Hackathon: TTX – Las Vegas and Hackathons Done Right

by Chris Apaliski

They say what happens in Vegas stays there. We get that. However, we at Sabre Dev Studio are so excited about the solutions that emerged from Hackathon:TTX that we couldn’t possibly keep the news to ourselves. Besides, what’s a hackathon without a little rule-breaking? In past hackathons we’ve encouraged our developers to push the limits of what’s possible in both the B2B and B2C spheres, and the most mold-busting, travel industry-disrupting solutions always earn the top prizes.

So when we decided to kick off this year’s Travel Technology Exchange (TTX) with a hackathon, we knew we were in for some bad behavior – and we couldn’t be happier with the innovations that our rock star developers crafted in just 24 hours.

The Details

On Saturday, June 24 and Sunday, June 25, we pulled a different kind of all-nighter at the Aria Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas strip. A collection of tech’s brightest developers, designers and entrepreneurs, ranging from college undergrads to Sabre-veteran developers, faced off in a round-the-clock race to disrupt the travel industry. The challenge was simple: build a B2B or B2C travel innovation that embodied the following set of criteria:

  • Frictionless Experience: Remove obstacles and make the traveler experience as seamless as possible
  • Unified Commerce: Provide a comprehensive experience for the customer regardless of where they start, continue or finish the shopping process
  • Personalized Experience: Tailor travel directly to the customer’s preferences, offering the right product to the right customer at the right time

The stakes were high, with a variety of prizes offered. Here’s what was up for grabs:

  • Grand Prize/Best in Show: $5000
  • Best Use of Emerging Technology: $1000 in Amazon Giftcards
  • Best Use of Sabre Red Workspace: $500 in Amazon Giftcards
  • Chatbot Challenge/Best Use of Smooch.io: Google Home for the entire team
  • Best Use of Microsoft Technology: Xbox Live Subscriptions for the winning team

Some hackers came in teams, others formed during the networking hours. As with all Sabre hackathons, participants came from all corners of the globe and all walks of life. After presentations from Sabre, Microsoft, Ticket Evolution, Twilio and Smooch.io, coding kicked off at 3 p.m. on Saturday. The developers worked tirelessly through the night and into the next day, with the exception of breaks for snacks, Jenga, and even a few short naps in “tent city.” We even had a hackathon attendee show up at 1 a.m., ready to code, after he had experienced some travel disruption firsthand when his flight was cancelled. There’s a lot to be said for perseverance.

A variety of solutions began to come together as the night went on, including:

  • Innovations for the new Sabre Red Workspace
  • Chatbots
  • Voice interfaces
  • The Internet of things (IoT)
  • Group travel
  • Bleisure travel
  • Event based travel
  • Webapps

The Pitches

Sabre staff and our sponsors were available to answer questions and tackle roadblocks throughout the entire event. At 3 p.m. on Sunday, developers had to close off their code and pitch their solutions. This year’s panel of judges represented a well-rounded group of tech and travel industry voices:

  • Mark McSpadden, Vice President of Emerging Products & Technologies, Sabre
  • Alex Shchedrin, Vice President, DataArt
  • Monica Coney, Manager, New Business, American Airlines and Founder, Chief Executive Connections
  • Barbara Joseph, Manager of Incubator and Agency Services, Virtuoso

The pitch process is always an incredible event to witness – it is truly amazing what working solutions these developers can design in such a short amount of time.  It’s no surprise with the talent in the room we saw some incredible projects built.

A notable side challenge winner for both Microsoft and Smooch.io was Sherpa – a team from Latin America who built a Facebook chatbot that targets a specific user profile: solo female travelers who are looking for specific amenities. Technologies used for this project included Sabre’s SOAP APIs, Microsoft LUIS (for natural language processing) and Smooch.io for messaging and conversational experiences.

However, there could be only one grand prize winner and two Sabre side challenge winners. After two hours of pitches and deliberation from the judges, a grand prize winner was crowned along with winners of Sabre’s side challenges.

