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Darla Moore School of Business

Korean air force motivates Ph.D. student to study management science, fix inefficiencies

Aug. 3, 2020

Moore School Ph.D. candidate Sanghoon Cho said he has experienced the importance of operations efficiency firsthand as a member of the Republic of Korea Air Force, which influenced his decision to focus his degree in production and operations management.

For the air force, the doctoral student managed materials for fighter jets in Seoul, South Korea, and observed the “various inefficiencies” in his squadron’s supply chain management.

“Reducing the inefficiencies derived from such processes has been one of my central concerns for a while,” Cho said. “After much contemplation, I became determined to devote my research career to advancing management science.”

Deciding to attend the Moore School because of its reputation, Cho said that he chose the Moore School’s management science program because he wanted to participate in collaborative research with faculty members. He also had a friend, who graduated from the Moore School with his Ph.D. in 2019, who highly recommended Cho enroll in the “collegial” program.

“Professors [at the Moore School] take care of our Ph.D. students very well, and students have a good relationship with each other,” Cho said.

Well into the coursework of the Ph.D. program, Cho is entering his fifth year of researching various aspects of demand estimation for hotel rooms. With the growing popularity of online hotel price comparison tools, price transparency promises and personal property rental options, Cho said that hotels are looking for more innovative practices to differentiate their products and services.

Cho became interested in demand estimation and revenue management from his interactions with two Moore School professors: Mark Ferguson and Pelin Pekgün. 

“During a doctoral seminar run by Professor Ferguson, I read one of his papers about demand estimation,” Cho said. “This paper strongly motivated me to work on problems in revenue management. In addition, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with real hotel transaction data thanks to Professor Pekgün.”

Cho also interned at Machine Learning Research Group in Oracle Labs in summer 2019 where he gained more exposure to the demand problems that hotels face.

Utilizing this motivation and experience, Cho is working to develop a new statistical method for hotels to understand their potential guests’ preferences and estimate their decision-making process. This method will enable hoteliers to estimate the choice probabilities of the potential customers and derive their price sensitivities of each hotel room using booking history data.

Cho predicts his research will align with the hotel industry’s movement toward personalized pricing and recommendations given a customer’s specific lifestyle.

“This novel model will help to predict demand for multiple hotel room types based on guest characteristics and room features such as balcony, view and price,” Cho said. “My approach to this personalized demand model consists of a combination of [data analysis techniques]. My goal with this research is to help hoteliers offer the right product/service at the right price to maximize their profit.”

Adding that he has also been studying the ways that online reviews affect a customer’s hotel booking choices, Cho said that it is interesting to him to analyze both booking history data from hotels and unstructured data like user reviews amidst the growing importance of business analytics.

Satisfied with his opportunities to interact with the Moore School’s faculty and become a strong researcher, Cho said that he has enjoyed his time in the Ph.D. program. Cho added that he is grateful for the group of friends and peers he has gained from the program.

“It’s an extremely supportive group of students, and we enjoy making the best of what Columbia, South Carolina, has to offer,” Cho said. “We have even organized short trips to Asheville, North Carolina, and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington [before the COVID-19 pandemic].”

Although he is still working on completing his dissertation, Cho plans to graduate from the Moore School with his Ph.D. in May 2021. He said he hopes to become a respected professor and to continue his academic research after graduation.

-Erin Mooney

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.