With close to 1 million hotel rooms in 114 countries and territories around the world — along with a milestone 100 years of service — Hilton is undeniably a leader in the global hospitality industry. The company is driven to offer a variety of high-quality experiences for its customers and succeeds in doing so by using data analytics to explore new ideas and tackle challenges head-on.

“The hospitality industry seeks to give our guests a wonderful experience. As a result, the data we collect helps to make informed decisions on how to deliver that wonderful experience,” Jeff Beck, associate director of The School of Hospitality Business and associate professor, said.

The hackathon, the first event of its kind at MSU, welcomed diverse majors from across campus to participate.

One approach to dive into data and uncover new ideas is through innovative partnerships. Hilton and The School of Hospitality Business recently teamed up to host the MSU Hilton Hackathon, a weekend-long event for students to collaborate and solve data sets provided by Hilton’s data strategy leaders. The hackathon, the first event of its kind at MSU, welcomed diverse majors from across campus to learn from Hilton’s team while developing new ideas for the company to use.

“Hilton approached MSU with the idea and we were thrilled to host this event,” said Lu Zhang, associate professor of hospitality management. “Hilton had done this type of event with other universities before, but this was the first time something like this happened at MSU, so we were very excited to offer this to our students. It’s an intense, hands-on experience that helps students put their skills to the test, learn and have fun.”

The hackathon took place Oct. 4–6 in the Business College Complex and included meals, presentations from Hilton’s data strategy leaders and workshops concentrated on skills needed for the hackathon itself: effective storytelling, building successful products, software training and accessing, manipulating and understanding data. The weekend also provided work time for student teams to collectively craft their final project idea.

Marina Beale, a senior in hospitality business, shared that the hackathon was “an amazing opportunity to explore my interest in data analytics and how it plays into hospitality. Through this experience, I learned how Hilton uses data to seek out customer preferences and improve current operational processes. I believe any company using data to the capacity that Hilton does will truly be the pioneer of greater change within the hospitality industry.”

The event was a prime opportunity for students to make an impression on the Hilton team members and build their network.

The hackathon also served as a prime opportunity for students to make an impression on the Hilton team members and build their network. Some senior-level Spartans spent time formally interviewing for Hilton’s Corporate Rotational Analyst position.

Perhaps the highlight of the hackathon was the final project judging. Students gave formal presentations of their project ideas and were critiqued by a panel of Hilton team members and School of Hospitality Business faculty and staff.

“The judges were impressed with the detail that accompanied each presentation, especially the working mobile applications that were demonstrated and thoughtful consideration given to revenue generation, cost-to-serve and guest loyalty,” said Jim Anhut, director of the Real Estate Investment Management minor in The School of Hospitality Business and one of the event’s judges. “The Hilton team was very appreciative and walked away with working solutions to their real-world challenges … Our Spartans were poised and confident, and their efforts will make business happen for Hilton.”

Each participant received a MSU Hilton Hackathon shirt.

The teams were ultimately competing for the grand prize of a visit to Hilton’s headquarters plus $500 cash, awarded to each member of the winning team. First-place winners of the event’s various challenges were also given a 42″ TV, a Nintendo Switch Lite and an Amazon Echo Plus.

The winning team included three Broad Spartans — Rachel Powell and Jake Siegel from hospitality business and Liz Jenness from finance — in addition to Kelci Henson-Forslund, majoring in experience architecture.

“Being involved in the Hilton Hackathon has honestly changed my career goals and trajectory,” said Powell, a junior in hospitality business. “I’ve always liked data analytics but had never before had the opportunity to use and analyze real data to identify problems and create solutions. It was a phenomenal opportunity to push myself while working with others to create and pitch a product to Hilton executives. I’m so grateful to The School of Hospitality Business and Dr. Lu Zhang for organizing MSU’s first Hilton Hackathon!”