up Alton Towers – the ruins of the Victorian building itself, the very fine gardens set in a valley leading to the River Churnet, and the theme park. How many students spent time in either of the first two is debateable. It’s certain they took time to do the traditional family thing of trying out the white knuckle rides and the easygoing equivalents. At the centre of the park Oblivion holds each set of daredevils in its clutches, strapped into seats on a kind of block of cinema-like seats. The contraption is carried slowly to the top of a tower, allowing the tension to mount, then it upends itself to suspend the squealing passengers for a few moments above a huge hole in the ground into which they will then be plunged. All of a sudden the brakes release and down they go into – oblivion. Immediately the carriage sweeps through ninety degrees and hurls its cargo out into the light once more, slowing down as it races along its track. The nearest equivalent back in University must be going in to an exam room ….. no it isn’t, though to listen to any group facing a test of their knowledge it might as well be.

There are plenty of other rides and attractions within Alton Towers. Most of the visitor experience there will only have been drawn upon in an educational sense much later on the course. Alton Towers is the UK theme park in the minds of most of the students, partly because it featured as a case study in Tourism Planning at level 2, but also because of its high profile within the UK market. Subsequent students who did not have a trip to the Park have often known it from first-hand experience. The dozen case studies that they could examine in Tourism Planning often gave the excuse to visit a couple for direct experience. Calderdale in West Yorkshire, The Ironbridge Museums and even more distantly the Eden Project were such destinations. Half the cases were abroad and so unlikely to get a visit. The Planning cases were chosen from the commercial, public sector and charitable sectors. So much teaching of tourism management is based on the commercial sector and probably big-business examples at that. The text books available reflect it and the way in which the industry is seen ….. there’s an example: we use the term ‘tourism industry’. The early days of tourism were not rooted in commerce, even though by the end of the nineteenth century that is where tourism was going. They were set in practices of informal and formal education – pilgrimage, the Grand Tour, package travels with Thomas Cook, Henry Lunn, the Polytechnic Touring Association and others. Arguably tourism is not an industry, it’s a series of human activities lumped together, misleadingly, as a ‘single industry’. Just look at the way every writer talks of it being one of the biggest world industries. It would be like referring to the food industry as if it also included the billions of people struggling to feed their families around the world as commercial units within that industry. There are big connections – but it would be a dangerous way to view eating if we saw it only as a commercial function.

Those considerations, when applied to tourism, are the stuff of analysis, interpretation and discussion at university level. They underpin examination of issues of sustainability, community cohesion and our understanding of the world. The background of many tutors – if they have tourism management experience at all – is in the commercial sector. Economic factors drive public perceptions of tourism. The books written by academics working within that context often – there are some good exceptions – reinforce the economic perspective. This is especially the case with marketing. Few text books touch on, let alone concentrate on, the very different approach of public sector and community-driven tourism development because the key writers have little experience of it. Those who do appear to be people who are discovering it late in life and sometimes write as if they always knew what it was about but haven’t had time to get round to it. We might suspect that they were therefore causing the perspective problem in the first place.

The case of the tourism management students visiting Alton Towers is a good example. The attraction started as the house of a landowner, part of a busy community in which the estate was a dominating and powerful element. It opened up over a number of years to the wider community in order to educate, in a way strongly imbued with propaganda for the position of the ‘lord of the manor’ leading his people. The declining fortunes of the Talbot family at the Towers led to increasing levels of commercialism as Alton took on new functions. John Broome, an entrepreneur creating the modern theme park, moved it firmly into the commercial sector. But the legacy of Alton Towers is still seen today – manorial house, pleasure gardens and theme park, the three components relating to the social, educational and entertainment functions of tourism. The students who we took there understandably made a bee-line for the theme park. I bet most teachers of tourism in their lectures and discussions in class do exactly the same. It underplays the importance to the world at large of what tourism is about and it needs to change.

One Good Tern


Another great excursion was one that took two coach loads of students and tutors to the Lake District. Again I can’t confirm which year it was! – but round about 1998.

We set off with three drivers for the two vehicles since it would be a long day, including a rather special evening social event in the Windermere area. Drivers’ hours had to be observed. The route was up the A65 past Settle and Kirkby Lonsdale and the first stop should have been the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway. Unfortunately just outside Kirkby Lonsdale a large lorry had collided with a tree, blocking the road. We had to divert along a slow B road to the M6 at Carnforth. Our schedule immediately fell apart. The group should have joined the Lakeside Railway and taken a steam train to the end of Lake Windermere, but there was no chance of getting there on time. Instead our two coaches went straight to Lakeside so that everyone could board the MV Tern for a sail up to Bowness. The little lake ‘steamer’ – actually a motor vessel – is the oldest on the Lake, having been built in 1891, so was recently past it’s centenary.

