The Triumph That Was HITEC 2014

Having just returned from this year’s HITEC, set in sunny Los Angeles, I am pleased to report that the conference was a rousing success. It would indeed appear as though our industry has finally and fully recovered from the 2008-2009 doldrums. The mood was wholeheartedly optimistic, fueled as much by the announced $5.3 billion acquisition of MICROS by Oracle as the warm weather and impressive exhibition hall. The show was packed every day, and from what I could tell, most booths saw record crowds, hopefully with more buyers than ever.

I don’t profess to be the world’s hotel technology expert. I will leave that to my colleagues who understand the multiple acronyms of this specialty. But even if you don’t know your way around a LAN, Cloud or Bluetooth, the show was definitely worth the visit.

Putting It All Together
To me the underlying theme was interconnectivity. No longer do you think of a phone system, a WiFi system or even a guestroom safe as a separate entity. Rather, think of how each element that you acquire interconnects with all the other components. It’s no longer just a door key or a smart thermostat, but a device that constantly communicates with your PMS and security system. Similarly, every POS terminal throughout your property is continuously generating data which streams into your guest history as well as your P&L. Not surprisingly, PMS data analysis is now offered in customizable ‘dashboard’ displays, allowing operators to easily drill down to understand how guests are reacting to your offerings, and thus how profitability can be improved.

King Mobile
If you have somehow been hiding in a bunker for the past few years, you might have missed this one. Smartphone technology is now considered as basic, essential and mandatory as credit cards. It’s no longer a value add but an expectation. Every product shown was mobile friendly and many were designed exclusively for handheld platforms. Remember the days of real (metal) keys? Well, the plastic key is heading the same way, as your cell phone will soon take its place. Your mobile phone will not only unlock your door, but also your room safe as well as act as a virtual concierge throughout the property and handle checkout requests. Moreover, the seeds are there for mobile to soon replace your wallet, what with credit cards usurping hard cash and bitcoin-enabled smartphones to take the lead in under two decades time. Paperless? Just about!

Tablets Go Mainstream
Just as mobile technology is a given, tablets are also a core component for the guestroom experience. Several vendors were showing systems that allowed consumers to order room service, book local attractions, read a newspaper, manage checkout, act as a TV remote and, of course, close the drapes, all from a single tablet device. Variations on the theme included tablet dining and spa apps, all seamlessly designed to link to the PMS and enhance the guest experience. The overall message here was that the future will be engineering the room to comply with whatever device a guest brings with them while not expecting them to necessarily use a tablet supplied by the hotel.

Your Guestroom TVs Are Already Obsolete
One could not help but be drawn to the large booths in the center of the exhibit hall. All of us were drooling over LG’s ultrathin 55” OLED (sorry, not yet available for hotel purchase…at least at a price point anyone can afford) or the curved glass 4K Samsung product. Fact is that technology is advancing at a rapid clip. Televisions are getting thinner, lighter, larger and sharper. But just as important, they too are interconnected, with ‘black boxes’ designed not only to transmit selected channels, but also link to guest-owned devices. All throughout, I was trying to understand what a ‘standard’ size TV monitor is for a guestroom. It is no longer 42”, but probably in the 55”-60” range. Why? Guest expectations are based upon what they are buying for their home. My recommendation: you need to make an impression and larger is definitely better.

All of these developments and innovations require huge loads of internet bandwidth. Think about a family checking in. Parents are checking email and selecting a Netflix feature. Children are playing online games and updating social media. Four separate requirements, all in the same single room. All told, bandwidth requirements are exploding. Several suppliers were showing solutions that compartmentalized on a room-by-room basis. In other words, a room would share their own bandwidth maximum; those downloading four movies simultaneously would find their speed a lot slower than the individual next door running a single device. Furthermore, given these escalating connection requirements, you can’t ‘band aid’ your existing hardware. Unless you’ve already completed a massive overhaul within the past five years, a few quick fixes or modifications to your system won’t keep you afloat; you need to rewire the whole thing.

Of course, your IT Team is going to the next HITEC. After all, this is their playground. But as an operator, you should go as well. It’s the gestalt of technology, or the concept that 1+1=3. In other words, just walking the aisles, you will get a feel for where our profession is headed and the world of opportunities that are at your doorstep waiting to transform your business outlook. And while a lot of the tech-speak may be over your head, you’ll play with some neat devices and understand a lot more when your IT guys return and put in some serious CAPEX requests. Additionally, such is the world we now find ourselves in that even the most hardworking and friendly hotelier must understand the gist of technology and some of the jargon to survive. Attending HITEC will help non-tech managers and operators keep pace with this 21st century language.

Next year’s conference is in Austin, Texas. I’m already pumped. See you there!

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in HOTELSmag on June 30, 2013)