Malia Bacig, a senior in the Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, won the champion prize from the Global Tourism & Hospitality Conference in Hong Kong. She graduates from DU on June 10.

Talk about ending on a high note. When Malia Bacig graduates on June 10 from the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the Daniels College of Business, she will have just returned from presenting at the Global Tourism & Hospitality Conference in Hong Kong—an event sponsored by the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Bacig, a hospitality management major and honors student, won the conference’s champion prize for undergraduate research and, subsequently, was awarded round-trip airfare, hotel accommodations and entrance into the prestigious conference.

“Honestly, I was pretty surprised when I found out I’d won, simply because it’s an international conference so any student in the world could apply as long as the paper had to do with tourism or hospitality,” said Bacig, who took top honors for her paper, “Why Should Restaurants Source Local Food?”

Driven by a passion for the restaurant industry, Bacig focused her research on consumers’ perceptions of restaurants that are described as using local foods. She found that when restaurants market their sourcing of food locally, consumers perceive the restaurants as engaging in more environmentally-sustainable practices, having more nutritious food, offering better prices and value, and being more conveniently located than restaurants that do not source their food locally.

“I found it particularly interesting that the phrase ‘local food’ seems to translate into a psychological sense of closeness for many people,” said Bacig.

Cheri Young, associate professor in the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, who served as Bacig’s advisor on the project, cited the practical applications of Bacig’s research. “The bottom line for restaurants in terms of this study is for them to highlight and leverage their sourcing of food locally,” she said. “If consumers perceive local food to be of superior quality, then the restaurants serving it may be the beneficiaries of a positive halo effect.”

With this kind of experience—and success—under her belt, Bacig’s future in the industry looks bright. And that future starts in July when she begins working full time at the Four Seasons Hotel in Denver as a food and beverage manager in training. While she hasn’t identified her dream job just yet, Bacig wisely understands the value of soaking up as much knowledge as possible at the start of her career.

“I don’t really know where I want to end up. I think for the next three to five years, I want to work in operations and grow my skill set, and then move on to something else,” she said, citing her interest in the wine industry, as well as in international vacation planning companies like Inspirato and Exclusive Resorts.

Whatever her path, Bacig feels well prepared. “Knoebel has been the highlight of my educational experience at DU,” she said. “I’ve gotten so many amazing opportunities throughout my time here. And the support you get from professors is really unique. I definitely wouldn’t be going to Hong Kong if it weren’t for Cheri’s dedication. She has been so incredibly helpful throughout this whole process.”

For her part, Young predicts great things for Bacig given her love of learning, her “great analytic mind,” and her ability to remain calm when under pressure. “I foresee that Malia will rise quickly through operational roles in the hospitality industry and will land in the corporate office of a major hospitality company,” said Young. “Or, you never know, she may enter academe. What a kick it would be to have her as a colleague!”