At Bowness the coaches were waiting to take us to the National Park Centre at Brockholes. A talk was given to the party and there was time to look over the visitor centre with its exhibition and information centre, plus gardens with impressive views along the Lake. Then it was back round the south end of Windermere and up the narrow lanes of Grizedale (which didn’t half wind up one of the drivers, much to the amusement of the other two). Next came the Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre, again to be inspected, and the forest walks radiating from it with interpretive panels and wayside exhibits. Here the students could see more of the story begun at Brockholes – of the conservation of the natural environment and its interpretation for visitors, the basis of management for what is now termed sustainability. The important thread stemming from the Geography of Tourism and Tourism Operations Management, through Tourism Planning and Development (we used to teach both) and on to Tourism and the Environment in the final year: the excursion was firmly linked to taught modules.

After that it was on to Ambleside in the late afternoon. Around 6 o’clock we were at Waterside, and the faithful Tern was awaiting at the pier just south of the town. We had chartered the vessel for the evening. The best part of a hundred students and tutors went on board once more and the bar was open. Also, a buffet meal was set out, and the next couple of hours or so were spent sailing slowly down the Lake as the evening drew in. The journey needed only an hour if the boat went on its usual merry way. This evening it zig-zagged into little bays and round islands and generally took its time so that we could enjoy our own. The group leader was also noticed to be enjoying being captain – commodore, admiral? – for the voyage, inspecting everything from the engine room to the bridge. Who said academic life brings only dry rewards?

And so it was back on to the coaches at Lakeside for the trip back to Leeds. The steam train had been missed and the evening had been a bit drizzle, but the highest traditions of the navy were maintained, mainbraces liberally spliced and everyone’s health toasted sitting down. Look it up, guys, look it up.

Tetley’s Brewery Wharf And The Story Of Beer


Another year – 1997-ish – we combined a tourist visit with a social at what was one of Leeds’ newest attractions – Tetley’s Brewery Wharf down by the river. Around 1996 the brewery opened a newly-designed building as a visitor centre telling the story of beer. A series of rooms were built like stage sets representing different ages from the medieval period up to the present day, and then some time in the future. Visitors moved from room to room in groups to be met by costumed actors who greeted their guests and told them something of the age they were illustrating – the life and times of the beer that would have been brewed just then. It was a very different kind of attraction. The use of what would be technically known as first-person interpretation in which a performer pretends to be a certain character and does not talk like a modern commentator about the period – he or she is supposedly someone from the period – is unusual and can be very effective. But it is not employed extensively in Britain: Wigan Pier in Lancashire and Dickens World in Chatham are some of the better examples. The technique was generally imported from the United states in places like Plimoth Plantation near Boston, which is described elsewhere in these pages. Effectively it is a blend of theatre with the theatrical audience – the visitors who walk into and around the sets, listen to the performers and ask questions of them, being drawn into the pretence of being in the past. It can be a highly effective method of interpreting the past since it can engage all five senses, allow questioning and stimulate some quite high emotional responses.

Our visit ended with time spent in the restaurant-bar at Brewery Wharf in the form of a social occasion. This was one trip which did not need coach transport! We could walk across the new pedestrian bridge into The Calls and the city centre.

Sadly, Tetley’s Brewery Wharf did not last long. Perhaps the feeling was that once you had seen the ‘show’ (which also, by the way, included seeing the shire horses which traditionally used to pull the wagons delivering beer to the city pubs) you wouldn’t want to go again. It might have been like seeing the same play twice within a few months – few might want to do that. But also the operation was fairly labour-intensive and therefore expensive. Great fun, though.

Ripley, Believe It Or Not


It was at the start of one of the early years of the Tourism Management course that we held a study visit and social in Ripley, North Yorkshire. It might have been as early as 1993 – at the beginning of the second year of the course.

We hired two coaches and loaded everyone we could on board and took ourselves off to Ripley Castle, just north of Harrogate. The Castle is relatively small and much more domestic than the name suggests. It is set in its own parkland. It is the home of Sir Thomas Ingleby and his family and he was very generous in meeting us and acting as one of the guides to their home. At the time Lady Ingleby had recently had a baby and when the party heard the child crying in the room above it added another sign of domesticity to the ancient Castle.

Ripley Castle earns its keep (sorry, no pun intended) by being hired out to private and corporate functions such as weddings and management team pursuits in the park. These included things like driving ATVs around a course by the lake and today performances of Shakespearean plays, jazz, photography courses and falconry.

