For those who did not attend the 2017 edition of HITEC, held in Toronto this time around, you may be wondering what you missed.
Frankly, the same question may be posed by those who attended as well! Putting aside the exceptional educational seminars, the exhibition show floor now resembles a miniature version of the world’s largest technology trade fair, the annual Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas each January. Some of the HITEC supplier booths have even gone to great lengths to replicate hotel facilities in order to elicit the same levels of customer excitement generated at CES. Most also have ample space for lively conversations and intimate customer presentations.
Spending as much as is humanly possible of 15 hours of allotted open time on the actual exhibit floor, I ended up speaking with dozens of vendors. Walking every aisle, I attempted to absorb all the various product and service offerings. According to my trusty health monitoring app on my iPhone, I traversed some ten kilometers in the process. It’s a big show after all!
But what did the visitor see aside from the glitz? Here’s my take. None of these are big ideas in and unto themselves, but together form a consolidation of reoccurring themes critical to the success of each and every hotel property.
Integration. Need a solution? There are multiple vendors all offering ways to provide the services you want. At this day and age, what is the point of a standalone solution provider? Thus, the discussion is less about the product offered, but more about integration with various property management systems (PMS) – a critical task that nearly every vendor is now acknowledging. Every PMS handles data differently, and some PMSs encourage third-party add-ons while others do not even allow middleware solutions, seemingly so that they can capture maximal dollars from their ‘locked in’ clientele. No hotelier wants to manage multiple databases or manually enter data into their PMS from other satellite platforms, so seamless integration and consolidation of software solutions was the dominate theme of this year’s show. Hoteliers beware: if you are in possession of a piece of software that doesn’t push its data to the PMS, add it to the chopping block.
Cloud. Cloud computing is not a new concept. This HITEC, however, represented the tipping point between locally-based server solutions and the cloud option. The general forecast is that our operations and data centers will be fully cloud-centric in the few years, particularly if you are operating within the sphere of influence of a major PMS and not using any obstinate legacy systems. It is certainly not a good time to invest in a local data center as all future updates will only be for cloud-based technologies.
Security. Data is a precious commodity. No one wants to ‘own’ a data breach. Systems that separate public access from private or provide additional levels of data security are to be lauded and promoted. In speaking to the vendors, one of the primary concerns remains hoteliers who continue to use legacy operating systems (such as Windows XP or, heaven forbid, MS-DOS) that are no longer fully supported and can serve as a backdoor into any system. One weak access point like this can be exploited to serve as an easy entry for hackers.
WiFi. Five years ago, the discussion was about offering WiFi to the guest for free. Today, however, the issue is about how much WiFi bandwidth you leave available for guests, both as free and at a premium level. The answer is never enough! There is an insatiable appetite for this as more devices hit the hotel threshold and as we adopt casting technologies that better facilitate additional streaming hours. Advanced hardware solutions can now allow the hotelier to take charge of bandwidth by temporally managing allocations and creating customer equity.
Screens. It is no longer called merely a television. Call it a visual display panel. Numerous sizes and configurations were displayed by key manufacturing conglomerates, thereby demonstrating their versatility for every corner of the guestroom and every nook of public hotel spaces. Other accessory companies were demonstrating how their solutions fluidly linked these panels with the PMS to create a robust dashboard for the guest with property information, purchasing opportunities and all the regular broadcast features. There are many solutions, and again the issue of system compatibility is a key factor.
Employees. Recognizing that labor is the highest cost facing any hotel operator, several vendors were displaying ways to maximize staff utilization. Some worked to enhance the beginning of any journey in hospitality by presenting a more streamlined approach to hiring and retaining good staff. Others presented a means of increasing the onboarding efficiency of staff members once they are hired via mobile apps, thereby reducing training costs and offering a comprehensive online resource for all internal company education. This appeared to be one of the few emerging fields at this year’s show as not many vendors or hotel properties have yet to fully embrace how cloud-based technologies can work to heighten staff training.
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in eHotelier on July 5, 2017)