Grand Prize: Flyo

This team of college students from The University of Texas at Dallas came all the way from Sabre’s home state to compete in the hackathon. Flyo solves a very common problem: creating and sharing travel plans with friends. Through this Amazon Echo app, the user is able to search for flights, hotels and events, receive text message itineraries, and then book and share with friends.

A variety of different APIs were used, including Lead Price Calendar to get a forecast of cost effective flights (this API retrieves a then current nonstop lead fare and overall lead fare available on future calendar dates for a specific origin, destination, and lengths of stay) and InstaFlights Search to look up details of the corresponding flights. In order to incorporate event based travel, this team utilized Ticket Evolution’s API to find upcoming events. To enable the details to be sent via text message to friends, Twilio was the preferred technology.

Part of the coolness factor of this app is how it allows users to make travel plans with friends in a hands free fashion. It’s super convenient: you can search for cheap flights, hotels, events such as professional sports or concert tickets and share details with your friends as you’re navigating through life – be it cooking, reading a novel, spending time with friends/family…the possibilities are endless.

“Sabre had some really powerful APIs for travel services which the hackers incorporated into their apps. Our teammate, Sandeep Namburi, thought it would be very cool to integrate those APIs into an Amazon Echo device. The goal was to make it convenient for users to create and share travel plans with their friends. Hackathons are a great way to work on those crazy ideas that you always get and Sabre’s Dev Studio was easy to get started with.”

-Rahul Sonwalkar, Flyo

Best Use of Emerging Technology: Luna Moons

Luna Moons built an app ideal for planning celebratory life stage travel, like honeymoons. Their app enables consumers or travel agents to select hotels and compare available room rates to price their entire itinerary. With a focus on room rate collection and organization, Luna Moons also incorporated a sharing component to allow travelers or agents to share their itinerary with one another in real time.

Best Use of Sabre Red Workspace: Upcoming Events

Upcoming events is a panel widget designed for the new Sabre Red Workspace. An enhancement for travel agents, this widget shows agents upcoming parties, concerts, sporting events and more, which the agent can then suggest to a customer in order to tailor the travel experience to their unique preferences.

“I wanted to participate in the Sabre TTX Hackathon because I knew how antiquated the travel industry was. There’s so much room for improvement when it comes to travel tech, and I’m glad to see Sabre paving the path. When I arrived, I was greeted by Chris and the rest of the crew, who were super friendly and already treating me like a rockstar coder. The setup, atmosphere and amenities reminded me of the LAUNCH Hackathon I had attended before in San Francisco. It’s considered one of the biggest/best hackathons in the world, with 1,500+ participants and $1,000,000+ in prizes. To see Sabre on this level was truly impressive and it showed me just how much of a priority innovation is for the company.”

-Seena Zandipour, Upcoming Events

Innovation Firsthand Through Hackathons

Hackathon:TTX was perhaps Sabre’s most successful hackathon yet. We at Sabre Dev Studio love hosting hackathons, and not just because we love to stay up all night eating pizza. For our developers, hackathons are a catalyst for innovations in technology and a foolproof incubator to work with emerging technologies – and to see what’s possible now and in the future. On the Sabre side, we get firsthand experience on how to continually provide a best in class experience for developers that rely on our open technology. Finally, our hackathons put a spotlight on the power of the Sabre platform as our developers build incredible solutions on top of our technology. Where are we headed next? Stay tuned – we’ve got some big plans in the works for 2018. No matter where our next hackathon takes place, we look forward to seeing you there.

Check Out Some Photos From Hackathon: TTX

You know we’d have a photographer out there capturing the best of the best. Check out our Hackathon: TTX Photo Gallery and see what the event looked like!

About Chris Apaliski

Chris Apaliski is the Sr. Product Marketing Manager for Sabre Dev Studio. Prior to this, he has spent time as a Social Media Director, Marketing Manager and Digital Strategist, working both agency and client side for a myriad of B2B and B2C businesses. He is also a Clinical Professor at The University of North Texas, teaching Strategic Social Media for Corporate Communications. Chris holds an MS in Marketing, a BA in English Composition and a technical writing certificate. He can be found on Twitter at @RedefineChris

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