Our student group heard the history of the family, which has been in unbroken residence since 1090 when an earlier Sir Thomas Ingleby married the heiress to the Castle, Edeline Thwenge. Since that year the Ingleby family has lived there continuously.

As our visit was coming to an end our plans were to head for a pub somewhere to sink a few glasses. Sir Thomas mentioned the Boar’s Head Hotel in the village which sounded ideal – a short walk away and within the village associated with the Castle. He phoned the landlord, told him to prepare for a student party, and that was that. We spent a happy hour or two with the villagers until it was time to board the coaches back to Leeds. What better way to start a year than by adding a social evening to a tourist attraction visit?


Leaving for The City


In the summer of 1995 the course was moved to the City Campus. Colleagues Irena Snowden and Keith Hollinshead decided not to continue with the course. Irena stayed with Leisure Studies at Beckett Park and Keith returned to Texas A&M. So I was the only tutor to move into the City. For a year or two John Spink travelled down from Beckett Park to teach, as did a few other tutors mainly teaching on other courses. However, an experiment by the newly-integrated Tourism and Hospitality School, soon to be joined by the innovative Events Course, was set up. On top of the pattern of three terms and two semesters by which the academic year was divided there would be three blocks of teaching. One occupied the autumn term up to Christmas, the second a month in the new year and the third the rest of the year before and after Easter. Imagine it – three patterns controlling the schedule. It was confusing. There was a rumour that some in the University management wanted to merge Tourism and Hospitality with the Business School and this was a way of making that difficult. It’s not easy to see why it should really cause a problem if it was decided to join the two as the block system could be cancelled quickly. The claimed reason was that students and tutors could concentrate on certain modules within each block with hopefully better results. What did happen was that tutors from other schools were stopped from teaching with the tourism team as schedules did not allow it, and some good students (paying extra fees, by the way), who joined us from other courses in the University for certain modules, were likewise cut out. Within a couple of years the idea was dropped but we never got back those very supportive tutors or the students.



Kelvin Shewry, who graduated in 2007, called back in to Leeds Met today. Kelvin travelled out to Indonesia with Dr Janet Cochrane, Andy Durrands and Kim Wilson to do voluntary work with communities out there. All returned to the UK though Kim went to Australia in late May. Kelvin brought the news that he will be spending two months in northern Bolivia with an expedition under the doyen of explorers Sir John Blashford-Snell. It will again be a voluntary-work activity, and Kelvin’s part will be to carry out a tourism feasibility project.

Back in 1996 the course had its first graduates. In the subsequent years more and more people completed the course with either degrees or HNDs. I guess that most ex-students stayed in Britain or returned here after taking time out to travel, covering between them somewhere in every continent except Antarctica (one of Leeds Met’s Leisure Studies students went there to study tourism and has since taught the subject in Wales, Canada and now, New Zealand).

A quick look through the Alumni News page on this web site will illustrate some of the travellers and the range of reasons for their travels. Helen Smith worked in Amsterdam for some years and then with a friend bought a vehicle and drove from Britain to Africa, across the Sahara and down to South Africa. Simon Sweet moved to Thailand in the adventure tourism business for a large-scale operator. Rajiv Maher spent some years in Chile before moving to Brazil where he works now. An adventure of a different sort and at a different time was that of two returnees from placement in Hong Kong who came back to Europe via the Trans-Siberian Express.

Many have taken themselves off to Australia and New Zealand. Some returned after a time down under: some have stayed permanently. We know of a couple of dozen or more out there now and there are probably more. Others are in the USA – permanently or for a few months before coming back here. There are many in Europe outside the UK. We have had students from very nearly every European country. Some returned home after their studies while others stayed here or went somewhere else around the globe. Several UK alumni have moved to live in mainland Europe.

It’s a reflection of the fact that our students love travel – partly the main reason for taking the course in the first place – but also the fact that their studies open up the vista of a world worth exploring and getting much easier to travel around than it used to be. And at a time when all kinds of political, economic, cultural and environmental problems are threatening the planet and its people, it can only be a good thing that so many do go out to explore, understand and contribute towards life in distant places. Long may it continue.

Scarborough, Fair


On earlier blog pages there have been plenty of mentions of the Scarborough residentials and photos to show what it was really like. What was it like, ladies and gentlemen of the alumni?
“Cold” , “Fun”, “A laugh”, “We got to know each other”, “We learnt a lot”, “We felt like we’d settled in”. Hmmm! Nobody picked out learning a lot about tourism. Well, not as a main memory, anyway.

