Hospitality Business undergraduate students participate in a capstone class that features a partnership with Hilton.

The winning team poses after a semester of work on Hilton’s business challenges.

The School of Hospitality Business at the Broad College has a long history with Hilton Hotels, from the Hilton Lecture Series, which began in 1989, to current students receiving their first internships through Hilton.

Continuing in this partnership, students in HB 489: Hospitality Business Strategy paired with Hilton Hotels of Chicago for the fall 2019 semester. The course is a capstone for the undergraduate program in The School of Hospitality Business, which partners students with a corporate client and tasks them with finding a solution to a specified problem. This marked the third partnership between the capstone course and Hilton Hotels.

“I’m a big believer that you don’t learn to swim by reading a book, you have to get in the water, and that’s what this class is,” Bonnie Knutson, professor of hospitality business, said. “The course offers a functional learning experience by challenging students to synthesize their education for their client.”

Knutson explained how hospitality business is the fastest growing industry in the world and encompasses much more than hotels and restaurants, fostering a resonating experience among various industries. “IKEA is one of the biggest food service operations in the world. Your first interactions with hospitals have nothing to do with medicine,” she said, illustrating where hospitality values are being used outside the industry.

In this year’s partnership with Hilton, students were challenged with assisting three Hilton properties: Hilton Chicago, the Palmer House and the Drake. Their task was to create marketing concepts that would increase Hilton’s profitability in several focus areas: retaining market share over homestay lodging services such as Airbnb, competing with shared workspaces such as WeWork and selling out hotel occupancy during summer festivals such as Lollapalooza. The student team with the best concept was selected to address the challenge.

Knutson explained that a lack of time is the most difficult aspect that students face in this course. With other coursework, jobs and extracurricular organizations and clubs making demands on their time as well, it can be hard for students to give a problem like this one their all.

“We had so many thoughts and did not know where to start with all of the ideas,” Atara Krakoff, a senior hospitality business student and a member of the winning team, said. “With so many ideas, we changed our project many times because we kept hitting roadblocks, and each time a lot of work was put to waste.”

Despite these challenges, representatives from Hilton Chicago expressed how impressed they were by the students’ output. In a letter to Carl Borchgrevink, director of the school and John and Becky Duffey Faculty Fellow in hospitality business, Hilton thanked the students for their innovative solutions and professionalism: “The presentations to our leadership team demonstrated that Michigan State University and particularly the Eli Broad College of Business prepare students for a high level of aptitude in the business of hospitality, integrity, innovation, teamwork and presentation skill.”

Krakoff expressed her gratitude to both Knutson and Hilton for the experience and the ability to solve problems creatively. “We were given an issue and we were able to do anything that we could think of in order to help,” she explained. “I also enjoyed how real the project felt; being able to present to the directors of Hilton made me feel like we were really making a difference.”