From June 20 to 23, hospitality and technology professionals from all over the world converged in New Orleans, La., for HITEC 2016 to make connections, be introduced to emerging technologies, and learn about new trends in the hospitality technology space. The biggest HITEC ever, the show featured 342 vendors, three keynote speeches from technology and data experts, and a packed schedule of technology showcases and super sessions covering everything from “The Digital Customer Journey” to “Bridging Generational Divides.” There were 6,395 attendees from 65 countries at the event.
Data was a particularly hot topic at the show, as evidenced by opening keynote, “Making Data More Human,” presented by Jer Thorp. A data artist, Thorp lent a new perspective to the immense amounts of data aggregated by technology all over the world, asking attendees to always consider that data comes from people, and to always keep those people in mind when putting data to use. “When we’re working with human data, we should remember that these are artifacts of people’s lives. If it helps you, don’t think about them as a customer, think about them as your sons and daughters and think about them as your family members,” Thorp said. “Because what we’re doing right now is we’re creating a world, a new data world, that next generations are going to live in.”
Developing in a more personal relationship with data is becoming increasingly important as people are aggregating more of it than ever before. Beyond smart phones and tablet computers, more and more everyday items (think personal fitness trackers like FitBits) are coming with Bluetooth connectivity. This phenomenon is called the “Internet of Things,” and its becoming more and more common in the tech space. Many of the products featured at HITEC were Bluetooth-enabled, including some of the most advanced tech at the show—robots.
There were two high-profile robots present at HITEC 2016, Savioke’s Relay, who has been working in hospitality for a few years now, and Maidbot, affectionately called “Rosie” (pictured), who is new to the market. Steve Cousins, CEO of Savioke, said that robots have the potential to become an integral part of the hotel staff, but not replace the people who work there. “I don’t believe there’s any difference between a robot and any other piece of technology. Nobody has lost their job to one of our robots,” he explained. “In fact, they’re becoming a part of our hotel teams. For example, one of our robots got accidentally damaged by a guest and was out of service for a day or two. During that down time, I went to visit the hotel and the staff told me that they were really sad ‘Wally’ was in the hospital. That’s how they think of him, a team member who was out sick that day.”
Micah Green, the 19-year-old CEO of Maidbot, also wants his robots to become an integral part of the hospitality team. After a year attending the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, Green saw a big issue. “It’s taken the same amount of time for decades to clean a guestroom,” he said. Rosie was created to assist a hotel’s housekeeping staff by cleaning floors while the human housekeepers performed other duties, cutting the time spent cleaning each room by 15-20 percent and decreasing rates of worker injury. “Housekeeping is a tough job. Room attendants have the highest rate of injury in the service sector, which affects their quality of life,” Green explained. Rosie offers a consistent, and safe, way to clean the floors without risking injury. And while she’s doing that, she’s also—of course—collecting data. “How long it takes to clean each room, which areas are problematic and prone to issues like mold growth. These are all things we can predict with Rosie,” he added. Maidbot is due to launch a pilot program in a few select properties later this year.
But with all of these devices (and robots) collecting personal data and connecting to the internet, many of the vendors and speakers at HITEC were quick to point out that security is more important than ever before. “Security as a whole is going to escalate really quickly,” said Trevor Dowswell, director of installations at Hotel Internet Services (HIS), which was at the show promoting advanced technology and proprietary Wi-Fi protocol meant to better secure personal guest data. “It’s going to be something that people really start paying a lot of attention to, and hopefully that brings the level of security up across the whole infrastructure for all of us,” he added.
New technology launched at HITEC will soon be finding its way into the hospitality marketplace and the day-to-day operations of hotels all over the world.