What were some of my memories?

Trying to unload the coach in double-quick time near the Bedford Hotel where there was no space for waiting
Some cold rooms with en suite facilities shoe-horned into them
Evening workshops with flip chart papers, felt tip pens and Bluetack everywhere around the lounge and bar
Management games on the beach
Watching the local residents watching the management games on the beach
A late-night storm with waves breaking up against the harbour wall: spectacular!
Fish and chip lunches with colleagues on the prom
Having to quieten down the party which started at 2am in a nearby bedroom
Hearing the story of the floodlights on the front of the hotel illuminating two students saying good night to one another (I think that is what they were doing)
Riding along the prom on open-topped buses, seeing student groups engaged in work projects all over the place
The lectures on the tourism history, development and marketing of tourism in Scarborough
Visiting the Sea-Life Centre and spending ages with students just watching the sharks and rays swimming up to us: who was studying who?
Visiting Danby Forest with the forest rangers – very different from the beach scene
Whitby – the harbour, Abbey and narrow streets
Spending time in Flamingoland on the way back from one tip
Fish and chip lunches with colleagues. Again
Working out the Desert Survival Exercise with student groups in competition in the hotel bar
Joining fellow tutors see American actor Judd Hirsch performing at the old Scarborough Playhouse; and seeing the highly inventive version
of Dickens’ “Hard Times” there in another year
Arriving back in Leeds after several days feeling that people had enjoyed the trip, learnt a lot, and had plenty of fun. Very satisfying!

The first year we went was 1992 within a month of starting the course. The trip went so well that students asked if we could do another trip. So we did. To Edinburgh.

Real World Experience: The Trilogy


There was an early attempt by a long-departed colleague to shift the tourism course at Leeds Met towards tourism studies rather than management. It became obvious that the reason was not about benefiting students but about matching his own career plan. Thankfully wiser management rejected the attempt. It was a sad revelation of what many outsiders have said about higher education: that it isn’t always driven by the ideals that it professes but by personal ambition. The experience of the next few years would show many other examples. At times it was like watching the struggle for power by the Dark Side. I’m not sure that they aren’t winning in 2009.

Without a doubt, as I was told at the time, the vocational training of the course was its strongest point. Within a few years that original intake of students were reporting back from their new-found careers in the same terms. Several said that they wished there had been more generic management training on the course. On the other hand they appreciated the balance that there had been between theory and practice. Learn the concepts, then test them out. Observe the effects and from the results go back and refine the concepts. It makes sense. I came to a personal conclusion that what we were doing was to train students in management and to develop their personal attributes. Using tourism as a focus was an interesting way of doing it, but also offered a very wide range of windows on the world, its joys and its problems.

Three out-of-classroom elements were crucial to the success of the course. These were the day visits and residentials spent studying destinations at first hand; the placement year undertaken by every student, getting immersed in a particular working situation for a long period; and the group-based module which used to be called the Industry Hosted Project, now called Tourism Consultancy Ventures (and recently much watered down from the original idea).

The IHP, as it was known for short, required students to be placed in groups of about six. Each team was specified by tutors and deliberately made up of a mix of contrasting personalities. Each team was given a task set by a real-world organisation, and over several months and alongside other very demanding modules in the final year they had to prove themselves by producing a solution which their client thought excellent. Over the years a very varied spectrum of tasks was set. Clients included the National Trust, the National Geographic Society, English Heritage, Blackpool Borough Council (and several other local authority tourism departments), a string of attractions from the National Mining Museum to York Minster and bodies like the Yorkshire Tourist Board and the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Final reports had to be presented to a panel of clients and tutors in formal style. Quite often the solutions set out in the final reports were taken on board by the client, who often came back for another stage in their long term work to be carried out by a Leeds Met team.

The presentations were video-recorded – itself a very demanding requirement. How different the students looked in their formal clothing from what they were when they arrived as first-year students! By no means all of them would go in to the tourism industry. Some 60% did, but the remainder took off in other directions, and hardly any one – I would go as far as to say no-one – failed to take on a very active life style somewhere in the working world. They were typically not people who sat at a desk reading about tourism and a world outside their windows: they got out there, got stuck in, and made a difference.

The Icing On The Top


1995 was the Year of the Cake. It was the first year that students returned having complete their placements. That group was also entering the final year, the first cohort that we had doing so.

