The West Virginia University Hospitality and Tourism Management program is taking center stage in the industry, as the Mountaineer student team captured first place in the international 2017 STR Student Market Study Competition at HX: The Hotel Experience conference in New York City Nov.12.
The team was made up of six students in the WVU College of Business and Economics hospitality and tourism management program: Carrie Digman, a senior from Charleston; Nicole Flesche a senior from Toms River, New Jersey; Lauren Jurcevich, a senior from Washington, Pennsylvania; Emily Linton, a senior from Hedgesville; Caroline Morris, a junior from Charleston, and Matthew Smith, a senior from Gaithersburg, Maryland.
“With a team of six, it took a lot of effort to plan, organize and execute, but we were very determined and our hard work paid off,” Digman said. “The feeling I had when we were announced as the winning team is indescribable. I’ve never felt prouder of any other work I’ve done along with the team.”
Each competing team in the STR Student Market Study Competition selected a major metropolitan market to research and analyze. The teams were provided with guidance on market study presentations as well as a comprehensive set of reports and data from STR. They then presented their analysis at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
The WVU team selected the Pittsburgh market, examining industries like technology that have a major impact on the city’s hotel industry. To prepare, the students investigated the market, meeting with representatives from Visit Pittsburgh and the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown and attending a town hall meeting about where Pittsburgh will be in 2025. Add in their background in business and it was the perfect combination for a victory.
“We are continuously impressed by and proud of these students. Their work ethic and drive is outstanding. They put in the extra time to make their presentation remarkable,” said Frank DeMarco, teaching assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management at B&E. “After our students presented, one of the judges turned around and said to the audience, ‘WVU just demonstrated exactly how to present! They presented knowledge and research, but also showed personality. Even though you are presenting numbers, you have to tell a story.’”
This is the third year WVU has participated in the competition, last year placing third out of 25 teams. And this year, WVU team competed against 31 teams representing many of the leading hospitality and tourism schools from around the world, including University of Nevada Las Vegas, Virginia Tech, San Francisco State, Kansas State University and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
“The hospitality and tourism program at the WVU College of B&E came to life in 2014. This is only the third year for the major, and our students won a prestigious competition among our top peers,” said DeMarco. “We are making a name for ourselves by competing against programs that have been in existence for several years. These are some of the programs we are aspiring to be. This win is a statement that we are a top emerging program in the country.”
STR is the leading source for premium global hotel data benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights. Ajay Aluri, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management, who coached and mentored the team alongside DeMarco, said in order to perform well in the industry, hospitality professionals must be familiar with the data STR provides.
“We are preparing the industry’s future leaders. That is one reason we encourage and coach our students to participate in these competitions. Our students have a skillset that will make them leaders in the industry,” Aluri said. “They know and understand the data and how to analyze it, but they also know how to make decisions based on these reports. They have a strong foundation in the industry, and this achievement further proves to hospitality industry employers that they should be recruiting WVU students.”
Winning this international competition is a major milestone for the boutique program and the College, and also for each of the students by providing them with valuable experience and exposure to the industry.
“I am extremely honored to be a part of such a hardworking team that spent countless hours researching and practicing for our market study. The support and mentorship we received from Frank and Ajay has allowed us to become successful in and out of the classroom,” Smith said. “I couldn’t think of a better way to end my time at WVU, and I look forward to what the hospitality industry has to offer in the future.”
CONTACT: Blair Dowler, WVU College of Business and Economics
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