From left: Hospitality and tourism management students Sean Koval, Bethany Ferraro, Austin Soule, and Lane Forney pose with Duane Vinson, vice president of STR, which provided the data for the competition and sponsored the event.

A team of Virginia Tech hospitality and tourism management students won the 2018 STR Student Market Study Competition at the BDNY hospitality trade fair recently.

The team of four undergraduate seniors from the nationally and internationally ranked Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management in the Pamplin College of Business comprised Bethany Ferraro, Lane Forney, Sean Koval, and Austin Soule. 

Nearly 30 teams from all over the world competed at the Javits Center in New York City, including other top hospitality programs, such as those at Cornell, Michigan State, and Hong Kong Polytechnic.

“We are so proud of our students,” said department head Nancy Gard McGehee. “We knew we were in the hunt for first place when the judges poured on high-level questions — as well as compliments — including comments about the students’ correct use of professional hotel consulting language and their ability to find trends in the data about group and transient travelers that the STR executives had missed.”

The competition was “an incredible opportunity to engage with vast amounts of real-world data from STR and to learn from their expertise in the judging process,” said Koval. “It was great to be involved so closely with our professor in developing our data analysis — presentation and team skills being a defining part of my time in Pamplin," he said. "These are skills attractive to recruiters, many of whom approached us after the competition.”

Each team made presentations during two rounds, according to competition criteria, including data analysis, structure, and format. The Virginia Tech team chose Richmond as its destination city. The team used data from STR and other resources, including the Virginia Restaurant Lodging and Travel Association, Virginia Tourism Corporation, Visit Richmond, and AirDNA. 

The final round was tense. “Our team was the last to present to a packed house and three intense judges, stretching nerves and resolve to the limit,” said team coach Gary Walton, a professor of practice in the department who has 30 years of hotel experience with Hilton Worldwide, including 22 years as Hotel Roanoke general manager. 

“Professor Walton was our secret weapon,” McGehee said. “Having someone with so much industry knowledge guiding our students was a big part of their success.”

Virginia Tech’s hospitality and tourism management program is ranked No. 3 in the United States and No. 10 in the world by QS World University Rankings for 2018. It has a 94 percent placement rate for its graduates, one of the highest placement rates on campus.

The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation recently awarded a $2.1 million grant to build the HOKIE Lab, a state-of-the-art hospitality and food operations teaching and research lab for the department, to be located in the proposed Global Business and Analytics Complex.


Written by: Sookhan Ho