We combined a number of elements in Induction Week. During 1994-5 the course had been based in its third home, Fairfax Hall, a beautifully restored building in which all rooms on all three floors were devoted to teaching and tutors’ offices. Come the summer we moved again, to the City Campus, at the time not a popular move as we left behind the attractive parkland campus. The official plan was that in the following year we would be back to Beckett Park. That never happened - or at least, not until this year, 2009, when it is scheduled that the course moves there during the summer.

Anyway, the well-established treasure hunt and evening social, with quiz, for the first years was set this time in the city, which did increase the scope of the hunt. There was another activity set up for the first year group. On one afternoon they were transported to Saltaire in Bradford. A member of the Bradford educational staff gave a talk about tourism in the city and the students were sent out to explore Titus Salt’s famous industrial model village with its factory, houses, shops, school and college, chapel – but no pub. Salt did not want drunkenness in his working community. Late in the afternoon the student group crossed the canal and the River Aire and walked through the park which also served Saltaire. On the other side they came to the Shipley Glen Tramway. This was normally closed for the winter by the end of September but the owner opened it up for us and the whole party was transported up the steep side of the Glen to the fairground at the top. The Tramway is cable-hauled and the oldest working cable railway in Britain. In that very year it was celebrating its centenary. It still operates, though is currently closed for engineering work. It will reopen in August 2009. The fair was not open, but the students had been able to see one of the best Victorian model settlements in Britain and sample the way in which it had been turned into a tourist attraction. They also saw the park, tramway and fairground, plus a small part of the Glen which have given pleasure to thousands of people over the years.

At the top of the tramway the students gathered together and walked a short distance to the Old Glen House pub. There they joined with the final year students who had begun their own induction week and had arrived from Leeds by coach also.

The social gave chance for the final year people to meet their friends again and swap stories about their placements which has been throughout the British Isles and in many places abroad from Canada to Malaysia. The first years could get to know each other better. Both years were able to mix, with the ‘old hands’ giving the freshers the benefit of their experience on the course (and perhaps winding them up a little about the challenges ahead, which was not a bad thing). It was here that The Cake was unveiled.

Actually it was two cakes, made and decorated specially for us by specialists at the Thomas Danby College in Leeds. One was iced with an outline map of Britain. The other was similarly decorated with a world map. In each one were flags fixed onto wooden barbecue skewers. The flags each had the name of a returning student and was placed in the location of their year’s placement. At the appointed time the cakes were cut and liberally distributed. We had overestimated the amount needed, in fact. At the end of the evening about half of each one was left. They were transported carefully back to Leeds and placed safely in a large chest refrigerator by our ever-helpful Food and Beverage technicians. For weeks afterwards free cake was contributed to as many meetings and social occasions as possible.

Was it a little over the top? Maybe, but the PR value amongst our students and staff was immense and it supplied some of the magic which is needed on every educational course. It’s going to be one of the highlights of their time in Leeds that those people will recall when they’re getting nostalgic in their old age. What magical moments will the students of recent years remember?

World Of Work


In the early days the placement year followed year two. Today it follows year one. The arguments for one or the other or complicated and by no means lead to a simple conclusion. They have been rehearsed in meetings over a decade and I don’t intend attempting to do a recap here. I think that it is best for the student where it is now – effectively, year two, though it does mean early decisions during the first year and another upheaval soon after settling in to Leeds and for most people the first taste of independent life.

Spending a year in industry doesn’t only mean in commerce: local government, government agencies and many public sector organisations take placement students. Tourism is heavily dependent on the non-commercial sector, especially in attractions and community development from the local to the international level. Getting experience of the range of what is done out there is essential for students on vocational courses. It is also a pre-requisite for anybody attempting to understand tourism issues like sustainability and community development in the broadest sense. Taking a year gives depth and plenty of opportunities for getting experience in operations and even management. Many students have returned to university, completed their studies and then rejoined their placement organisation as permanent employees.

It doesn’t always go smoothly but in 95%+ cases it does. Even problem situations will, if tackled properly, lead to invaluable experiences gained. I have often quoted the 1992-intake student who called in to Leeds halfway through her placement year. She said she was learning a lot and “would come back three years older”. I soon saw what she meant as I got to know hundreds of students over the years who had gone through the system. There was the observation I made in the small restaurant we used to have in our particular City Campus building. Before going out on placement the students would usually drink Coke or Pepsi when taking a break. After returning from placement many of them had picked up the working style of drinking coffee from cups with saucers. Some of them confirmed their change of habit when I discussed it with them.

