From a hackathon in Spain: Inside HackaTrips 2018

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FITUR is one of the biggest global meeting points for tourism professionals all over the world! Fitur 2018, the 38th edition, made of a new record with 251,000 visitors from more than 165 countries. It’s a great opportunity to take a tour around the world from Asia to Latin America. Since I moved to Madrid, I never miss a chance to visit Fitur. Yet, another key reason for me to attend Fitur is HackaTrips!

100+ participants of HackaTrips 2018
100+ participants of HackaTrips 2018

HackaTrips is a hackathon organized by minube. Its goal is to bring developers, designers, and experts in the tourism sector under one roof to develop innovative prototype solutions to burning issues in the tourism industry. The first edition of HackaTrips started last year and it was an amazing event. This was my experience at the second edition of HackaTrips.

Team 18

Our team consisted of four members: Ricardo Crespo, Pablo Cano Huero, Mario Verdú Gambín, and myself. Even though we met each other for the first time during the event, we were able to make a great (award-winning) team. Minube had put a lot of effort to match our skills in such a way that we could work together easily and efficiently.

Team 18 at HackaTrips 2018
Team 18 at HackaTrips 2018

It was a pleasant coincidence that Ricardo, Pablo, and I all were working on Artificial Intelligence. We were the Java developers of the team while Mario was the designer. From 10:00 AM on Saturday 20th, we spent more than 12 hours working together physically in IFEMA. And then almost one complete night virtually on Slack. It was an intense session of brainstorming, programming, and making slides. But we enjoyed every minute of it!

Grupa, our idea!

Like all teams, our goal was to find a problem or a challenge. Though it was a bit unfortunate that we didn’t have a tourism expert on our team. Yet, we all were vivid travelers, so we brainstormed ideas based on our experiences while traveling, both good and bad! Finally, after much brainstorming, the problems we identified were:

  • Tourist Congestion: On the one hand, we noticed that some places always get overly crowded with tourists. On the other hand, businesses in smaller towns and villages just outside these big cities get closed due to lack of visitors. So here are some issues we brainstormed: Can we help to distribute this large volume of tourists in a more intelligent manner?
  • Travel sharing: Most of us like to travel in groups. Group travels are generally more economical, much safer, and fun. However, it is not easy to form groups with people who have same likes, dislikes, social interests and similar budgets. So we were thinking, can we help to form better groups?
  • Tourist pricing: Some restaurants and other tourism-related businesses try to scam tourists with prices that are much higher than the normal. So, can we warn tourists not to pay unnecessarily high prices?

Having these issues in mind, our idea was to build an app called Grupa. It would provide a platform to tourists to form groups with people of similar interests and budgets. The app will also help the users to discover places to visit that are not crowded. We also wanted to introduce local guides. These guides would show their towns, villages, cities and save tourists from paying overly expensive prices. To do all this, we planned to use the data provided by APIs from minube, BBVA API Market, and Hotels Combined.

Implementation

While building Grupa, the first challenge was to build user profiles. This was to help form compatible traveler groups. We wanted reliable, up to date information about the users. This would allow us to generate accurate and detailed profiles.

After discussing with mentors from BBVA API Market, we figured that we can use the transaction history of users. This allowed us to build a very detailed profile without even bothering them with a single question. But this was only if the users authorize us to access their data through BBVA Connect.

Grupa at HackaTrips 2018
Grupa at HackaTrips 2018

The second challenge was finding tourist destinations that are not overly-crowded. We not only wanted to discover interesting tourist destinations but also find the occupancy patterns for each destination. The patterns we wanted to identify were: per month, per day-of-the-week, as well as per each hour of the day.

Finally, we built a web app that utilized a bunch of API’s. With this app, users could register using BBVA Connect and authorize it to access the relevant data. It then suggested groups based on the socio-economical profiles of the users and provided recommendations about places to visit and when to visit. Then, each group was connected with a local guide from the destination.

The pitch

The final task of the hackathon was to present our idea, implementation, and a small demo to a panel of experts in the tourism industry. It was a 5-minute pitch so everything had to be concise and clear. I believe we did a good job presenting our app! Below is the complete slide deck that we used for the pitch.

Fitur – HackaTrips 2018! from Nandana Mihindukulasooriya

Winners of HackaTrips!!

Finally, after two days of hard work, we won the prize of 2,500€ for the app that makes the best use of APIs in the BBVA API Market! We were really happy that our efforts were recognized with such award! We were simply over the moon! After this awesome experience, we are eagerly waiting for HackaTrips 2019!

Pablo Cano Huero, Ricardo Crespo, and myself with our prize at HackaTrips
The winners of HackaTrips 2018 (Image credits: Nandana Mihindukulasooriya)

About the author: Nandana Mihindukulasooriya is a doctoral researcher pursuing a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence at Ontology Engineering Group of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain. He is a graduate of the University of Moratuwa and worked as a Tech Lead at WSO2 before starting higher studies. Nandana also holds a masters in Software Engineering from Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden. He has a keen interest in open source and contribute as a committer and a Project Management Committee (PMC) member for several Apache projects and has completed three Google Summer of Code (GSoC) projects in 2006, 2007, and 2010. He is also an active member of several W3C WGs related Semantic Web and Linked Data. He has worked on several European and Spanish research projects, and also technology transfer projects with companies such as Banco Santander and IBM. Nandana has also published around 30 peer-reviewed articles in academic journals, conferences, and international workshops. 

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