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John Kim, chief product officer for Brand Expedia Group, presents the winner’s check to Will Chantry at the conclusion of the travel giant’s first-ever Seattle hackathon Sunday night at Startup Hall on the University of Washington campus. (GeekWire Photos by Todd Bishop)

Competing against dozens of teams from across the Seattle region, software developer Will Chantry single-handedly won travel giant Expedia’s first-ever Seattle hackathon Sunday night with an app called “Be A Fan” — connecting the databases of SeatGeek and Expedia to let music and sports fans book their travel at the same time they buy out-of-town concert or game tickets.

The simple app emerged victorious in part because it naturally led users to focus on travel dates, which the Expedia executives on the judging panel described as an important and notoriously tough challenge to solve. Many competing projects started with the traveler’s budget instead, such as apps that suggested trips for people to take based on how much money they had to spend.

Hackathon participants gather for the closing event.
Hackathon participants gather for the closing event.

Chantry works for a company based in the University of Washington’s Startup Hall, where the event was held, so he was able to participate in the hackathon from his own desk. He said afterward that he hadn’t been aware that he had found the key to the Expedia executives’ hearts, by creating an app focused on travel dates.

“It started with my roommates talking about going to a festival down in California,” he explained. “They were flying in and renting a car. I was thinking about a way to make it simpler to be able to do that, but it evolved into a broader problem than simply going to a festival.”

About 175 people competed in the weekend hackathon, which challenged participants to create apps to revolutionize travel, using APIs from Expedia and other companies. I was one of the judges for the event, along with John Kim, Brand Expedia Group chief product officer; Tony Donohoe, Expedia senior vice president and CTO for worldwide engineering; and John Samuel, senior vice president for design at the Sabre travel technology company.

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Hackathon participants put the finishing touches on their projects.

Expedia, based in Bellevue, Wash., plans to move to a new headquarters on the downtown Seattle waterfront, and the hackathon was part of a broader effort to forge deeper connections to the Seattle community, in part to bolster the company’s recruiting efforts.

Some common threads and themes emerged in the hackathon projects, including apps that let users share itineraries with friends, so that they could book the same trips; apps that used photos to entice users to consider going to places they wouldn’t have otherwise considered; and chatbot apps that used natural language processing and machine learning to let users summon a virtual travel agent within the chat interface when discussing an upcoming trip.

One team, Travel 3000, also used Amazon’s Echo as a virtual travel agent. Here’s their demo.

Here were the other winning teams from the weekend.

Second Place: Emilia, a virtual agent for Facebook Messenger that helps users book travel in the background as friends discuss an upcoming trip over chat, complete with reminders for the procrastinators in the group.

Emilia virtual travel agent.
Emilia virtual travel agent.

Third Place: TravelApps, which let users share distinctive photo slideshows of their destinations, using a fun overlay technique that resulted in a montage reminiscent of the Travelocity Gnome.

A photo montage from team "TravelApps"
A photo montage from team “TravelApps”

Expedia Accessibility Challenge: Easy Walk, which helps people with disabilities view a map to understand the terrain and escalation in cities they visit, to ensure that they can visit their desired attractions from where they’re staying.

Sabre Sponsor Prize, for best mobile app: Expedia Messenger, a chat program that helps friends b

Apigee Sponsor Prize, for effective use of APIs: Plan Bandits, which lets users share their trip itineraries with friends on social media, and receive a referral fee if their friends book elements of the same trip.

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