2016 STR Student Market Study Competition Team Waterfront Place Hotel

WVU Hospitality and Tourism team places third in international competition

Jordan Jones News

Originally appeared in West Virginia University College of Business & Economics in November, 2016


The boutique Hospitality and Tourism Management program and its students in the West Virginia UniversityCollege of Business and Economics continue to impress the state and the nation, mostly recently by placing third out of 25 teams in the international 2016 STR Student Market Study Competition in mid-November.

The Mountaineer team consisted of four hospitality and tourism management majors: Tiffany Benjamin, a senior from Wardensville, West Virginia; Emily Dillon, a senior from Uniontown, Pennsylvania; Carrie Digman, a junior from Charleston dual majoring in accounting; and Matthew Smith, a junior from Gaithersburg, Maryland.

“We were very excited to place in an international competition where we beat out many well established hospitality and tourism programs. Our program is only two years old, and we competed against programs that have been around for decades,” Benjamin said.

After submitting a 30-minute video for the first round of the competition, the WVU team advanced to the final round, which took place in New York City at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. The group of B&E students competed against teams from top programs at institutions like Virginia Tech, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Michigan State University and San Francisco State University.

“This win helps to prove we are a top emerging program in the country because we are able to compete with these prestigious schools and programs,” said Frank DeMarco, teaching associate professor of hospitality and tourism management. “When you talk about the hospitality and tourism industry and the field of study in the nation, you know Virginia Tech and Michigan State. Our benchmark – it’s unbelievable.”

And while the other schools were presenting about their local industries, the WVU students stepped outside of their comfort zone and swept the judges away with their study topic: the impact of the 2016 Summer Olympics on the hospitality and tourism industry in Rio de Janeiro.

“Our team told a story. The students did not simply just present the data they found. They put a lot of work and extra detail into the market study. They even talked to the Olympians here at WVU to get a real feel for their experience,” said Ajay Aluri, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management. “There were a lot of issues in Rio with the Zika epidemic and the recession, so they talked about tourism and gave recommendations for what they could do differently despite these challenges.”

To say the students were prepared would be an understatement.  The team worked diligently in and out of the classroom to prepare for this competition – working in the learning lab, being exposed to all departments in the industry and presenting several times to hospitality and tourism professionals prior to the competition. This experiential learning project is something they will take with them into their careers.

“We were actually pretty calm and confident up on stage. Mr. DeMarco and Dr. Aluri had us present at least 15 times before we went to New York,” Benjamin said. “Half of the time we were in front of business professionals, which really helped ease our nerves for the day of the presentation. After spending so much time together this semester, getting up on stage with the team felt natural. We just got up there, had fun and presented our information the best we had all semester.”

“We really want to thank executives at Stonebridge Companies, WVU Hospitality and Tourism Advisory Council and HOSBA executives for their time and input,” DeMarco said. “They really helped to escalate the students’ presentation skills.”

While the students are very appreciative of the executives that helped them prepare for this competition, they are also grateful for the professors and the program that has taught them so much.

“Our entire group would recommend the program to any student who is interested in the hospitality field. Our professors are very invested in each of their students. They take time to get to know each one and are willing to do just about anything to help us succeed. They spent countless hours helping us prepare our presentation and were very supportive on the day of our presentation, which is what we all needed,” Benjamin said. “On top of having great professors, our program is very experience oriented. We each do internships and field experience work before we graduate. I personally feel this is more valuable than anything you learn in a classroom because employers want to know what you have done, so adding these experiences to your resume really helps you to stand out.”

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*Note: Frank DeMarco is Stonebridge Companies’ Waterfront Place Hotel’s Director of Training. Matt Smith and Carrie Digman are currently Guest Serivce Agents at Waterfront Place Hotel. Tiffany Benjamin is a former intern at Waterfront Place Hotel.