What was your takeaway from HITEC 2011?By Terence Ronson - Hospitality Professional, Technology Consultant, Public Speaker and Inventor
For those of your unfamiliar with HITEC, it is the leading hospitality technology show, which takes place annually in the US, and in recent years, has expanded to Europe and Asia via sibling events - EHTEC and AHTEC.
And what I enjoy the most during these events is speculating what was the take away by the thousands of attendees and exhibitors of this event - or what we term ROI - for the time and money spent in taking part in the show. For example, with all the variety of technologies on display, was it an eye opener? Were there rich pickings to be had from the numerous education and great keynote sessions? Or did the show provide fantastic networking opportunities in casual meetings along the show aisles and rest areas, or the very well attended after-show social events (a.k.a. physical social networking ) or the very selective invites to intimate vendor briefings held on the quiet in hotel suites?
Whatever the circumstances, when I make my annual pilgrimage to HITEC - and I've been doing so since early 2000 (not nearly as long as some of those regulars and Hall of Famers), I try to establish a personal connection each year to this event by identifying an underlying theme - a specific technology that is being heavily promoted by either a group of Exhibitors, or the many education sessions to help gain a better appreciation of trends in the market.
HITEC ran for four days and was packed to the gills, presenting a number of opportunities to learn, explore, network and benefit from the attendees and vendors who came together in Austin, Texas (home of HFTP the Producers of HITEC) in order to show off their wares and generously share abundant amounts of product and industry knowledge. And unless you were sequestered in your hotel room sheltering from the sweltering Texas heat, or spent all day at the malls and all night enjoying the world famous music scene, then for sure, you must have learnt something about Hotel TECH.
Without doubt, this year's HITEC had shown the industry is firmly in recovery mode, and appears to be as optimistic and buoyant about the future as it ever was. This sentiment was echoed by several Exhibitors and Attendees. I was also encouraged by the attendance from my neck of the woods - Asia - up over previous years. Finally many Exhibitors have woken up to the potential of the region - so hopefully I will see some of them @AHTEC 2.0 .... Booths ranged from small to big and the after-show parties corroborated the fact that budgets were back from the doldrums and some I hear, even continued into the wee hours of the following morning.
I was delighted that CIO's from many of the global hotel chains were in attendance, and only feedback from Exhibitors can conclusively prove if they were in buying or window-shopping mode. Regardless of that, it was great that they set time aside from their hectic schedules to attend, and on a purely personal level, excellent for me to have had the opportunity to catch up with some of them and participate in a few outstanding mind-sharing sessions.
Like all trade shows, it's easy to get drawn and sucked into the glitz and sheer size of the big-boy stands that mostly take center stage or are strategically located by the entrance doors to attract the walk-in traffic. But IMHO, I think the real innovation comes from the small guys on the periphery. These are the people with the entrepreneurial spirit who have grown up from their kitchen tables, garages or college dorms and had the creativity and drive to deliver something new, and hopefully one day, when their product or service reaches the right level of adoption and maturity - springboard to 'something' big and significant. This group have likely borrowed, scraped, burned the candle at both ends and risked all, to deliver 'something' new and innovative to the industry - and I seriously applaud them for their tenacity in trying to break into this space. These all too common scenarios are indicative of the thrilling tech world we now live in - and when you look at some of those mega successful companies, it's exactly the route they took when they first started out. I truly hope they got the kind of ROI they sought.
So what was on show - what was new and exciting at HITEC - and was there an underlying theme? Ask twenty different people, and I'm sure you will get twenty different answers, but in my case - let me tell you what I thought.
I would say there were six prominent technologies on display, or being promoted/discussed at the education/keynote sessions:
- Social Networking
- High Definition
- The Cloud
These items were conspicuous at HITEC - either as products or services, and became high-profile subjects for Keynotes and Education sessions. And when you read the HITEC related BLOGs and various news reports that have so far hit the trade media, you will note that in most cases, they have been separately highlighted.
Therefore, as part of my observation, I believe there was an unintentional common denominator a simple link that glued all these together - The Internet. Surprised?
How did I arrive at this conclusion? Quite simple, really. All of the above - just like in our daily lives - touches the Internet in one-way or another.