Everyone learned something more about the disciplines of working set hours s well as extra hours in certain situations. They learned more about teamwork. Most were able to observe excellent industrial managers and their methods: some saw bad management practised and made mental notes not to treat their own staff in the future in certain ways. They saw the theories they were being taught in university as they were applied in different ways in practice and sometimes they saw them ignored or rejected. Sometimes the placement student realised that theories are revised over time according to what happens when people try putting them into practice. It is only the ivory-tower academic who says ‘this is what all the theories say so that is what you have to do’. Some students went through quite stressful situations as they saw some of the problems that can beset working life. One worked in a small company which was going bankrupt with the bailiffs about to repossess furniture. Another saw colleagues being made redundant during downsizing operations. One worked for a former regional tourist board as it was being replaced by a new-style development agency. She found it very stressful as office staff were in tears as they lost their jobs. Extremely rarely a student was asked to leave a placement after repeated misdemeanours. They faced disciplinary action back in Leeds. I hope they also learnt from the experience.

Far more common was the sense of pleasure and achievement student got from their year in industry. They came back better disciplined, more knowledgeable and with a better sense of purpose. They performed better in the remainder of their course and they worked better with their tutors and their fellow students.

One of the students went out to work in a health club in the USA. A member of the club, who he met, was a Senator named Barack Obama. Another worked in a hotel, also in America, in a job which was rewarding but quite disciplined. On her last day her manager said “Oh, you’re leaving today? Better call in to my office at 3pm to say goodbye”. She expected a brief word and a bit more paperwork. Instead all the departmental managers she had had dealings with were there as well as her immediate co-workers. The chef brought in a cake iced with her name and “Good Luck – and thanks for being with us”. Nice things were said. A staff member took group photos and sent her copies later. She was given presents including a basket of goodies from the city where she had worked. I’m sure she remembers that occasion as vividly as she does her University graduation day with the realisation that the kindness of strangers is found universally by those who globe-trot the world.

Questionable Activities


The second induction week activity that we added in 1993 was the pub quiz which followed the treasure hunt. Our new students spent the afternoon (officially at least) solving the series of clues that took them to a set of places around Headingley. After some sort of break everyone gathered at the Original Oak where we had a room set aside. Teams were formed around the tables and the question master (me) began to read out the questions. World geography, a bit of history, some current events and a dollop of popular music and sport was the mix as in most pub quizzes. There was a prize for the winning team which was so exciting I can’t remember what it was. It might have been a bottle of wine, but for our groups we soon realised that there also had to be something for the non-drinkers of alcohol.

The first years of the quiz were quite easy because with only about forty or fifty in the group it was easy to get – well, if not silence, at least less of a hubbub so they could hear the questions. In later years the intake rose towards a hundred. When we moved to the City in ’95 it meant using a different venue such as what is now The Library pub on the corner of Woodhouse Moor, and later the Faversham. We borrowed a mike and speaker system from the pub. Even so it was a bit of a battle to call for quiet, read a question, then await as the noise level rose, groans about tricky questions or whoops about popular ones mixed together. Just like exams, really. The rounds on sport and popular music of course did well. Current affairs was much harder: today’s students are not the same as those media-savvy activists of years gone by. More worrying was the lack of knowledge of world geography among many of them. Colleague John Spink started his Geography of Tourism module with what he called with his usual dry humour The Quiz of Shame. This was an on-the-spot test at identifying places and features around the globe in which so many students did badly. The module has always had to concentrate on bringing up to a better standard the level of knowledge of the class members. After all, the tourism industry does rather depend on people being able to find their way around the world.

It wasn’t always the students who almost blew it. One year our teaching team, now slightly enlarged for our bigger intake, arrived at the pub after coffee and cakes somewhere to find that the quiz master had left the questions in the office. A round of beers was obtained and we sat down to throw together a new set of questions with the students gathering around the room. We had to start while some of the later rounds were still being compiled and I took the event slowly through its early stages with new questions being passed over to me. We made it, even though the range of questions was a bit odd, being based on what four of us knew without recourse to reference books. And yes, the culprit who left a set of questions on his desk was me.

The Hunt For The Golden Owl


By the second year of the course we had devised a few more activities to pep up the social life of the course and settle new students in better.

The first of these was the treasure hunt which stayed a feature for eight or nine years. Besides introducing them to the University itself we knew they needed to find out more about Leeds. In the first years this meant the Headingley area and later on when we moved to the City Campus it meant the centre of Leeds. In Headingley the immediate surroundings of the campus spread out towards the busy Otley Road with its shops, banks, cafes and pubs. So we devised a treasure hunt which took new students around Beckett Park and out into the community next door. It wasn’t just a matter of letting them know about the buildings where they would be taught and the main campus facilities like the canteen and Students’ Union but the excellent sports halls and playing areas for which the Carnegie part of the University was famous. There were then unusual items like the commemorative arch which used to stand by the Town Hall recording Queen Victoria’s visit to open that monumental building in the 1850s. The arch now stands in woodland on the edge of the campus.

