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Lindsay Zhou and Monika Verma pose with their awards at the Hotel Turnaround Collegiate Championship.

Spears HTM duo earns top honors at nation’s largest hospitality trade show competition

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Media Contact: Stephen Howard | Manager of Communications | 405-744-4363 |

A pair of Oklahoma State University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management students took home the Judges Championship Trophy at the AAHOACON24 Hotel Turnaround Collegiate Championship April 2-5 in Orlando, Florida.

The OSU team of Lindsay Zhou and Monika Verma competed against 10 other teams from six universities from across the nation. Steven West, a Spears School of Business assistant professor of professional practice, served as the faculty advisor for the OSU team. The event took place at the nation’s largest hospitality trade show, put on by the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), the largest body of hotel owners in the U.S.

“The championship was a thrilling and extremely difficult challenge,” Verma said. “We were up against strong competition from schools all around the United States, but we succeeded because of a lot of planning, strategic thinking and teamwork. I want to thank Steven West for his advice and assistance during the process. His knowledge was really helpful to us in creating an excellent turnaround strategy. Furthermore, Lindsay Zhou, who had been my teammate for this championship, is someone I must not forget.

“The accomplishment is evidence of our students' talent and the excellence of our hospitality program. We treasure the chance to demonstrate our competence and are honored to have represented OSU on the national platform.”

The competition format tasked students with simulating operational and investment choices crucial for revitalizing underperforming hotels. The simulation program HOTELsim, powered by Russell Partnership Technology, immersed participants in scenarios mirroring real-life challenges encountered by actual hotel properties, including staffing, operations, marketing and capital investment decisions.

Zhou and Verma were given a hotel property with a $1.5 million annual net operating deficit, but the OSU duo turned that into a $2.5 million positive return in years one and two, successfully bringing in a net operating income of $5 million for the competition. The next closest team was $1.5 million behind.

“The competition was both a challenging and profoundly enriching experience,” Zhou said. “It tested our skills, pushed our limits and provided us with a unique opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge in a practical, high-stakes environment. The event fostered an atmosphere of intense competition coupled with mutual respect among participants. This blend of challenge and excitement served as a powerful catalyst for innovation and teamwork. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Monika, my teammate, whose dedication and perseverance were instrumental in our success. Our collective efforts and synergy were key to navigating the complexities of the challenge.

“Additionally, I am immensely grateful for the guidance and support provided by Dr. Steven West. His insights and encouragement were invaluable throughout this journey. Last, but not least, my appreciation extends to Dr. (Brij) Thapa for supporting us to attend this event and Dr. (Willie) Tao for rooting for us and encouraging us to be brave. This experience has been incredibly rewarding, providing not only a platform for professional growth but also lasting memories.”

The panel of judges included Helen Zaver, the senior vice president of Colliers Hotels; Greg Friedman, CEO of the Peachtree Group; and Aditya Bhoopathy, managing principal of Noble Investments.

Zhou and Verma attributed their success to their rigorous practice rounds in Stillwater prior to the competition. The two battled teams from Florida International University, Grand Valley State University, Kennesaw State University, Northwestern State University (Louisiana), the University of South Carolina and Virginia Tech University.

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