Held annually near the end of June – this year in Houston – the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference (HITEC) ostensibly represents the pinnacle of tech shows for what hotel properties can implement to increase guest satisfaction and back-of-house efficiencies.
While the weather in Houston outside was a swampy mix of sweltering humidity and downpours, the convention center was allotted the best of Texan air conditioning as the tradeshow floor brimmed with roughly 7,000 hoteliers, exhibitors and buyers, all while a series of educational seminars took place in the floors above.
The overriding theme of this year was that of technology convergence and partnership. Vendors have recognized their strengths and know that their wares are only one part of any hotel’s technology tool belt. While many companies striving to optimize back-end operations and improve internal communications have a series of overlapping functions, all nevertheless realize that hospitality is never one-size-fits-all, thereby necessitating open source APIs and a myriad of other forms of software integrations.
Before highlighting a few select exhibitors that piqued my interest, there are several prominent trends to run through.
Foremost is the rapid uptick in voice technology. Smart speakers were touted by numerous vendors offering different applications for an Amazon Echo or Google Home setup. Despite the obvious privacy concerns, anticipate further expansion of this technology into the realm of IoT room controls and concierge services.
And speaking of IoT (Internet of Things), several router and wireless connectivity providers were at hand to demonstrate the full potential of this emerging field. Beyond simply controlling all room functions and having the smartphone replace your key card, IoT can be used to further advance internal communications as well as optimize service delivery – housekeeping scheduling for one. Next are the seldom mentioned safety and security benefits whereby IoT programs can be utilized to detect if someone has fallen down or if there’s a threat.
Then there’s blockchain which still has vast potential for loyalty program partnerships as well as reducing the costs associated with transactional data intermediaries. While this is still roughly five years out from a proper rollout as the banks and large corporations sort through all the legalities, you would be wise to start reading up on how it works now.
- Samsung. Never one to pay our industry lip service, this tech giant debuted screen-based and back-end solutions for nearly every aspect of the guest experience, all striving to give hotels more of that wow factor. For meetings, consider the Flip which is an interactive, connected screen for brainstorming sessions. And their digital signage cannot be beat, with durable outdoor displays that made me dream of watching the World Cup at a poolside cabana without an ounce of fear of water damage.
- Optii Solutions. Making its presence felt this year as a premier provider of housekeeping optimization software, this vendor impressed with advanced analytical tools for more efficient route planning, staffing and guest profiling, all to reduce the minutes per room required for cleaning as well as to make the team’s job easier. In an age where this department is suffering from an aging workforce and increased risk of injuries, such systems are becoming all but mandatory.
- Novility. While most other companies have their sights on increasing departmental efficiencies or augmenting the guest experience through cool new front-end features, no one else is wholly dedicated to improving team health and morale. With its motion-capture based training station, this year the company debuted new modules for public area cleaning procedures and bellhop services to complement its housekeeping training and injury-reductive ergonomic courses.
- b4checkin. This smaller Canadian vendor showcased its automated credit card processing and ledger posting middleware that effectively eradicates the need for paper authorization forms during any sort of folio payment or card-not-present transaction. There are tremendous cost savings involved in cutting out the human component of these processes, not to mention the upgrade in compliance and the ability to effectively refute any type of chargeback.
- NAVIS. Recognizing the ever-present need for a solid sales team, this exhibitor’s wholly upgraded reservations, call center and business intelligence software can help to transform any hotel’s marketing effectiveness by giving deep data and rich dashboards on each team member’s performance so that senior managers can discern not only how to sell best but also who is maximizing his or her time and where sales need a boost.
- Koridor. Newer to the show, the company’s software solution focuses on getting guests the exact room that they want, and the potential for its use is enormous. Think about the incremental upsells that airlines accrue by selling individual seats after you’ve booked your flights. Now apply that to the hotel industry where every room has unique qualities that can be utilized to drive revenue and, more importantly, heighten the prearrival guest experience.
- Jibestream. Focusing on intelligent mapping and geofencing of a given indoor space, there are numerous applications for large campus-like hotels and resorts to apply this technology to not only help guests find what they need, but also to highlight specific amenities in order to drive onsite capture. With such beacon-based technologies, hotels can next benefit from improved security, wayfinding and proximity selling, to name three.
- ALICE. No longer only a guest-facing mobile app producer, this multinational software provider has pivoted into hotel operations management with a fluid system that can handle all internal communications so guest service is never compromised. Following its exponential growth over the past year, the company has also developed an API registry in partnership with HFTP to seamlessly document the entire hospitality technology ecosystem and what systems work with each other.
As the tech world is changing at an ever-rapid pace, hoteliers must stay up to speed in order to differentiate their properties and continue to make an impression with guests. Be sure to mark off next year’s event in Minneapolis for June 17-20.