ACADEMICS are rarely acknowledged by the hospitality industry, but this year's tourism Catey winner is a good example of how the worlds of theory and practice are intertwined.
After beginning his tourism career in market research for the British Tourist Authority in the 1960s, Professor Victor Middleton moved to Surrey University where, together with Professor Rik Medlik, he helped develop tourism as an academic discipline.
After 17 years at Surrey, he left to become a full-time consultant to the tourism sector and is now visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University.
The judges felt that Middleton had workedconsistently to raise both the profile and the professionalism of the tourism industry during itsphenomenal growth over the past 26 years.
One of his major achievements was to help found the Tourism Society in 1977. With its motto of "enhancing professionalism - linking the sectors", the 1,200-strong society's aim has been to bring together relevant people to discuss the wider issues of tourism.
One of those issues has been the dearth of hard statistics and data upon which so emphasis is laid in other industries.
Much of Middleton's career life has seen academic and research strands clearly emerge. His main belief is that market research forms the basis for policy decisions, job creation, strategy and offers national economic benefit.
During his stint as chairman of the Joint Industry Committee for Tourism Statistics in 1991-92 Middleton brought the industry and the tourist boards together for the first time.
One of the judges said of him: "Professor Middleton believes that market research is the basis of economic vibrancy." But he laments what he considers a desperate lack of data on the tourism industry.
He was also praised for his vision in wanting to reconcile the needs of the hospitality sector with education.
Tangible proof of this involvement is his chairmanship of the National Liaison Group for higher education, which aims to provide a focus for the development of tourism studies degrees and other postgraduate courses. One judge said of him: "He's more of a backroom sort of person yet he works effectively in the relevant areas."
Middleton's job is quite different from all previous Catey tourism winners, yet his nomination demonstrates once more the importance and value of those who work in the less high profile yet vital niches of this industry. n