HM on location: Students do 'battle' at Hotel ROI Chicago

CHICAGO–There was some healthy competition among hoteliers of the future during Hotel Management’s recent Hotel ROI Chicago Networking Conference, held in conjunction with AAHOA. Students engaged in a “Battle of the Universities” and presented what they hoped would be a winning hotel-development concept.

Four universities with hospitality programs participated in the event, part of the one-day conference at the Wyndham Grand Riverfront that brought in record-breaking attendance for the roster of educational panels, presentations and tradeshow-style displays. On tap with their talent were students from Florida International University in Miami; Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wis.; the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima; and the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg. 

Industry experts presiding as judges were: Roger Bloss, CEO, Alternative Hospitality; Jerome Cataldo, president/CEO, Hostmark Hospitality Group; Chip Ohlsson, EVP/chief development officer, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts; Dilip Petigara, CEO, Access Point Financial (which sponsored the contest); and Kathryn Stone, chief of staff, AAHOA.

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Each of the student groups gave a 10-minute presentation with video that detailed its concept for creating a hotel that would meet market and guest needs. Among the points included were marketing strategies; revenue and demand generators; sourcing sites; construction; cash flow and return-on-investment analysis; food-and-beverage concepts; furniture, fixtures and equipment design; segment positioning; business mix and anticipated revenue per available room. A five-minute Q&A followed, during which the judges probed the feasibility of each concept and the students defended their premise and learned why aspects would or would not work in reality.

Lakeland University’s team—Dani Chismarick, Emma Lehr, Trent Nelson, Olivia Parrott and Nate Vanderwaal—developed a brand concept for “Lodge 1862,” a student-run hotel that would be set on Lakeland’s campus. They were accompanied by Britanni Meinnert, Lakeland’s instructor of hospitality management. 

FIU’s group—Lauren Doughty, Gigi Jeudy, Crystal Ji and Bell Pan—presented “Pop-Connection,” an airport hotel that would give travelers a notable guest experience and offered analysis of what such a concept would do in terms of cash flow and ROI, using JFK International Airport in New York City as a model. The team participated with the assistance of FIU’s Associate Professor Miranda Kitterlin-Lynch and master’s program student Upasna Bhakta.

Tamara Knight, Lanie McCartney and Meredith Spolyar from UNOH concepted “Antiquity Inn,” a 93-room hotel situated in Lima that would feature a transportation theme to pay homage to the history of the city. The property would include a breakfast area, 72 guestrooms and 21 suites. Assistant professor and department chair John K. Strouse oversaw the project.

UTRGV’s team—Alejandro Mendivil Alcalde, Edelyn Barcena, Samir Cortez and Ace Palomero—created “Astra,” a luxury glamping product that touted the benefits of “unroughing it” when travelers decide to hit the road less traveled. The team unspooled a video that brought in some of the emotional elements of “getting back to nature” before it stressed the durable construction of its spacious, self-contained sleeping tents. The team also noted the product could be used as inventory by hotels that have available land but where a brick-and-mortar structure would not be feasible. 

A.J. Singh, founding director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at the university, was on hand to watch the team’s efforts.

And the winner? UTRGV’s Astra.

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