Charles Barbier, hospitality BBA student on the Innovation and Sustainability specialization stream, was selected to go to the Hospitality Innovation Summit at The Hague. His team won. Here, he talks about his experience and the business opportunities of sustainable practices.
- What did the Starwood Hotels & Resorts Innovation Competition involve?
This was a competition run by Starwood. The theme, as the title suggests, was innovation. Representatives from 10 schools were present in The Hague, and were split up into different groups.
6 companies were chosen by Starwood: Marriot, Starwood, Stegunburger, Accor, BNB Paribas, Rezidor and the CEOs were present. We were given two days to develop a sustainable concept around the brands.
That was it. We were busy with the company from all day, learning about the brand and seeing their innovation in practice, so just had the time in between to create a meaningful concept for the competition.
The process was interesting. If you have a good idea, you have to make others believe it. At the same time, others are trying to persuade you of their ideas. We had people in my group with strong characters and personalities, and we had to work it out. It was frustrating. It was challenging, but overall, it was a really good experience.
- What concept did you propose?
I came up with the innovative concept related to urban farming and sustainability. We used the framework of a triple bottom line to develop a new type of guest experience: economic, social and environmental. Our idea centered on the possibility of guests producing energy from the fitness center that could be stored in batteries 200 m under the building and from the floor tiles in the hotel. Once we had enough energy, the hotel could resell it to the community at a better price. The key words here are social responsibility.
We extended that idea to the whole hotel: developing and generating energy in different places. For example, there were sensors in the beds that generated energy whenever you moved. The energy produced throughout the summer would be released in winter when energy consumption increased.
- Where did you inspiration come from?
From my innovation and sustainability specialization. We have excellent teachers who are passionate about the subject and were able to transfer their expertise. Without boasting, I can say that I was the only one in our group with the depth of knowledge required to build a relevant concept.
- What three words to summarize your experience?
We were five different people, from five different schools with different levels of education, meeting to develop a concept in the space of two days. We got up at 07h00, went to lectures, did field trips e.g. to churches being transferred into offices. Only at 20h00 did we start work on our concept. But we were so tired, we just wanted to sleep, not work till 03:30 in the morning. Of course, this was deliberate. A way of installing chaos. Knowing that out of chaos comes innovation. In chaos there is always order.
It was tough, but a good experience. We visited a lot of places and met a lot of people. We shared a lot with our program manager, Dr Remy. At 02h00, I sent him an email ‘what do you think?’ Remy gave us some tips for the presentation and the overarching concept name. We needed an umbrella – and he came up with the name of the ‘urban farming’ umbrella.
I went to the competition with one word in my mind: sustainable. I thought about the idea of creating a watch that would connect the community – people organizing hospitality and participating in it. The community would be represented by this watch. It would have a nice design, be a nice watch. It ticked the marketing boxes. It would be also be a good way to keep in touch with the guests and organize events.
But I had to let it go – we had a lot of concepts. We had to agree on something that connected our ideas together, that one special idea. We couldn’t reach agreement. Then at 22:30, the night before the presentation, we found the concept ‘Urban Farming’ – all the ingredients. At 02:30 am, we got the title. At 03:30, we finished the presentation. We had a quick sleep, breakfast at 8, and in the afternoon, presented our concept to 250 people from the industry (including the CEOs who comprised the judging panel), professionals, and other competitors. It was tough, but we managed to explain the concept.
It was the most innovative idea presented and we won the competition.