From June 17 to 20, more than 6,000 hospitality professionals from all areas of the industry descended on the Minneapolis Convention Center for the 2019 Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC). This year, the technology-focused trade show hosted by Hospitality Financial & Technology Professionals (HFTP) boasted almost 400 exhibitors representing everything from revenue management to voice technology to employee safety devices (ESDs). And though the exhibitors were diverse, one thing was clear—the hotel industry is very different than it used to be.
Part of this evolution can be attributed to the industry still enjoying one of the longest periods of prosperity in recent history, which has given hoteliers the opportunity to invest in and experiment with new technologies. It’s also an innovative time, with new startups entering the fold and bringing their products online.
HITEC opened with a keynote speech from Chris Riddel, a global futurist who previously worked for MARS Incorporated. He spoke at length about the technological changes happening all over the globe, noting that technology is making the world “a bit crazy.” “You could be forgiven for thinking we’ve gone into meltdown in some places. But the true reality of what our future means for all of us now is it is a complete and utter reinvention of every single thing that we’ve ever seen to date,” he said. “And the amazing thing for me is the amount of innovation and change we will see in the next three years will shake and define the next 100 years of society in ways we have never, ever seen before.”
The Power of Data
One of the hottest topics at this year’s show was data. According to Riddel, data is one of the most valuable commodities in hospitality. “The travel industry is generating and storing and using more data than any other industry that we have. But, the reality is also that we have to create incredible value from the data,” he described. “This is fundamental to gaining trust from our customers and travelers.”
The story on the show floor reflected this mindset—though many types of technology were on display at this year’s show, solutions focused around data were some of the most prominent.
Data privacy was also a major topic of discussion during the general session’s “Technology Talk in the C-Suite Panel,” which was moderated by AHLA president and CEO Chip Rogers. “It’s so important to have information to create the guest experience, but what if tomorrow that information was no longer available,” he postulated, before asking panelists how they approached data privacy in their own companies.
Radisson Hotel Group Americas President Ken Greene noted that data is the lifeblood of hospitality companies, helping hotels provide the desired guest experience. He added, “Privacy always has to be number one, security for data has to be number one—not just in this industry, but any industry. If you’re going to collect data from a consumer, you better darn well protect it. Once you lose that trust, then it’s over.”
Omni Hotels President Peter Strebel concurred. “One of the biggest needs a human being has is to feel safe and secure, and I do think that at some point, there may be somewhat of a revolt, because every day our safety and security is being threatened.”
Beyond data security, employee safety was at the forefront of 2019 HITEC attendees’ minds. TraknProtect, a real-time location technology company that developed an employee safety button, won the Judge’s Choice Award at the show’s Entrepreneur 20X (E20X) competition. Parminder Batra, the company’s CEO and co-founder, commented to LODGING, “It’s most of all gratifying to see the industry acknowledge its responsibility to provide immediate security to the most vulnerable elements of its operations—its employees.”
Embracing the Future
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this year’s HITEC was that the future is coming—and fast. During a sit-down with LODGING, Dr. Ravi Mehrotra, founder of data analytics company iDeaS, explained that disruption is a constant in any industry—and that’s a good thing. “Disruption is fundamental to progress. And many people will say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Well, if you follow that philosophy, anything that works will continue to work the same way all the time. Sometimes, you have to break something to find a better way to do it.”
Embracing the future is key. “There are […] major, major technology issues that our industry is having to deal with like never before,” said Chip Rogers during the general session. “It’s not like the technology issues affecting our industry are going away anytime soon. We’re not going to wake up a year from now saying, ‘Well, that was interesting, now we can move on to something else.’ These are the things that are affecting us every single day.”
If the technologies that were showcased at HITEC are any indication, hospitality is ready to meet the challenges and opportunities that come with innovation head-on.