Opportunity Areas

Back to Opportunity Areas

Hospitality Innovation


Innovation, including technology, services and entrepreneurship, that augment or disrupt industries within the hospitality and tourism sectors.


While hospitality – one of the District’s largest sectors of employment after the federal government1 – includes industries that traditionally emphasized a ‘personal touch’ and in-person interactions, technology plays an increasingly important role in these industries. Travel apps such as Airbnb and TripAdvisor have transformed the hospitality and tourism industries by making it easier to develop a customized travel experience, while traditional hotel chains are also experimenting with technologies such as location-based marketing (using a user’s location to send communications via Bluetooth and wifi), smart controls, and even virtual reality for marketing. On the back end, predictive analytics can be used to identify customer preferences and gather insights on customers. The hospitality industry has also seen non-technology-based innovation, such as the boom in food incubators in the District, or the growth of innovative food business models such as food trucks, which have used a combination of mobility and digital engagement to effectively build their customer base.

Example Industries and Businesses

  • Technology or applications that aid event/convention planning and management (event tech)
  • Food business model innovation e.g. food trucks, food incubators
  • Applications that support or enable new modes of acquiring hospitality-related services or products, including lodging, touring, and payment services

Example Worker Specialties and Skills

  • Management consulting
  • Software development
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Culinary
  • Content marketing and social media
  • Event management
  • Business administration and  development (e.g. sales)
  • Computer user support specialists

Visit the initiatives page and filter Opportunity Area by “Hospitality Innovation” to see initiatives related to this opportunity area.

DC’s Comparative Advantage

Based on our analysis and stakeholder interviews, DC has the following comparative advantages:

Strong Sector Expertise and Customer Base

The strong base of expertise, talent and infrastructure in hospitality and tourism primes DC to continue growing these industries through innovation. DC is a major tourism and convention destination with 21.3 million visitors in 2015.2 Many DC hotels undergo renovations every 5 to 7 years to stay competitive, which offers opportunities for new technology to be tested and implemented. The DC metro area also contains the corporate headquarters for major hotel brands such as Marriott, Hilton, Choice Hotels, and Host Hotels, providing access to a major influential customer base.

Food-Related Innovation

DC has a number of food-focused accelerators and incubators, including Eatsplace, Mess Hall, Union Kitchen, and Startup Kitchen, where innovative food entrepreneurs can test out restaurant concepts, access shared resources such as commercial kitchens or walk-in refrigeration, and learn from shared institutional knowledge. DC is also the regional center of “alcohol production renaissance”, thanks in part to District laws that allow producers to self-distribute, rather than having to go through wholesalers.3 This has resulted in several distillers and brewers, including Republic Restoratives and DC Brau, locating in the District, with many clustering in Northeast DC.

Technology Capabilities

DC has strong technology capabilities to support the hospitality industries. This includes a highly-educated workforce, as well as a number of startup accelerators including 1776, In3 at Howard University, technology and e-commerce focused GP Labs, Fortify, and Accelerprise.4[i]

Activating this Area of Growth

Based on our analysis of this sector and stakeholder interviews, the following actions could help develop this opportunity area:

Foster Cross-Sector Collaboration

Creating opportunities for hospitality companies to network with DC technology companies would allow tech firms to understand the challenges of these firms and workers in hospitality and tourism fields and together explore new technologies or approaches. Government can serve as a convener of actors who may not otherwise connect – for example, event managers and full stack developers.

Go to market with new products between new entrants and incumbents

In the hospitality industry, digital startups and analog travel and hospitality organizations have often partnered as a quick and cost-effective way to adapt their business strategies in a disruptive marketplace.5 For example, Uber’s on-demand delivery service, UberEats, has formed alliances with various restaurants across the US. DC has an expansive network of start-ups, small, mid-sized, and large companies within each industry. There is thus an opportunity to assess the landscape of current partnerships and facilitate new ones. Innovations of DC firms in the hospitality and tourism sectors could also be highlighted during innoMAYtion, the District’s month-long celebration of innovation during the month of May.

Integrate workforce programs and training

With its wide range of entry level to management positions, the hospitality industry already offers significant opportunities for career development and economic mobility. Many programs and institutions, including Hospitality High Schools/National Academy Foundation, Goodwill Industries, UDC Community College, DC Central Kitchen, Carlos Rosario Academy, and others are preparing DC residents for promising careers in this field. Where appropriate, such programs could incorporate the industry trends into educational curriculum and build training pathways accordingly, possibly leveraging the increasing number of technology-related training resources. By the same token, coding academies could gear some of their curriculum toward hospitality and event-related technology.

Additional Resources:

Hospitality Innovation Ecosystem Overview: this document summarizes the key resources available to support the Hospitality Innovation industry in DC.

  1. DC Department of Employment Services. Wage and Salary Employment by Industry and Place of Work July 2016.
  2. “Destination DC Announces Record 2015 Visitation and FY2017 Plans at the Annual Marketing Outlook Meeting.” <https://washington.org/press/press-release/2016-marketing-outlook-meeting>.
  3. Sidman, Jessica. “License to Swill: D.C.’s Unique Booze Laws Allow a Way around the Middleman. Guess Who Isn’t Happy?” Washington City Paper. August 7 2013. <http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/food/blog/13130265/license-to-swill-d-c-s-unique-booze-laws-allow-a-way-around-the-middleman-guess-who-isnt-happy>
  4. “GP Tech Labs.” GP Tech Labs. Accessed 21 December 2016. <http://www.gptechlabs.com/>
  5. Deloitte. 2016 Travel and Hospitality Industry Outlook. Accessed 19 December 2016. < https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/travel-hospitality-industry-outlook.html>.