Tourism giant celebrates 10 years of course success

10th October 1997 at 01:00
Recruitment plan becomes industry-education merger. Ngaio Crequer reports from Geneva

Jane Edwards, of Boston College, Lincolnshire, inspires students on her travel and tourism courses to look beyond their limited horizons. "They tend to arrive and want to be travel agents, that is the pinnacle of their dreams. By the end of the course they realise what is available, and very few of them want to be travel agents."

Last week she was herself being inspired on a three-day trip to Switzerland, taking part in a group exercise on marketing Geneva and examining the impact of winter sports development. "We looked at case studies and we were able to get up-to-date industry experience. We can all read tourist books but they are out of date as soon as you buy them. Now I can go back to my students and say, in the real world, this is what happens."

Ms Edwards was in Geneva with an additional purpose. She and colleagues from schools and colleges across the country were celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Travel and Tourism Programme. This is an initiative by American Express, Forte Hotels and other companies to create a partnership between the travel industry and British education.

Over the past 10 years, leisure has become the fastest-growing subject area of further education in the UK. By the millennium, one in four of all new jobs will be in the leisure and tourism industry.

Connie Higginson, the vice-president of American Express , said the launch of the programme was an accident. "In the early Eighties we had an investment subsidiary which could not find the people it wanted. So they went to the New York education system and asked if they could work with the teachers and produce some kids who would be hireable. The city agreed to this experiment and teachers got special training and the kids got work experience.

"But none of the kids elected to come to work for us. They elected to continue their schooling at a higher level. For some of these inner-city kids this was amazing. We were on to something, not what we thought we were on to, but something else.

"As a recruitment exercise it was a failure, but as a first experiment in industry and education partnerships it was an extraordinary success."

American Express went on to create a travel and tourism programme in the United States and then to replicate it in other countries, initially in the UK, where two schools in Ealing, west London, were the first to benefit. There are now similar programmes in nine countries, including Brazil, Hungary and South Africa. American Express has spent more than $1 million (Pounds 625,000) on the project in the UK alone.

Andrew Risby is chairman of the UK programme. "We wanted to provide something that was more than just a talking shop. The programme is a partnership between industry and education which works actively to improve students' knowledge and skills by giving them direct experience of how the travel and tourism industry operates.

"Work-experience placements form a strong focus for students involved in the programme and practical activities, like projects, work-based assignments, role plays and problem-solving tasks, are used to illustrate the issues and constraints faced by people working in the industry.

"In-service training forms a significant part of the contribution the programme has made towards supporting teachers and lecturers in developing their own knowledge and experience."

He said recognition of the value of this kind of curriculum development is shown by the creation of a GCSE in travel and tourism, the first GCSE to result from an industry-education partnership. Some 3,700 candidates a year now are entered for the examination.

The course is supported by two specially-written packs of teaching materials, and a textbook for students provides illustrated case study material. The programme works with 800 schools and colleges, provides in-service training for 8,000 teachers and lecturers, and has sold more than 20,000 leisure, travel and tourism textbooks.

Tourism is the world's largest and fastest-growing industry. In the UK alone it was estimated to be generating Pounds 102 billion of gross output per annum and three million jobs by the end of 1996.

The expansion of the industry has led to the expansion of the programme. Each country adapts the basic idea to fit its particular circumstances.

In South Africa, for example, the programme is also being offered to adult learners, many of whom have had very little prior formal education. In Hungary the case study and interactive approach, which is an integral part of the programme, is helping to shape the way education is offered, and is enabling both students and teachers move away from strictly didactic methods. Mexico does not have a national curriculum, but tailors the programme to fit local circumstances.

And what does American Express get out of it? "We are looking to improve education," said Ms Higginson. "If you are going to look for improvement then you have got to get in there and do something about it. We did not start out with a view to reform education, we just stumbled into a way of interacting with education in schools and colleges and it works.

"We are also enormously en-riched by our exposure to schools and colleges.

"We learn a great deal from these kids when they come to us on work experience.

"The enormous growth in the industry also means we require huge numbers of people. Egypt is providing some 200,000 hotel rooms in the next five years, and every room creates five new jobs," she said.

The programme is now branching out by launching the Tourism Education Network, which is an Internet-based facility linking schools, colleges and businesses in the travel industry. Now operating as a pilot in 50 institutions, it will go countrywide in April.

Karen Wheatley, a lecturer at the Kingston College of Further Education, Surrey, was also on the Geneva trip and enjoyed the opportunity to share ideas and experiences with her colleagues. "We take our students on residential courses, so it was wonderful to see how others do it." Sadly, not everyone can provide Lake Geneva as a backdrop.

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