With the move to the City in 1995 the treasure hunt moved there, too. The trail to solve the clues took in the train and bus stations as well as some of Leeds’ beautifully restored shopping arcades and the Victorian market where Marks and Spencers had begun on a tiny stall many years ago. The new tourist information centre was a must. The location of the reference library, art gallery and Henry Moore Institute were included. Some later treasure hunts stretched out beyond the Corn Exchange along The Calls to view the bridge over to Tetleys Brewery Wharf visitor centre. Some of the strange and quirky pieces of the Leeds’ landscape featured: St Pauls Square with the Mediterranean-styled building once a clothing factory, or the door step labelled ‘News Theatre’ at the train station where years ago a small cinema showed cartoons and newsreels to passengers killing time awaiting their trains. And it was in this way that the students, often from great distances away, were introduced to the symbol of Leeds, the Owl, which appears in several guises around the civic quarter. The golden owls on top of the Civic Hall would become landmarks for these students over the years they spent in the city.


The Man On The Ledge


In the second year of the Tourism Management course our base was in rooms at the back of the James Graham Building. Carnegie Hall was being rebuilt. Tutors moved with others from Leisure Studies into open plan accommodation which, as usual, proved educationally awful. Conversation between colleagues became noisy as everyone tended to join in – even saying ‘good morning’ became a routine in which everybody had to take part and everyone got interrupted from whatever they were doing. Students had to knock on the door and the nearest tutor had to see who it was. Conversations took place in the corridor or, if it was free, a meeting room. The course had no more than 40 people in each class for lectures so at least those could be fitted in to available spaces and there was reasonable time to devote to each student who needed it. We did have to move between Halls to our scheduled teaching spaces but the campus was attractive. Unlike the City Campus the feeling was of working in a parkland setting in which it was a pleasure to move around outside. At the City, we were to discover, life was spent inside a network of buildings and the outside environment had little part beyond a view through a window.

Beckett Park’s particular design produced some interesting stories. One of them I heard many miles from Leeds.

For over twenty years I led local history/industrial archaeology weekends for Embassy Hotels. These took place at centres all over Britain from Edinburgh to Swansea and Maidstone in Kent. There was a very high rebooking rate by the customers. Though I might only have been involved in three or four per year some of the participants did a dozen. One, a millionaire from the Isle of Man, went on trips every single weekend studying subjects from bird watching to photography as well as history weekends like mine. This meant that over time we got to know our visitors very well and stayed in touch with many of them.

On one particular weekend a retired teacher was talking about her life in education and mentioned having trained at the City of Leeds Training College – which was at Beckett Park. I said that was where our tourism course was based. We talked about what it was like then and what it was like now working on the campus. Dilys, the retired lady, described the disciplined life they were expected to lead, this being in the 1930s. Dress had to be just so. Moving round the corridors and the campus required smartness and for some on the sports courses almost a sense of military precision. The Halls were segregated, some for men and some for women and never the twain should meet – well, without a whole set of rules about visiting hours and behaviour. I think she might have said that a friend of the opposite sex (a word to be used sparingly) could visit you in your room if you left the door open. And only during set visiting hours.

Of course rules were to be broken and there were plenty of ways of spicing up life in the college. One of these involved the architecture of the buildings. Around each Hall between the ground and first floors ran a stone ledge jutting out a little from the brick-built walls. By opening a window it was possible to climb out onto the ledge.

The exploit that some brave – or perhaps foolhardy – male students indulged in was to step out of a window on a spring evening when, across the open space of the grassy Acre a good audience of women students could be seen watching from their Halls. The lad would then slowly edge his way along the ledge. The women would presumably gasp in amazement and admiration (or think he was an idiot maybe) and give him their full attention. Along the ledge, past window after window went the young man until reaching the corner when he would slowly edge around it, clinging to the wall and stonework by his fingertips, etc. He would work along the end of the building, watched by the females across the way. At the back of the Hall he disappeared from view. The tension would build, Dilys said. For a long time as they waited the girls would not know whether he was still edging along or had fallen off and perhaps broken his neck. At last, as handkerchiefs were clutched and anxious words exchanged, the daredevil gent would appear at the other end of the Hall to cheers from his audience as he regained the safety of his window and could plan which adoring female he would allow to join him for a Saturday evening out. Or that was presumably what was supposed to happen, anyway.

