Business Warfare with Francis Jackson

Tom Lovelock, Visitor Attraction and Resort Management Student


On 13th May 2022, second year students from the Visitor Attraction and Resort Management course at Staffordshire University attended an engaging business strategy talk at Alton Towers from the General Manager, Francis Jackson.

This honest review talk and Q & A from Francis is part of the students strategy module with the university. Alton Towers and Staffordshire University have a successful partnership which is 6 years strong, and this talk is just one of the many opportunities the students get.

Francis started the meeting by giving brief information about his career background and history. He explained about his transfer from a humble Ski Resort in Australia to the theme park giant that is Alton Towers. Francis believes that Merlin is a “Juggernaut in the visitor attraction industry”, but what gives them the competitive advantage?

The group was taught how important the delivery of the Merlin product can be to being one step ahead of competition. From guest experience and satisfaction to how immersive and impressive the theme park looks, Francis covered how important these high standards are to staying on top. However, he also explained how the core values of the company can sometimes get lost. For Alton Towers, ‘joyful’ should be the absolute minimum that guests get out of their day.

Merlin is primarily driven through marketing and Francis revealed to students just how competitive the tourism industry can get. “Business isn’t cozy” – (Francis Jackson 2022) Gaining the competitive advantage can be brutal, companies can use aggressive war-like tactics to overwhelm their competitors. For Alton Towers: third parties, new and innovative products and tactical marketing are all major factors in their strategy to stay on top and be a world class destination.

As the talk came to a close, Francis gave some advice for students as future leaders. Tourism is one big turf war and Francis let students know this. He explained how academic studies and knowledge mixed with heart and passion will make for amazing opportunity and can take you anywhere you want to go.

Student visit to Alton Towers Hotel

Studying Visitor Attraction & Resort Management opens up a wide range of roles for students from working on rides at Scarefest, to working in the hotels over the Christmas period. This allows me to gain new and exciting experiences in a fast paced industry, which also allows us to network with industry specialists. As part of the course students complete 10 weeks of paid placement with Alton Towers Resort. Placement is important for studying Visitor Attraction & Resort Management, as this allows students to apply the theory learnt in lectures to practice. There are a range of modules in Visitor Attraction & Resort Management; for example business based modules such as Human Resources, Operations management, to more creative based modules e.g. Brand Me presentations and Strategic Management, where students get to design and market a theme park.

As part of our course, this week we attended the Hotel & Hospitality tour and Q&A session with the Alton Towers reception, housekeeping and leisure team to discuss the operations behind the hotels. Visits are important as it allows students to learn on the job, students have the amazing opportunity to talk directly to heads of departments and apply this to our assignments. For example, In year 1 students undertake a Hotel and Hospitality module.  From the Q&A session students were able to ask “How does Alton Towers compete with their competitors?” and “How do hotels use capacity management to keep the hotels profitable?”.

Attaining a degree with Staffordshire University “can help fast track your career at Alton Towers to help progress to a managerial role” the Head of Front of office exclaimed. With a degree, students can learn the theory behind resort strategy and allows students to go in any direction in the future. With being a student in a small group of individuals, this helps differentiate yourself from other more traditional courses. As this is the only course in the country that allows students to attain a degree and work in conjunction with one of the UK’s most popular theme park.


Creating a visitor attraction in 10 weeks!

Heather Wingfield – Second year Visitor Attraction and Resort Management Student


On Friday the 28th of January the second year Visitor Attraction and Resort Management Students had the opportunity of presenting a Visitor Attraction to members of the senior leadership team at Alton Towers Resort. As part of the Business Development and Sales Management module we were tasked with creating a feasible visitor attraction in just ten weeks! Working in small groups we designed everything from logos to rollercoasters and even the small details of the operational features.

The group I worked in created the Highlandia Resort. This would be Scotland’s first indoor theme park, located in Livingston, aimed at the family market. Week one consisted of deciding which of our dream rollercoasters we wanted to put into our theme park, from there we developed six themed areas, 14 food and beverage outlets and a yearlong event schedule. After completing several placements at the Alton Towers Resort and visiting many theme parks over our lifetimes this didn’t feel like a university assignment!

