Case Study Exam Tips - Alpaca Hotel Group

7th Aug 2020

Case Study Exam Tips - Alpaca Hotel Group

We spoke to CIMA expert and IBTC lecturer, Muzi Sithebe, for some insight on the August Management Case Study Pre-Seen, and to see what tips he had for students attempting the CIMA Case Study examinations. 

"One of the most exciting aspects of any case study exam is how it gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in an industry which they may not be intimately familiar with, and stretch their skills to solve the business problems faced by the organisations in that industry.

This is even more relevant when the industry in question is one which we interact with in our personal capacity and understand well from a customer’s perspective., because of this we are challenged to shift our frame of reference to seeing it from a business lens – this is the case with Alpaca Hotel Group.

With the mission statement reading 'To provide authentic hospitality by making a difference to guests and the environment in which they live', it is clear that we will need to draw from both our insights as customers in the hospitality industry as well as from the role of Financial Manager which has been given to us.

Alpaca Hotel Group in the global context.

In the current context of the world going through an epidemic, the tourism industry has seen itself almost grind to a halt as countries impose travel restrictions. This mirrors the context that Alpaca Hotel Group finds themselves in, where they are emerging from a period of subdued demand and are predicting an economic recovery in the coming year, coupled with 'The Year of Culture', which will further bolster demand. This presents a unique opportunity for students to benefit from researching some real life examples of what strategies hotels and tour operators have put in place to weather the storm of COVID-19, as well as how they have positioned themselves to recover once the respective economies open up again.

Another aspect to consider is how to deploy strategies that are fit for purpose. The Maylandia tourism industry will look to gear up for 'The Year of Culture' in order to derive maximum benefit, but it is worth noting that such levels of demand may not be a recurring fixture. This will mean that any strategy that is deployed for this particular period will need to offer real options of either follow-on investment or abandon once things return to normal.

Some core topics to know well:

1. Financing options and investment appraisal

One of Alpacas strategic objectives is to acquire a new hotel every three years and delivering value for money while doing so. This entails that students should be very familiar with investment appraisal techniques which may be required to choose between acquisition options, as well as being able to advise on the appropriate sources of finance to use.

2. Value Creation

Alpaca’s business model is built around the value creation model, which is one of the newer concepts which has been introduced to the syllabus. It is important for students to have a firm grasp of what this model entails and to be able to articulate how various parts of the business and its operations would add value to the end customer.

3. Digital disruption/technology

Consumer and market trends are strongly influenced by digital capabilities and how well each organisation uses technology to compete and cater to changing needs better. Alpaca experiences this through guest review sites, booking agents/aggregators who may be based online as well as their own pricing system, which takes real time data into account. The broader application and understanding of how digital technology can make Alpaca more competitive or disrupt the industry in its current form is a fertile area for questions to be raised in the exam.

4. Stakeholder, Conflict and Negotiation

As Alpaca is quite dependent on various stakeholders, each with very dynamic power and interest levels, it will be important to understand the drivers of this power and interest as well as how to manage each stakeholder. Managing conflicting interests and negotiations are also skills which may be required as students unpack how Alpaca uses its relationships to achieve its strategic goals.

How to prepare effectively and do well in the exam?

1. Answer Planning.

The most important skill that any student can learn for a case study exam is effective answer planning. Getting this initial step right allows students to maximise the time they have available in each task and ensures that their responses are relevant to the specific question requirements.

2. Answer what has been asked.

It is always tempting to try and show the examiner how well you know certain syllabus topic but take the time to fully unpack the question requirements and ensure your address those specifically. Answers that are general or too theoretical do not score well in the exam.

3. Practise questions.

As the exam date draws closer, it is important to spend time doing practise questions and mock exams to prepare yourself for the big day. This serves to acquaint you with answering long questions as well as staying focused for a full three hours in the case of mock exams. Equally important is spending time reviewing the suggested answer and being strict with yourself in reviewing your own answer. A good resource to use is the Examiners Comments from previous sittings of the exam as it will give you some insight into the common errors students make, and what sets the good performers apart from the poorer ones.

The case study exam is a great platform to develop skills in communication, problem solving and transversal capabilities of applying your CIMA knowledge to different business contexts. As you prepare, look at it as more than just the exam but as the development of new skills and insights that you can carry with you through your career as your knowledge and skills are requested by various audiences in the broader organisation.

Study hard, stay safe and we are looking forward to celebrating the positive results with you in the coming months." - Muzi Sithebe

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