This summer, the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, in partnership with Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP®), challenged students in hospitality programs across the globe with the first-time Hilton College Hospitality Hackathon. The competition asked participants to tackle COVID-19 head-on and address the challenges it has posed to all sectors of the hospitality, travel and tourism industry, and to develop solutions to move it forward.
“The response to our first HC3 Hilton College Hospitality Hackathon from hospitality programs around the world has been nothing short of remarkable,” said Dr. Dennis Reynolds, dean of the University of Houston Hilton College. “The creativity, thoughtfulness and innovation demonstrated by both graduate and undergraduate students alike made this a tough task for our distinguished panel of industry judges. These hacks can now be used to have an immediate impact on our industry. Based on these entries alone, the future leadership of our industry is in great hands and I am beyond proud that Hilton College is leading the way to help benefit our industry during this unprecedented challenging time.”
The competition drew 29 total entries, and participating students represented 32 undergraduate and graduate programs from hospitality schools across the globe. The submitted solutions were reviewed by an esteemed panel of 15 judges representing various sectors of hospitality. With 10 undergraduate finalists and eight graduate finalists, the winners were announced in a special virtual ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 8.
The winning team for the undergraduates’ competition presented a product called “QRowd,” a system for tracking users in social spaces and allowing guests to schedule time in public arears. The winning team members – Daria Korneva, Aida Sarinzhipova, Arina Syrdybayeva and Aruzhan Tulegenova – are studying at EHL (Lausanne, Switzerland), George Brown University (Toronto, Canada) and Cornell University (Ithaca, New York). View the winning hack.
The winning hack from the graduate teams was “The Itinerant Buffet,” an option to traditional buffets in hotels that would comply with social distancing and other challenges brought on by COVID-19. The winning team members – Daniele Medici, Aurora de Pinto and Yuri Vecchiato – are from I’Università IULM (Milano MI, Italy). View the winning hack.
“HFTP is very excited to have been approached by Hilton College to partner in an event like this” said Frank Wolfe, CAE, FIH, CEO of HFTP and an HC3 judge. “Through our global networks of young minds, we were able to aggregate a plethora of real-time solutions to industry challenges that are of little to no cost and can be implemented immediately. It was fascinating to see the kind of ingenuity that developed from trying to resolve a difficult challenge.”
“The HC3 Hilton College Hackathon has set the tone and pace and created a platform for how the student leaders of tomorrow are solving the issues of today,” said Seán Worker, managing director and principal of T5 Strategies, and an HC3 sponsor and judge. “This hackathon challenge addresses new and existing tourism and hospitality business problems that will enable companies and individual operators to get back on their feet and to thrive in a post-pandemic world. These ideas – hacks – are game changers and highly investable, so employers take note! I am honored to play a small role in this innovative new platform and congratulate UH Hilton College for its ingenuity.”
The first-place teams will each receive a $3,000 USD scholarship to be divided equally among members. The winners will also detail their winning solutions via the media. First, they will be interviewed in a special episode of the No Vacancy podcast with Glenn Haussman on Monday, Aug. 10. Subsequently, they will lead a discussion in two HFTP Hangouts: Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 9 a.m. CT – Undergraduate finalists; and Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 9 a.m. CT – Graduate finalists.
“Walt Disney said, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it.’ We did not have much time to dream it, but I am pleased to say, ‘We did it!’ HC3 was all about showcasing hospitality education and the talent that it nurtures,” said HC3 Executive Director Arlene D. Ramirez, CHAE, CHIA, CAHTA, CHE, Hilton College instructional assistant professor and HFTP Global past president. “Through this virtual competition, these students proved they are ready to meet any challenge. They worked long hours on their hacks, and both faculty mentors and industry came together to provide our student teams with support and guidance. In just six-weeks, this hackathon engaged the world to let our industry know that we can and will rise even stronger from this devastating global pandemic.”
“This hackathon has been a great experience for everyone involved, but it’s been especially engaging and rewarding for our students,” said Dr. Scott Taylor Jr., HC3 director and assistant professor at Hilton College. “Since they are studying hospitality, working in the industry and engaging as consumers, our student teams had diverse perspectives and came up with uniquely creative and novel ideas. We look forward to seeing their hacks put into practice by the industry and could not be happier with the level of participation from our peer institutions and students around the globe for this first-ever hackathon. The opportunities HC3 has provided for so many is inspiring, and we’re looking forward to even more possibilities to grow this event in 2021.”