Late June in New Orleans, Louisiana. Outside is sweltering, but the air conditioning is on full blast to cool the convention center as throngs of eager hoteliers walk the aisles to learn about the latest and greatest in hospitality technology. While the evenings would find my stomach hungering for crayfish remoulade and Cajun-spiced gumbo, my two days at the eponymous tradeshow were a flurry of amazing new devices and software that can help hotels solve their business needs.
Unlike previous years where I came in with fresh eyes, this time I attacked HiTec with a singular purpose. I wanted to know specifically how each product or company would help alleviate problems associated with OTA dependency and the proliferation of alternate lodging providers. Several dozen interviews later, I am eager to share six companies with you that I see as viable candidates for helping you drive online direct bookings and improving the onsite guest experience.
To inject a little fun, I’ve organized these in an awards show presentation. And please keep in mind that these are the six that piqued my interest, although there are lessons to be learned from every single exhibitor. The vendors at HiTec really are the smartest people in the room, and I would encourage you to attend next year in my hometown of Toronto.
Best First Timer: CrowdRiff
New to the show and with unmistakable innocence on their faces, the company’s founders were nevertheless in fine form as they debuted their intriguing platform that pulls images from social media and embeds them onto website landing pages. Rather than pay for expensive photoshoots with retouched models and overly staged settings, CrowdRiff lets you tap into any social network to source compelling visual content for your site as well as switch out any of these photos or videos from an intuitive content management system. I’m a big fan of local, authentic experiences, and this platform allows a brand.com to showcase just that.
Strange Attractor: Novility
A strange award for an unorthodox usage of technology, this promising Dutch startup uses motion capture to record and retrain housekeepers on proper etiquette and mannerisms to guests heighten efficiency and improve their interactions with. Although they have plans to extend their product to all types of frontline staff, the initial focus is on this critical back-of-house operation. In other words, it’s Microsoft Kinect for your housekeeping team, with the added benefit of boosting accountability, reducing hours devoted to direct oversight or training and, above all, augmenting online reviews by making room cleanliness a non-issue.
Best Sleeper Product: b4easypost by b4checkin
A quaint ten-by-ten booth with a modest spread of brochures and small lizard keepsakes to advertise their premier booking engine platform couldn’t hide the fact that this tech startup has developed an industry first for online credit card payments. The b4easypost product is PCI compliant and has already been fully vetted a select group of hotels across the southern states. By helping eliminate manual authorization forms, this software bolt-on will all but eliminate human error during credit card processing while simultaneously heightening security and adding new data points to guest profiles.
Environmental Award: EcoSmart by Telkonet
While the last few years have seen the rise of smart thermostats to augment energy efficiency, the next couple will see the elimination of thermostats altogether. That is, why have a separate wall-mounted device when such functionality can be easily controlled via your television and universal remote control. Not only has Telkonet developed a fluid software interface for a smartscreen near you, but all preferences are also saved and added to that guest’s profile, meaning that those exact conditions can be instantly replicated for any future stay and deployed well in advance of the customer’s arrival onsite.
Most Improved Player: Kaptivating
I stumbled across these guys last year with their barebones, last-minute cubicle being manned by the president, CTO and owner. Normally such a paltry effort would only yield a cursory glance, but the product was beyond clever. By using their targeted algorithms, hotels can send real-time offers to potential customers through social media, effectively circumnavigating OTA channels and any inscribed rate parity contracts. Fast forward 12 months and Kaptivating lives up to its namesake, commanding a booth four times the size with impressive displays and a full sales force. I thought the product was genius at Austin in 2015, and indeed by the time I once again rolled by in New Orleans they looked the part and were more than ready to scale.
Best in Show: Samsung
Yes, I went with a juggernaut here, but for good reason. While UltraHD and 4K are still in their infancy on the price and content side, Samsung has moved beyond mere pixel quality upgrades as they now pose the question: how can we use screens to change the way people interact with a physical space? Rather than plop down an oversized yet standardized tradeshow kiosk, Samsung constructed a bespoke mini-hotel for hoteliers to highlight how their plethora of smartscreens are changing not only the in-room guest experience, but also back-of-house controls and all manners of interior or exterior design.
Interactive bathroom mirrors, bedroom televisions with seamless device casting functionality, see-through screens perfect as partial wall dividers, weather-proof outdoor displays and Tetris-like multi-screen wall art are just a taste of what they are offering to help usher hotels into the 21st century. My key observation from my guided tour of Samsung’s booth is that these sorts of impressive smartscreen upgrades are near-impossible to replicate by independent Airbnb hosts. Yes, such futuristic televisions and monitors represent a hearty capex, but they represent a decisive way to visually differentiate your property and inject new life into a weary environment.
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published by Hotels Magazine on June 30, 2016)