By week four we had decided upon the basics for the Highlandia Resort and began to use our knowledge acquired from the first year of our degree to write a 2,000-word feasibility report. This report consisted of market research, a competitor analysis and even a marketing strategy for our theme park!

Before we knew it, it was week ten. We had compiled our theme park into a 15-minute presentation for the judging panel, we were joined by Kate McBirnie, Head of Guest Excellence at Alton Towers Resort. After many rehearsals we began our presentation, a nerve wracking yet rewarding experience. We knew our product inside out and presented it while the judging panel enjoyed afternoon tea with a Scottish twist! After the presentation we felt very proud at what we had been able to achieve in just ten weeks, but also a little bit sad that it was all over! This module has definitely been my favourite on the Visitor Attraction and Resort Management course, on what other degree do you get to design your own theme park?!


FdA Visitor Attraction and Resort Management is a unique course taught in partnership with Alton Towers Resort, part of the World renowned Merlin Group. It includes 20 weeks paid work experience, and the opportunity to top up to a BA (Hons) degree in your third year.

Playmobil.pro Sessions Now Available at Staffordshire University

We are currently exploring the use of Playmobil.pro with learners and are now in a position to be able to run playful, creative bespoke workshops with your students (and staff). These sessions range from icebreakers, team building, students modelling their futures, event overviews and timeline journeys and lots more.  

Playmobil.pro is based around the iconic Playmobil figure, which has served as an educational toy encouraging imaginative play, now it is being used by adults in the frame of a professional context. Playmobil.pro is a complete modelling system for professionals, and by applying a playful pedagogy, great facilitation, and specific methodology the Playmobil.pro kit can be used in a wide range of fields.

Interested? Contact us and we will give you a demonstration and explore how we can use it with your students. 

A ‘total life-changing experience’ at Staffordshire University

Visitor Attraction and Resort Managment student, Lewis, describes his experience of studying the unique course at Staffordshire University


Hello!

I’m Lew – or Lewis for long.

I’ll be honest, I’ve absolutely no clue how I’ll cram one of the most amazing and craziest experiences of my life into 500(ish) words, but I’ll give it a try!

Studying Visitor Attraction and Resort Management (VARM) was a total life-changing experience for me. I’d always subconsciously known that I’d work in theme parks somewhere down the line, but it’d never occurred to me until I was around 15 just how much was out there in terms of careers. They’ve always been really amazing places for me especially growing up. They bring out a real carefree happiness in everyone and that’s resonated with me for as long as I can remember.

Before university I was incredibly lacking in confidence in a whole host of ways, and I don’t mind sharing the fact that I was going through a very negative period of my life (don’t worry I’m not going to bore you with a sob story!) I really found my calling in the build up to uni and during it, and it’s been great to finally find exactly what it is I want to do in the long run, massively build my confidence and meet some fantastic people in the process.

Making lifelong friends at University was never an expectation for me, but the close nit nature of things made it so easy for all of us to get along and grow through things together – and without sounding like a walking-talking cliché, It’s really like one huge (crazy) family. I’ve been lucky enough to study and work alongside some absolutely amazing, passionate and genuine people and couldn’t be prouder to say I’ve been able to do that with them.

For me – Support in education is key. I’ve had times along the road where it felt as if teachers don’t care or don’t want to understand their students, but that couldn’t be further from the case with VARM. The ‘family’ feel of the course absolutely extends out to the lecturers who have never once stopped trying to push me and everyone else to get where they want to be.

Because of this course I’ve had some insane opportunities I never could’ve imagined, from being a Christmas Elf, spending Halloween in a spooky alien filled sewer, helping with website redesigns, conducting talks to school groups, managing social media, and even working with someone I really admire on an anniversary for my favourite rollercoaster– It’s been everything I wanted it to be and more.

Here are my few pieces of advice and bits I’ve learnt along the way :

– Showing you care goes a long way. Enthusiasm is never bad as long as you’ve got good intentions and truly want to do the right thing.

– Make friends, don’t ‘network’. Genuine connections are the best connections.