It all seems a long time ago. Now the daring mountaineers, male or female, make abseiling jaunts down tower blocks at the city for charitable donations having completed a full risk analysis and insurance application. The Headingley Campus Halls no longer have student accommodation so it’s difficult to access the stone ledge and there are no complimentary audiences of admirers on hand. Anyway, either the security staff or the men in white coats would get you first. So no, the exploit of the Man On The Ledge was not something practised by our tourism students, intrepid though they might be.

Chalk, Talk And Bathrobes


The eight Halls at Beckett Park had been set around a beautiful green lawn called the Acre. James Graham Building with administration offices, library and other services stands at the head of the Acre with Carnegie’s sports halls and swimming baths behind and some other buildings dotted around. The buildings are mainly early twentieth century in a handsome architectural style using brick and Yorkshire stone with lovely almost domestic-style windows for the main part. Open green space, tennis courts, running tracks and a good collection of mature trees give the whole place a glorious feeling of an educational community sited within parkland. Indeed, public parkland stretches off to one side. Avenues and footpaths through woodland lead into Headingley with its shops, cinemas and, famously, the pubs which form the subject of the student tradition of ‘The Otley Run’. It’s as far from being a run as you can get because it consists of a pub crawl out of Leeds along the Otley Road calling in at a whole string of venues – The Original Oak, the Skyrack, The New Inn, Woodies and, if you can make it, many others.

The teaching rooms in Carnegie Hall where lectures and workshops took place were also traditional. All of the older campus buildings were designed within a style of the 1920s and 30s: well proportioned, warm-coloured bare brick, local sandstone, iron banisters and wooden frames, rails and fittings in varnished or painted wood. The study-bedrooms used by students had been like household rooms of the early twentieth century with a bed, wardrobe, table and chairs. Teaching rooms had blackboards set in wooden frames carefully made in the same style. Actually, the blackboards were green and by far the best writing surfaces for chalk that I have ever used, a thousand miles away from those awful roller-blind systems that schools were saddled with in later years.

Sadly, those boards have all gone. Electronic systems took over years ago – we had projection screens for overhead transparencies and now of course data projection dominates everything – far better than chalk in so many ways.

Something else has gone, and it is something which students who trained in earlier days often regret having disappeared. Each of the Halls was a mix of student accommodation, teaching rooms and offices. People who knew that mixture say it gave a feeling of a living educational community. Irena Snowden and I shared an office on the middle floor of Carnegie Hall with colleagues in offices to one side. To the other (and on the top floor – the ground floor was for teaching almost entirely) there was still a run of student bedrooms. If we arrived in our offices around 9 in the morning we might be greeted by a cheery hello from a student in a pink bathrobe on the way back from taking a shower. They had a kitchen and common rooms in the building, too. We taught and socialised amongst our students, not at a distance with an office receptionist in between us and them as the trend is going nowadays. Many innovations are good for teaching situations. Some of the others are not.


A New Beginning


The Tourism Management course started at Beckett Park, now known generally as the Headingley Campus, in September 1992. We occupied an office and teaching rooms in Carnegie Hall next to the sports area. In those days we were linked with Leisure Studies and as we had only our first intake of 38 students in total we also taught some of the Leisure Studies students. “We” in this case meant Irena Snowden and myself, with Keith Hollinshead added in November when he arrived to join the team from Texas A&M University. Tutors who were part of other teaching teams joined us to deal with particular modules – Tim Birtwhistle taught Law and John Spink the Geography of Tourism. At the end of the first year the Hall would be pulled apart and refurbished as part of the changes to the campus which would be occurring over the next couple of decades. We were Leeds Polytechnic for a few months before becoming Leeds Metropolitan University in early 1993. As one of the ‘new’ universities Leeds Met was to grow very fast and change in all kinds of ways. And yet I have a very personal view that universities are essentially conservative organisations in which changes happen only slowly. My own experience in working in educational charities, local government and, briefly, commerce, was that high-speed change is the norm but universities tend to resist change for all kinds of reasons, one of them being that the academic culture requires strong evidence for everything before it adopts new ideas. It is known as ‘rigorous testing’. Whether the ways in which universities operate should be slowed down by principles which are otherwise applied to academic concepts is a debateable point.

So that was the starting scenario for the course. A small team with a mix of educational and industrial backgrounds, a small group of students – 38 – within one of Britain’s best cities and based on the very attractive Beckett Park Campus. It was the best of times …. So long as we could make the whole think work well to the benefit of the students, the satisfaction of the university and of ourselves.

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