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With the countdown to the 2012 London Oympics well underway, Hospitality and Tourism students at the University of Ulster have been given a unique opportunity to apply their entrepreneurial skills to the business opportunities created by the world’s premier sporting event.  

Ulster’s Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management has been awarded the coveted Olympic Inspire mark for ‘The Pitch’ – a project aimed at final-year students within the Department studying ‘The Business Plan’ module.   

Hospitality and Tourism lecturer and module director, Ian Bickerstaff explains how the London 2012’s Inspire programme is designed to bring the benefits of the Olympic Games to every part of the UK.  

“Non commercial organisations delivering projects and events genuinely inspired by the London 2012 Games can apply to have them recognised through the Inspire programme but only the most accessible, participative, inspiring and stimulating projects and events are awarded the Inspire mark.   

“The London Olympics and Paralympics will provide countless business opportunities throughout the UK. Our Business Plan module requires final year undergraduates to research a possible economic opportunity and come up with a realistic business plan to assess its feasibility. The Pitch challenges them to come up with an innovative and creative business plan for a business relating to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.” 

He continues: “Students are mentored by academic staff on a weekly basis throughout the module and, using a similar format to Dragons' Den, midway through the module the students made an initial pitch of their business plans to a panel of experts made up of representatives from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Visit Britain, Invest NI and Deloitte. The students have an opportunity to take on board feedback from the ‘dragons’ to fine tune their presentation for a final pitch at the end of the module. The student presenting the best pitch will win a trip to the Olympic Park and Visit Britain’s offices in London and an opportunity to gain work experience with NITB.”  

Ian adds that experiences from past Olympic events have shown that areas geographically accessible to the epicenter can benefit greatly.

”Northern Ireland’s location makes it an ideal base for many Olympic related events and the hospitality and tourism industry here should be able to capitalise on these opportunities. The Department of Hotel and Tourism Management at Ulster is in a unique position to help put in place some of the infrastructure that will be required if Northern Ireland is to make the most of the potential opportunities. 

“Our students study a wide range of courses, including International Hospitality Management, International Hotel and Tourism Management, Leisure and Events Management, International Travel and Tourism Management, Culinary Arts, and Cultural Management which provide them with a plethora of skills and knowledge that would be useful to the successful organisation and implementing of events related to the 2012 Olympics. 

“The Pitch has encouraged them to apply theory to business practice and consider business opportunities that may be embraced as a result of the 2012 Olympics. From a sustainability perspective, entrepreneurial opportunities created by the Olympics could be carried forward to the World Police and Fire Games which will be hosted by Belfast in 2013 and will bring approximately 25,000 people to Northern Ireland. Additionally, the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow could also reap the benefits of an infrastructure set up in Northern Ireland as a result of the 2012 Olympics.”  

The Pitch project aims to develop and strengthen partnerships between the University of Ulster and other public and private sector organisations, such as the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure; the Department for Employment and Learning; the Northern Ireland Tourist Board; Visit Britain, Invest Northern Ireland; and Deloitte. It is envisaged that if successful, The Pitch may be introduced to other departments within the university. 

The only other project awarded an Inspire mark at the University of Ulster is Sport for LIFE, a community based project run by the Sports Outreach Unit.