The winning STR Student Market Study Competition team consisted of Feiertag HTM students (from left to right) Meghan Byrnes, Adriana Berrios, Adrien Andenmatten, Lillian Walker, Matt Bartlett, and Won Park.
The winning STR Student Market Study Competition team consisted of Feiertag HTM students (from left to right) Meghan Byrnes, Adriana Berrios, Adrien Andenmatten, Lillian Walker, Matt Bartlett, and Won Park.

A team of undergraduate students representing the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management were awarded first place at the STR Student Market Study Competition held virtually Nov. 21-22, 2020. The Feiertag team fended off competition from 50 different teams representing 44 colleges and universities across 17 countries.

The Feiertag team consisted of Adrien Andenmatten, Matt Bartlett, Adriana Berrios, Meghan Byrnes, Won Park, and Lillian Walker. The team was assisted by faculty advisor Tom Duetsch, a professor of practice within the department.

“My teammates were incredible. Our varying perspectives and diverse personalities really helped transform the presentation,” explained Meghan Byrnes. “To be able to conduct a real-life analysis during such a monumental moment in time given all that is happening with Covid-19 is something I will never forget.”

“This victory elevates the program internationally,” said Nancy McGehee, Hospitality and Tourism Management department head. “I’ve already had other peer and aspirant programs reach out to me and want to partner on collaborative certificates and degrees. The students who participated have the spotlight on them and will be highly sought after for corporate and analytic positions when they graduate.”

Sponsored by hotel industry data company Smith Travel Research (STR), the competition has teams of three to six students. Along with the support of their faculty advisor, they select a market and analyze sets of data and reports to create a market study presentation. The team then submits the presentation to a group of STR representatives for evaluation. Ten undergraduate teams are then selected to move on to the final round, where the teams then deliver a 30-minute presentation to a panel of senior-level industry judges.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s competition was the first to be held virtually.

“This has been a most memorable and unique experience,” said Won Gwen Park Seo. “I learned so much from when our team started analyzing the data at the beginning of the semester until the last day of the competition.

“COVID-19 impacted the way we connected with industry professionals, and my team had to work together either virtually or in-person while social distancing. It was a challenging path that we all had to adapt to, but I believe that our dedication and commitment has allowed us to keep trying our best until the very last day of the competition.”

“The students receive a ton of excel data from STR, the leader in hotel data aggregation,” explained Duetsch. “They have to analyze the data, conduct additional research using third-party industry data, and interview industry leaders in the market.”

He continued, “The goal is be able to tell the ‘story’ of a market, from the perspective of a hotelier, investor, destination management organization, developer, and hotel broker.”

The Feiertag team chose to tell the ‘story’ of the Norfolk/Virginia Beach market, one of the 25 largest markets in the United States. The market consists of approximately 36,000 hotel rooms spread out across five sub-markets – Williamsburg, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake/Suffolk, and Newport News/Hampton. 

The team first began working on the project in August, diving into years of data as provided by STR. The students then collected third-party data from other hospitality and tourism companies such as commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE, telecommunications company AirSage, and the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The team also performed Zoom interviews of numerous industry partners from Visit Williamsburg, Visit Norfolk, and Visit Virginia Beach.

According to both McGehee and Duetsch, the assistance of the Feiertag HTM Advisory Board was invaluable, as several board members made themselves available as industry experts while the team was synthesizing date and preparing their presentation. The assistance of the board did not end there, as Duetsch explained.

“We were fortunate to present virtually to our Feiertag HTM Advisory Board early in the research phase, which provided an incredible opportunity for our students to interact with and learn from these industry leaders. The advisory board’s feedback helped the team refine their presentation and take the first-place award.”

Though winning an international competition has a value all its own, not to mention the $1,000 prize, the students received the most value from the work itself.

“The true benefit for the students is learning how to conduct a deep dive of data, providing analysis, and synthesizing all that information into a cohesive presentation before industry executives,” said Duetsch. “The students also walk away with a key hotel industry designation, CAHTA, the certification in advanced hospitality and tourism analytics. The number of students across the world who obtain this designation each year is pretty small, so it is a difference maker for them to earn this.” 

“I am so proud of this group of young women and men,” said Duetsch “Their presentation was incredible – they were poised, confident, and incredibly knowledgeable about their subject material.”

He continued, “One of the best indicators of the students’ performance came from a judge who said, ‘every time I wrote down a question about a topic it was answered with additional content just seconds later.’”