A country like no other, virtually

How an Aberdeen school walked off with the trophy in a tourism business competition a fine dusting of frost coats the Aberdeenshire countryside to Christmas card perfection. If you were trying to sell Scotland on a morning like this, you'd be sold out before lunch.

Such views inspired the pupils of The Gordon Schools, Huntly, to carry off the trophy in a recent tourism business competition for schools throughout Aberdeen city and shire. Their job was to run a virtual hotel business for a week, to try to boost their share price and buy up more hotels.

The team finished with a chain of three hotels in The Deveron House Hotels Group, after using Huntly as inspiration for their business ideas and marketing strategy.

The event was staged as part of Careers Scotland's Grampian Student Business Week at The Robert Gordon University's Garthdee campus. And the team from The Gordon Schools, Huntly loved every minute of it. "It makes you want to own your own business," says 15-year-old Shaun Scott, who took on the role of general manager during the week-long competition.

"We had such a laugh every day, it was great fun. I would have done it for another week," adds Vivien Grant, 16, sales manager for Deveron House Hotels.

The competition was centred on a software package, which simulated two years in the business life of the hotel. The teams had to make decisions on everything from room rates to staff wages, and their choices affected their business share price.

Eight teams from schools across Grampian took part in the competition and during the week they had to make a company presentation, assemble a trade display, provide a written report and produce a television advert about their product.

The script for their advert sounds like something you would pay a London agency squillions for in the real world. Fifth form pupil Laura Raeburn recalls how it went. "A country like no other, people like no other, scenery like no other -there's no other way to describe Deveron House Hotels. The winding river, the regal stag, the richness of our food and the quality of our service."

And if you don't have your suitcase packed before you've watched that, then a glance at the menu will have you tucking in your virtual napkin. The pupils had help from a local chef, one of their mentors during the competition.

Ask them why they think they won and they reply with typical teenage modesty: "Because we were the best," says Merrin Simpson, human resources manager, to shrieks of laughter from the rest of the team.

"And Anne played her violin, so that probably gave us the extra edge," says Shaun.

"She played 'The Muckin O' Geordie's Byre', we had shortbread on the table, and they also said we gave a warm welcome," Vivien chips in.

The eight fifth formers elected to take part in the competition because they felt they could spare a week from their studies. They didn't know each other well beforehand. Throughout the week, the 80 pupils taking part heard speakers from VisitScotland, Aberdeen Hotels Association and The Robert Gordon University Tourism and Hospitality Department.

VisitScotland took the opportunity to launch their Aberdeen and Grampian Highlands Holiday Guide for 2007 at the event's prize-giving.

Astonishingly, one of the pupils, Laura Raeburn, came across a photograph of herself taken years earlier doing the Highland Fling at a competition, and now promoting the charms of Royal Deeside to tourists.

So has the event sold a career in hospitality and tourism trade to The Gordon Schools pupils? A roll call round the table produces a midwife, a plumber, teachers and just one or two possible high-flying business tycoons.

But they did say it's given them food for thought.

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