Social Networking totally revolves around the Internet - just look at Facebook, Twitter, BLOGs, Linkedin, TripAdvisor, Groupon and the OTAs. And the so-called Cloud could not have been formed without it let alone Managed, Hosted, Above-property, and hosted / location based services. Let's also not overlook the recent concept of Crowdsourcing.
Mobility for the most part requires Internet connectivity - even ubiquitous Wi-Fi can be loosely considered as the Internet especially since it's the mainstream transport mechanism to the internet along with the various G type networks (2,3,4), and as Guest's carry more and more (connected) devices and bring their own content - mostly derived from Internet services like iTunes, they then want to connect those devices to in-hotel services like the flat screen TV you have so kindly provisioned for them.
They regularly by-pass Hotel provided PPV services to enjoy High Definition content derived from the Internet (where the industry continues to struggle over the Free or Fee based model) whether it's Netflix, Hulu, Slingbox or You Tube (the planets most popular source of video) - this even more so as SMART and Connected TVs become mainstream. And when it comes to making phone calls, they (the Guest) gladly circumvent your phone system and use more cost effective Cloud services like Skype. And to capitalize from the guest's expense of buying these devices and increase so-called guest convenience, some Hotels are trying to use these gizmos to open Guestroom doors by using Bluetooth or playing musical tones.
The only remaining item from the list is likely to be the biggest - Security. This must be the greatest concern of CIO's and can often be felt as some temporarily change their titles to CISO's (Chief Information Security Officer) in order to deal with those issues - mostly brought about through Internet connectivity and the ensuing exposure to an ever increasing criminal element. I would even go as far as to speculate that this keeps them awake at night.
I don't need to tell you that nearly everything we do (tech associated) relies on the Internet, and the (Hospitality) industry continues to grapple with ways at how best to come to terms with its sheer power and enormity.
We constantly use the Internet in our daily personal lives - whether it's for information gathering, social networking, financial transactions, communicating and collaborating with friends and family, or getting multimedia content. It's a great part of it - and it isn't going away. And in our professional lives, the likelihood of survival without it is both infinitesimal and unthinkable.
Want a comparison? It's like when Man first discovered the Solar System and sent out exploratory missions to see just how far and wide one could travel - and no one knew just how far you could go, and what it contained - dare I say the Internet is very similar? Everyday, we find different ways to use it, many for legitimate reasons, some nefarious. It's a real life Pandora's box, and now we've firmly opened it, we have to find acceptable ways to live with it, and maximize it's potential. We cannot put the lid back and so I often wonder if it has a use by date, or if there is a Big Bang waiting for us at the end...
HITEC 2011 was a glimpse into the fascinating yet scary Cyberworld that awaits us all.
P.S. HITEC 2012 will take place in Baltimore, Maryland from June 25 - 28, at the Baltimore Convention Center
(c) Terence Ronson ISHC
Terence Ronson is the Managing Director of Pertlink Limited. Now residing in Manila after almost two decades in Hong Kong, Terence launched his diversified hospitality career as a chef, later holding various general management positions with well-known hotels in the UK and Asia. In the mid-80s he developed his penchant for technology, and in 2000 started Pertlink Ltd., (Hong Kong) a hospitality technology consultancy, becoming as well the Technology Editor for HOTELS Asia Pacific and authoring since then numerous industry-related articles. In 2001, CNN's eBizasia program featured him for his innovative work at Rosedale on the Park Hong Kong, the first cyber boutique Hotel. It was at that point he originated the first hotel app – HOTELINMYHAND. Terence also helped Langham Place Hong Kong win many accolades for its technology deployment as well as various other well-known hotels across Southeast Asia. In China, Terence was heavily involved in establishing and delivering the IT strategy for Jumeirah Himalayas (Shanghai), Puli (Shanghai), Sofitel Wanda (Beijing), and Guoman (Shanghai). He also participated in the development of the technology vision for Disney Shanghai and Tangula Luxury Train. Terence often chairs and speaks at global industry events and sits on various advisory boards, in addition to holding a Visiting Lecturer position at Hong Kong Polytechnic. He is a CHTP (Certified Hospitality Technology Professional) and runs an active hotel technology blog.