Winter holidays

There are times when your past comes back to haunt you.  Once I was teaching a general course on the ideas and simple techniques of Operational Research and I wanted to have student exercises which reflected the wide range of problems for which OR is appropriate.  So, I created a series of exercises that related to an imaginary tourist attraction in Devon.  This gave opportunities for forecasting, with and without seasonality, scheduling (in particular the production of "home made cakes" in the cafeteria), stock control, advertising and marketing management, distribution, personnel planning ....  I enjoyed setting these exercises ... maybe the students picked up something of the philosophy of OR as well.

Tina in Truro

Last week we went for a night away in Truro, Cornwall, about a hundred miles from Exeter.  We did a few touristy things, and had some riverside or seaside walks in the two days.  Our hotel had the customary racks of leaflets about local attractions, things to see and things to do.   The distribution of these is now outsourced to professional companies which maintain the racks, so the latter have the problems of distribution that I had imagined years ago.  Many leaflets are reprinted for each calendar year, but they schedule the preparation in readiness for the Easter holidays, when the main tourism business starts.  So, if you go in January, many leaflets are out of date.  Additionally, not all attractions will open in the winter. 

Hence OR related decision problems for Cornish tourist attractions.  Should you issue a winter brochure or not?  Should you open during the winter months?  How many copies of brochures do you produce?  Do you distribute to the same catchment area in summer and winter?

The leaflets in the hotel reflected various responses to these problems.  One attraction had a special winter leaflet, showing what was on display in December, January, February.  Another had a brochure for 2012, with information about opening in January 2013 as well.  Others were closed for the winter, or were only opened at weekends.  And several all-year, all-weather, attractions had pooled their efforts to produce a booklet with one page per attraction. Still others had already produced their material for 2013.

So, I guess there is another student exercise there.  Analyse why the attractions chose their particular solution.  What data do they use?  What models do the have to help their decisions?  Is there cost-benefit analysis about the advertising?

As the Dane Piet Hein wrote:
We shall have to evolve
Problem-solvers galore
For each problem they solve
Creates ten problems more


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