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HTNG Hackathon Winners Demonstrate Brilliance on Few ZZZs

It’s amazing how brilliant ideas can be brought to life on such little sleep.

But that’s exactly what a small army of hackers – who participated in HTNG’s inaugural hospitality innovation hackathon – proved could be done this weekend.

“My Fitbit says I slept all of three hours,” says Damola Omotosho, a 31-year-old developer who spent the past 48 hours sequestered in Plug and Play’s headquarters, the competition’s venue and an acclaimed technology incubator in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Omotosho, however, certainly wasn’t complaining. Though weary, he was all smiles because his hard work had paid off: He won the award, “Best Use of Oracle Hospitality API,” for his mobile-app concept that takes consumers’ preferences and matches them with hotel and activity suggestions to create memorable experiences.

His idea was one of several that surfaced during “Hack the Night,” which was organized by Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG), an industry group dedicated to advancing hospitality solutions. Supported by title sponsor Oracle Hospitality – which champions an open API strategy for technology innovation – the competition attracted nearly 60 hackers, including graduate students and professional developers who formed teams and collaborated to develop prototype solutions.

Ultimately, nine teams made it to the finish line and made presentations to a panel of judges, who evaluated the projects’ technical merit and business viability. The hackathon’s objective: Seek fresh perspectives to design solutions, such as guest- or staff-facing apps, that would help make guest experiences exceptional.

Consider the mission accomplished.

Seena Zandipovir, a software engineer and a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” rode into the hackathon on his skateboard and claimed the overall 1st-place award as well as the $3,000 cash prize that came with it. His idea unanimously impressed the judges: An internal dashboard (for concierges) that integrates data from local event organizers and makes customized activity recommendations to guests based on their age and preferences. Plus, by plugging into a simple printer, his invention would enable hoteliers to print tailor-made activity brochures for guests.

“I travel a lot and like to go to music festivals, but what makes me uncomfortable is that you never know what the scene is going to be like,” Zandipoiver says. “That’s definitely what I tapped into as inspiration for my idea.”

Runner-up finishers Seetha Ramakrishna Madamsetti and Haoyang Ki developed a solution that would alert hotel staff to begin preparation for guests’ arrival based on their proximity to the property, helping to accelerate check-in. Meanwhile, fellow runner-up contestants, Luyanda Mdanda and Pasquale Ranieri, focused their efforts on a marketing segmentation tool. It evaluated guests’ transactions and their spending behavior to prioritize their preferences and make appropriate recommendations. (In other words, their solution determined guests’ level of interest in an activity based on the amount of money spent on it.)

How impressed were the judges by the hackers’ efforts?

Mike Ferrier, vice president of Oracle Hospitality, summed it up best: “I have a presentation due next week, and I’m going to bring up at least two of them. Because we’re always talking about predicting and anticipating guests’ needs. The participants’ ideas were very relevant, and they’ll be of great use.”

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