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“Only a life lived to the service of others is worth living.”

- Albert Einstein

Those of us who are part of the most indispensable and dynamic industry in the world have been challenged profoundly during these last few months due to the unprecedented and devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that our hospitality, travel and tourism industry will come back strong. We also recognize that successfully maneuvering through what will be a difficult new reality will require more than just hard work, ingenuity and resourcefulness – it will demand reinvention. And many in our industry are in immediate need of creative and thoughtful ideas to help put their businesses back on track. To this end, we are introducing HC3!

The University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, in partnership with Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP®), are starting this critical dialogue with a challenge to the future leaders of this global industry. We invite student teams from hospitality programs around the world to compete in the first ever international Hilton College Hospitality Hackathon HC3. We plan to make this an annual event!

While hackathons (an event where individuals come together and form teams to find solutions to challenges) have traditionally been tech centric, they can be applied to any situation. What better time than now to find solutions to the most pressing issue currently facing our global industry?

As time is of the essence for our industry, the main objective of HC3 is to produce initiatives that can be easily implemented within any operation. Successful propositions will address innovative ways to increase revenues and profitability that don’t, necessarily, require significant capital investment or overhead. Winning teams will need to provide solutions that sectors of the industry can immediately incorporate, measure effectively and, ideally, improve operations, while also providing essential assistance on the road to recovery.

The focus of HC3 is 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 us forward.

We are looking for fresh, innovative, no-holds-barred, throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-it approaches to industry problems. Literally, anything goes!

The strategy behind most operations right now has focused on either breaking even or reducing costs. Cost reduction strategies alone are helpful, but not sustainable. There is also a need to incorporate innovative operational processes or initiatives to increase top-line revenue for the future viability of the business. The ideal “hack” should consider all of the following:

  • Accomodates minimal or no capital investment
  • Realizes implementation within 30 days or less
  • Repurposes, redeploys or maximizes resources already available (e.g., existing software, staffing, current expenditure levels, amenities, or other assets)
  • Provides a way to measure successful outcomes
  • Complies with all local regulations
  • Involves “lateral thinking” – no tunnel vision allowed – with the potential for use in other sectors
  • Replacing menus with QR codes, and using Apple Pay, Pay Pal or other forms of touchless digital payments
  • Eliminating bottles normally displayed behind the bar and removing bar shelving to create more seating to comply with social distancing protocols
  • Creating a unique dining experience that also incorporates social distancing – a restaurant in Amsterdam is using mini greenhouses to accomplish both, an idea that will outlive the coronavirus
  • Determining how to use data already captured by the venue/hotel/club technology to re-engage guests and draw them back to the business and increase volume


  • Students
    • Enhances skill sets that will be necessary to succeed in the industry in a post-pandemic reality
    • Heightens critical-thinking and problem-solving skills
    • Improves flexibility and adaptablity in a changing environment
    • Elevates the importance of teamwork
    • Creates and transforms a concept into a deliverable
    • Strengthens communication skills required to articulate strategies/concepts
  • Universities
    • Allows schools to provide a new and innovative way to engage students who must adapt quickly to the new reality
    • Increases engagement and shows support of the hospitality, travel and tourism community at large
    • Provides a one-of-a-kind professional development opportunity to students
    • Highlights the innovation found in today’s institutions of higher learning
    • Offers a unique circumstance for students to obtain practicum or course credit, practice skills learned in the classroom, and showcase their talents to the industry while affecting change – a win-win for all parties
  • Industry
    • Establishes a repository of resourceful ideas and initiatives that can have an immediate impact on operationsIdentifies new talent and creates networking opportunities with the future leaders of the industry
    • Engages in new partnerships with academia to produce more ad hoc resources and solutions to industry challenges
    • Partners with academia to help transform the future of hospitality education

Registering for HC3 is FREE. The entire Hackathon will be virtual. And there are no travel or related expenses involved, making it logistically super simple to assemble teams to represent your hospitality program! Universities are invited to register one undergraduate- and one graduate-level team (master’s and doctoral students).

  • Each student team can include 3 to 5 members and should have a faculty mentor. At minimum, teams must have a college dean, director, faculty member or administrator who officially supports participation in the HC3.
  • Schools that want the option to collaborate with students in another hospitality program(s) to form multi-program teams can also organize one undergraduate and one graduate-level team.
  • Recent graduates, those who graduated between December 2019 and May 2020, are eligible to compete on a university team.
  • Team registration will open on June 1 and close June 30.
  • Applicants who successfully complete registration requirements will be notified by July 3.
  • All teams accepted to participate in HC3 must submit a 90-second digital pitch by July 17.
  • Only 10 undergraduate and 10 graduate teams will qualify for the actual competition. Finalists will be notified by July 20.
  • HC3 will take place between August 3 – 6.
  • Each team must provide a 3-minute digital hack presentation by August 6. Presentations will be evaluated by a panel of industry leaders.
  • Winners will be announced August 8 via livestream.


  • June 1-30 – Registration open
  • July 3 – Accepted applicants will be notified
  • July 17 Digital pitch due, maximum of 90 seconds
  • July 20 – Finalists will be announced
  • August 3-6 – Competition takes place
  • August 6 – Final 3-minute digital presentations due
  • August 8 – Winners announced

The two teams awarded first-place (undergrad and graduate) will each receive a $3,000 scholarship to be divided equally among members. Teams placing first, second and third will all have the opportunity to present their winning hacks online at a specially themed HFTP Global Hangout, and will be recognized on social media and in other media and industry coverage.

A heart-felt THANK YOU to our current sponsors and supporters! If you would like to join in this effort to support our first annual HC3, please contact Instructional Assistant Professor Arlene Ramirez.

HFTP   T5 Strategies