Hospitality recruitment is a dynamic field, and for good reason. The European hotel sector is projected to reach $110.9 billion in 2023, and brands everywhere are eager to attract the best talent to help them ride that growth. To manage the sheer number of applicants and jobs, most HR teams resort to staid, repeatable hiring processes, which is understandable. With a hackathon-style event, however, you can switch things up and discover new talents and approaches to work while having fun along the way. 

In this piece, we talk about the hackathon model, why hospitality hackathon ideas are a great way to identify top hospitality talent and how to make yours a success. 

What Is a Hackathon?

A hackathon is an event where participants meet and form teams, brainstorm and develop innovative solutions to a given problem statement. It typically lasts over two or three days, during which time the participants stay on the premises and continue to work together. Teams will have to present their idea to a jury panel and demonstrate its workability, after which the jury (and sometimes the audience) asks them questions. Winners are chosen based on the creativity, feasibility and viability of their ideas. 

Most people have heard about hackathons in the context of coding or tech events. Hackathons, however, don’t have to be about tech. The emphasis at a hackathon is on idea generation and problem-solving through teamwork, which means skills of all kinds can and should be applied. And given the multi-faceted nature of the hospitality industry, diverse skills are in fact necessary to solve the complex challenges that hotels and restaurants face. 


What Are the Benefits of Hospitality Hackathons for Hiring?

Here’s why the hotel industry should consider hosting more hackathons during recruitment season: 

  • Understand candidate capabilities before hiring - Traditional hiring involves resume screening, interview questions and maybe a case study or two (depending on the role). On the other hand, a hospitality hackathon tests candidates’ ability to come up with ideas on the spot. In addition, you get to observe how they perform under pressure, be it the way they treat their team members or how controlled they are in the face of tight deadlines. Hospitality is a high-pressure industry and quick decisions are the order of the day - with a hackathon, you get to see which of your candidates can actually handle the heat. 
  • Discover hidden talents on your team - The struggle to find top hospitality talent is real, but what if we were to tell you that your existing employees could have all the talent you need? With a hospitality hackathon, you get to see how they apply themselves outside of their job duties and identify who the specially talented are. Be they creative ideators, great speakers or effective team leaders, employees with more to offer never shine as they do in a hands-on challenge like a hackathon. Afterwards, you can train them to take on roles more in line with their skills.
  • Experience higher enthusiasm and involvement - A hackathon allows participants to huddle together and come up with radical new ideas in real time while camping out and sharing meals as one big group. It’s a great way to engage prospective candidates from the get-go, and gives them a platform to shine in ways beyond the scope of an interview. For existing team members, a hospitality hackathon serves as a break from regular duties and a chance to showcase their creative and entrepreneurial sides. They’ll also learn how to work and ideate together with team members they may not have known well previously. This makes for a more engaged and close-knit workforce, which will translate into higher overall productivity for your brand. 

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Ideas for Hosting Your Own Hospitality Hackathons

Contrary to what you might think, hackathons don’t have to be large-scale or expensive! The goal is to bring people together and generate exciting new ideas, and you can do that for projects of any scope. Here are some hospitality hackathon ideas that your hotel, resort or restaurant can organise regardless of your budget. 

  • A “Good Housekeeping” challenge - Cleaning up a used guest room often takes time, and optimising this can reduce the interval between guest checkout and a new guest checking in. At this hackathon, existing hospitality staff/candidates can work on a new creative system to clean rooms faster, whether through new techniques or new resources. 
  • A “Masterchef”- style cook-off - There’s no better way to engage your existing/hire new kitchen staff than by letting them pit their skills against each other in a culinary challenge. The possibilities are endless here, from preparing a new holiday menu to crafting a signature cocktail to offering a new spin on an old recipe classic. To take it up a notch, offer as a prize the opportunity to have the winning dish named after the team that came up with it. 
  • A seasonal experience challenge - Every hotel has a Christmas dinner, but what makes yours the jolliest of the lot? Engage your hotel staff/candidates in a competition to develop the most creative holiday experience in full detail, from food and cocktail menus, to entertainment, decor and social media strategies. Bonus points if they come up with an entertaining skit/dance routine of their own!
  • A rebranding challenge - If you’re looking to rebrand your hotel or restaurant, why not involve your team or candidates in it? Set up a hospitality hackathon where your team members/candidates across divisions can come up with a new brand personality for your establishment. Encourage them to be as creative as they can, from custom ad jingles to demo social media campaigns, decor ideas and new restaurant offerings - bonus points if they bring samples to share!

What Major Hospitality Brands Are Doing by Way of Hackathons

Several hospitality and tourism brands are already embracing the hackathon trend to attract new talent and get fresh perspectives on the industry. Here are a couple of well-known hospitality hackathon ideas to take inspiration from: 

  • Accor - Their annual innovation competition Take Off! brings together students from around the world to tackle global challenges on behalf of Accor Group. The finalists get special coaching on how to present their idea, while the winning group gets to pitch their idea directly to Accor stakeholders and potentially have it chosen for execution. For 2023, the challenge involves developing memorable digital experiences that Accor can offer its customers. 
  • Hilton - Hospitality Hackathon with Hilton has become a byword in the hospitality student community, and is hosted at leading universities around the world. The event involves student groups using modern technology to design disruptive solutions to hospitality’s most pressing challenges. All student groups are given 36 hours to prepare and demo their solutions. They present these to a panel of judges with industry tech experience, as well as an audience of teachers, staff members and fellow students at the end. 

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How to Design the Perfect Hospitality Hackathon

Ready to get started with this idea? Here are some tips to optimise your hackathon planning: 

  • Create as much buzz as you can - A hackathon is as much about participation as it is about the audience who comes to watch and cheer their friends on. Use both online and offline media to hype up your hospitality hackathon well in advance of the event. You could even have “pre-hackathon” mini-competitions and giveaways to attract more attendees. 
  • Provide quality food and beverages - As a hospitality brand, this one’s important! Make sure your participants are well-nourished and hydrated at all hours of the day as they work.
  • Offer compelling prizes - A hackathon isn’t just about handing out trophies. You’re rewarding creativity, perseverance and decision-making, and the prizes need to reflect that. For hospitality students or candidates, winners could get a final interview or even a direct job offer with your hospitality brand. For existing employees, winners could be awarded a fast-track training program for a role that they’ve demonstrated the skills for, such as management or senior chef. You’ll also want to have some attractive options for the runners-up and honourable mentions, such as vouchers or branded swag.
  • Keep hosting hackathons regularly - You’re unlikely to see much traction with your first hospitality hackathon, so continue to have them at intervals. Reach out to different hospitality colleges and share regular communications with their students so that they know your name and will enrol in the hackathon when you host it. 

Hospitality recruitment doesn’t have to be boring. A little creativity and engagement makes all the difference, and with our hospitality hackathon format, you achieve both goals in one go: candidates everywhere will relish having their moment in the spotlight to share their ideas, while you get the benefit of fresh insights and a team that’s eager to do their best for your brand. A hackathon, in short, is the perfect way to make hospitality hiring fun again - start planning yours today!