– Forcing yourself into uncomfortable situations is usually the best way to boost your confidence.

– Whatever it is, just do it. Stopping and thinking before doing something is great, but don’t let overthinking and worrying about what people might think get in the way of making yourself happy.

Thanks for reading my little bit.

Realistically no amount of words can sum up the feelings, experiences and funny stories I’ve got from this course, but hopefully I’ve done it some justice. I really can’t imagine my life without it.

(How are you supposed to end these sort of things?)

Lew

Protecting The Magic With Linzi Ticehurst

Lucy Moseley, Visitor Attraction and Resort Management Student


On Friday the 26th of November 2021, Year 2 of the Visitor Attractions and Resort Management (VARM) students attended an in-person guest lecture with Linzi Ticehurst (Health and Safety Manager at Alton Towers Resort) on the importance of Safety in the workplace.  

Linzi has been working within Health and Safety at Alton Towers for 15 years as part of a close-knit team of 5 and worked on the ‘Protecting the Magic for Managers’ training with a collective team from numerous Merlin Entertainments UK Theme parks and Legoland Resorts. This interactive training session taught us that safety at Merlin is a whirlwind; it spans from rides, hotels, and restaurants, to the work-shops, contractors and events of every attraction.  As Linzi detailed the responsibilities of the HSE, EHO, and ORR at the park, she included relevant guidance documents and legislative works that must be abided by within each corner of every department – relevant to our own Law and Legislation module that we’re currently studying at Staffordshire University.

Safety should always be a moving target  – it is never complete.”

Linzi Ticehurst, 2021

During the session, the one-and-only Francis Jackson (Alton Towers Resort Operations Director) stopped by for a couple of minutes to offer a few words on the topic – “the ability to foresee; therein lies the challenge.” (Francis Jackson, 2021). Agreeing with what Francis has said, protecting our guests and staff is the primary focus of our safety department. The responsibilities lie not only in rectifying an incident, but to prepare and take away the hazard in order to maintain the magic for our guests.

I, myself (Lucy Moseley) have been a part of the Health and Safety team at Alton Towers for 2 months up to this publication and working close with the rides department as a fresh pair of eyes on the resort has been an incredible, and rare, opportunity. It is my responsibility to complete administrative work, inspect the rides on resort and bring forward solutions to any arising issues – it’s the kind of role where no two days are the same.

Finally, I would once again like to thank Linzi for taking the time to come and speak with us and share her knowledge on the significance of keeping safe at all times whilst working at the resort. The session that she provided was incredibly informative and well structured, so thank you, Linzi.


The FdA Visitor Attraction and Resort Management course is taught in partnership with Alton Towers Resort, part of the World renowned Merlin Group. It includes 20 weeks paid work experience, and the opportunity to top up to a BA (Hons) degree in your third year.

Flying high with Drew

I started my journey at Staffordshire University studying a foundation degree in Visitor Attraction and Resort Management, a unique, bespoke course with Alton Towers Resort. I learnt a lot during my time studying at Staffordshire University, some standout modules for me were business development and hotel and hospitality. I was able to transfer knowledge learnt in the classroom to my placements at Alton Towers. While studying, and since I’ve graduated, I‘ve worked in a wide range of departments such as the Resort Box Office, Sea Life and Guest Excellence as well as working on large events such as Scarefest and Santa Sleepover. I loved working with customers and using my customer service skills to make sure guests had a magical visit at the Resort.

Once I completed my Foundation degree, I then decided to gain the full degree and studied for another year to gain a BA in Events Management. This was a step up and again a huge experience, with stand out memories such as when I got to plan and host my own virtual event to a live audience. We hosted the Staffordshire University Film Night, which streamed over Facebook and had a lot of viewers while raising money for our chosen charity Macmillan Cancer Support. Once I completed my full degree I started to apply for jobs. It has always been a dream to become a member of cabin crew. I used my academic and customer service skills from university and my placements to gain a place at the Ryanair training course. This was an intense training course which included both exams and practical training. After completing the training and becoming qualified to fly, I have now been to a wide range of destinations in Europe, and I really can’t wait to see where my future takes off now. This has been my dream for a long time, I am hugely proud to be flying with Ryanair, as well as being hugely grateful for the opportunities and experiences I have gained while working for Merlin Entertainments as well as studying with Staffordshire University.

Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship


Dr Bharati Singh, Course Leader, Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship


The Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship course is not only about being an entrepreneur or setting up your own business but it is actually understanding how innovation and entrepreneurship should really be at the heart of any business decision. Successful businesses today are the ones who have been really innovative, they have fresh thinking with an entrepreneurial mindset. In today’s dynamic business setting, both small and large companies harness entrepreneurial streaks.  

Business photo created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com

Entrepreneurship and innovation play a very important role within businesses of all shapes and sizes. Employees are expected to think outside the box which can only happen if employees can think innovatively. Today’s world is rather dynamic with the speed of innovation becoming faster, a shorter product life cycle, ever-changing consumer taste, technological advancement, competitor threat, changing government and legal landscape and other external factors not in the control of businesses.

In the face of the current pandemic, it becomes ever so important to be aware of the surrounding economic conditions and the political climate. To explore the ethical and unethical anomalies in the contemporary global political and global economic systems. Such systems can provide both challenges and opportunities.  

Sustainability has become a buzz word today. It is not only about shareholders and profitability anymore. Consumers, suppliers, governments and many other stakeholders now question the practices of businesses. Companies are expected to run their businesses with a social responsibility. The triple bottom line (Elkington 2018); which translates to people, profit and planet, need to be considered.  

Social vector created by freepik – www.freepik.com

Creative Destruction (Schumpeter, 1942) has taken a different meaning altogether in todays business environment. We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution and ‘disruption’ is at the heart of it. Companies go through continuous organisational change and hence, have to assess how to leverage innovative business models to remain competitive.   

Of course, to innovate or have an entrepreneurial streak and to sustain a competitive edge, it is imperative for individuals and companies to have a strategy. Strategy is key in business planning and entrepreneurial success. 

Thus, to gauge global challenges and opportunities, understand about the social enterprise, develop an entrepreneurial mindset, to be creative and innovative, develop sustainable business practices, leverage change management and have a strategy to maintain competitive advantage, reading for a degree in Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship will enable students to hit the ground running. 


References: 

Elkington, J. (2018). 25 Years Ago I Coined the Phrase “Triple Bottom Line.” Here’s Why It’s Time to Rethink It. Harvard Business Review, June 25, 2018  

Schumpeter, J. 1942. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper & Bros.  

University Life as a Mature Student

Storm Barratt, Course Director, Staffordshire Business School


Most new students view their impending studies as a challenge, feeling nervous and excited in equal parts. For students leaving home for the first time or moving from the cocoon of sixth form and further education, the prospect of independence beckons and can be either a boon or a burden.

Everybody worries about fitting in but for the mature student, the thought that you might be a fair few years older than those fresh out of school with, in some cases, little or no academic background, only adds to the feelings of nervousness.

I was nervous about being older and not fitting in and the hardest part was fitting the work around my family. “ Ella, 36

“I always thought students were there for a jolly – but it’s harder than it looks. At first I did struggle a bit with essays but my tutors explained it to me and after that the whole university experience became enjoyable – the learning, the lecturers, interacting with younger people. Stephen, 66

I wish I had been braver and done this sooner. The hardest part of the course was how much technology I had to get to grips with. Kathy, 51

I attended Staffs Uni at the grand old age of 53 to study Accounting & Finance. I had had a few false starts with Higher Education earlier in my life when a young family, illness and money worries meant that it was nigh on impossible to continue with my studies but at 53 I figured it was now or never.

I chose a subject that I was interested in and with which I had a fair bit of experience, however my ultimate goal was to be a teacher. I opted for an accelerated degree programme as, like many mature students, taking three or four years out of my working life wasn’t feasible.

I admit, in spite of having the motivation to come to university, that on walking into a room full of young students on the first day, I did feel intimidated and for the first few days, it was like being on a different planet. However, the mature students naturally gravitated towards one another recognising common ground in life experience and it soon became clear that it was the perfect environment for us. Over the coming weeks and months, we laughed and cried together and supported each other through studying, building a bond of friendship which is still with us today.

