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A Rising Tide
Tourism students learn how to steer a real-life business
By Andrew Leibs '87G

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When Isles of Shoals Steamship Company owner Robin Whittaker walks into class, many students think they would love to own a profitable, well-established tourism business like hers. Then she passes out slips of paper that read "liquor license," "payroll tax," "dumpster contract"—more than 60 in all. She says each item must be addressed before a cruise. "Now, how many of you still want this business?" she asks.

It's a vivid lesson—one of many afforded by a learning partnership professor Rob Robertson has forged with the steamship company to augment the tourism planning and development program he coordinates at UNH. The goal is to teach students about a tourism business so they can apply classroom experience to the real world. In return, the program provides the company with interns, employees, feedback and future customers.

Class assignments—including a cruise evaluation, research papers and market surveys—examine the company's history, operations and marketing from the perspective of a tourist, employee and manager.

Student feedback has improved cruise comfort and safety. For example, captains used to order departing passengers off the dock immediately so they could lock the gate. "We were telling them, 'Come out, party, now get in your car and get out,'" Whittaker says. After feedback from students, the company began issuing windshield stickers so drivers could pick up their car the following day. In exchange for their assessments, students get a free cruise aboard the M/V Thomas Laighton.

Many former students later bring friends and family on a cruise, and write to Whittaker about experiences they never would have had without the class. The program also brought Whittaker and Robertson together. They were married aboard the Thomas Laighton in 2008, inspiring another couple—who met in Robertson's course—to plan their own on-board wedding.

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