I was one of the lucky ones in that I didn’t have children living at home (in fact my youngest son was at university at the same time), nor did I have to work full-time but the commitment of my peers who had young families to look after, working and studying, I was blown away by their dedication even when times got tough.

As the weeks moved on, in spite of a 35-year age difference, it became obvious that I could learn as much from the school-leavers as they could from me. Two particular students dragged me kicking and screaming through the Economics module by helping me in their spare time, and in return, I proofread their written assignments.

There are so many benefits to being a mature student. As one of our 2021 graduates, Anthony, explains

I came to University completely lacking in confidence but over the months my confidence grew, not only because of the friendships made but also the excellent support from the University – from academic tutors to library staff to well-being counsellors. I couldn’t have asked for more. I will be returning to Staffs to study for a Masters in Sep, something I didn’t even dare dream of when I first started.”

Yes, university study is hard and very challenging at times but the immense sense of pride when graduation finally beckons, particularly if it hasn’t been plain sailing, is a great feeling.

Graduates from my course have gone onto become teachers (higher education lecturers!!), accountants, business owners and more, so join us for an adventure of discovery – who knows where it might take you.

Finance and Business Enterprise

Dr Syed Zaidi, Course Leader, Finance and Business Enterprise


Our World is changing rapidly and becoming a global village. In this rapidly changing world, businesses have also evolved how they operate. The need for the employees who are ‘Jack of all trades’ has become a significant necessity for the businesses. Top management of businesses realises the importance of a dynamic workforce. The executives are aware that the rapidly changing business needs demand employees who can give them an edge due to their dynamic capabilities. In recent times this ‘Jack of all trades’ has been often regarded as an insult, but the full phrase isa jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one. It was a compliment. This perceived Jack of all trades was in reality, William Shakespeare. The continuously challenging business world has now begun to realise this, and now looking for multi-skilled, multi-talented employees.

Woman vector created by freepik – www.freepik.com

The higher education sector has also realised that the conventional approach of teaching and learning is becoming outdated. The students need to be trained and equipped with a range of skills to be able to succeed in the fast-moving challenging business environment.

The higher education sector should listen to the employers and tweak their way of teaching and learning. Staffordshire University has consulted a range of employers to understand the latest challenges and altered the teaching method and courses. The conventional approach to the delivery of full-time course of study comprising 15 weeks of student learning and assessment needs revision. The style of delivery needs to be updated in light of the employer demands. Staffordshire Business School has adopted the block teaching style to suit the dynamic business world. Block teaching is a style of teaching where lectures, seminars and learning are provided in intensive blocks. The university has adopted five-week blocks in which students will be studying one module with full concentration. This style of teaching offers deep-dive immersive learning. Block teaching focuses on individual skills and will develop your expertise as an independent learner and problem solver, preparing you for a fast-paced, focused career in finance and business.

Finance and accounting are no longer just about taxation and the management of financial capital. Finance and Business Enterprise will offer contemporary modules in the field of Accounting, Finance and Business enterprise. The course includes dynamic modules to understand the future of work, understanding the concept of Risk and Reward and the need to study the balance of power. The course also offers topics in sustainability accounting, corporate finance, audit and forensic accounting and financial narrative and reporting.  Looking forward to solving yesterday’s problems. Fintech and digitisation module will analyse how Financial Technology (FinTech) is revolutionising finance. The module will gain an appreciation for the role of digitisation in business by exploring concepts such as automation, artificial intelligence and data mining and the challenges and opportunities these concepts present. The award provides a deeper understanding of the crucial role of finance in organisational decision making and the pursuit of competitive advantage. The students will graduate with an entrepreneurial mindset and the contemporary financial and accounting skills required to survive and thrive in uncertain business environments.

With this award, students may find themselves pursuing a career as a Fintech Manager, Investment Analyst, Financial Manager, Finance Engineer, Data Analyst, Sustainable Wealth Manager, Trust officer, Financial Advisor, or Forensic Accountant.