HITEC Builds on Industry Strength
New gizmos designed to expand the frontier of lodging technology were not in evidence at the 2005 Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference in Los Angeles June 20-23. But killer apps weren't visible at the 2004 and 2003 HITECs, either.
What there was was robust displays, a lot of convergence, increasingly refined Wi-Fi technology and a plethora of high-speed Internet access providers. Held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the event featured 625 booths for 303 companies and a total of 5,008 attendees including exhibitors, according to Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals, its sponsor. Some questioned the HFTP figures, however, and traffic was spotty; at times it was heavy, at other times very light.
Among the most prominent exhibits: Hotel Information Systems, On Command Corp., LodgeNet Entertainment — and Microsoft, the software giant on which so many hospitality technology vendors depend for research and development partnerships.
Hotel Information Systems unveiled its Internet-native property management system, which “allows hotel groups to have Internet applications from the property level up to the corporate analysis level, including business intelligence,” says Tammi Hebnes, vice president of marketing and business planning. HIS also introduced its enterprise solution, core, and an update of epitome. It's a suite of software including PMS, distribution channel management and central reservations. As for HITEC, “I thought it was a really good show, and we got a lot of quality traffic as far as people looking to do something different and starting to work on budgets for their technology,” Hebnes says.
While the big PMS vendors made sure to keep their profile soaring, high-speed solutions were prominent, too.
“It was kind of interesting to see the emergence of high-speed vendors,” says Mike Kistner, the former Best Western CIO who now heads operations and technology for Pegasus Solutions. “Remember, there were hundreds and then there were virtually none. Now, everyone has it and everyone has a way to do it. It is almost a model of how this industry does things: hype, some activity, failures, dismissal, and then everyone has it as a routine course of business.”
Among the HSIA vendors were iBahn (formerly STSN), Wayport, IP3 and Road Runner Business Class. Among the newcomers — and there were many — were ANTlabs, an Asian company with a giant display; BelAir Networks, like FireTide a “mesh network” vendor; and KoolConnect Technologies, in alliance with Unisys.
One of the best-attended exhibits belonged to Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG), an association of vendors dedicated to getting their systems to “talk” to each other. Among those dropping in on the HTNG booth — its first at HITEC — were CIO and CTO power buyers like Nick Price of Mandarin Oriental, Bob Bansfield of Hyatt, Bryan Steele of Thistle Hotels, Joe Durocher of Outrigger, Jane Durment of Marcus and Luke Mellors (a HTNG board member) of Dorchester Group.
Greg Hodges, of iBahn, says what struck him about this HITEC was:
Hotel technology in the HSIA space is changing
Network utilization and in-room presentations appear to be changing
The needs of the traveler are expanding.
Jon Inge, a long-time industry consultant, says the main themes that he discerned were:
Increased systems integration/interactions
More systems moving to net and hosted environments
Ever more depth of functionality.
Bert Bolduc, vice president of property management systems software manufacturer IQWare, says he and other vendors thought attendance was down despite HITEC's claims. The West Coast location may have hurt, he adds. But quality was good, and IQWare expects to close several deals following the demos it did at HITEC. “The focus was to promote our condo hotel solution and take advantage of that market segment,” he says. “Quality-wise, we got a lot of decision-makers” visiting the IQWare booth.
Exhibiting for the first time and also attesting to the rapid growth of condo hotels: CondotelWare, a Utah company with more than 12 years of experience in developing software for multiple-ownership properties.
Here is a sampling of news from HITEC. First, we spotlight in-room entertainment:
First-time exhibitor Sharp introduced its first hospitality-tailored liquid crystal display TVs, including a 32-inch model incorporating a LodgeNet and On Command pay-per-view interface. Sharp created the LC-32HT1U AQUOS with hotel room entertainment in mind. The TV can be hung on a wall. Sharp also recently introduced the first monitor that can display separate images for two viewers depending on their line of sight.
Another first-time TV exhibitor was Syntax, unveiling its 20-, 26- and 32-inch Taiwan-manufactured LCD models, along with a 42-inch model with built in high-definition circuitry and a sophisticated TV tuner. These Olevia displays allow simultaneous viewing of TV or DVD movies while surfing the net or accessing standard PC desktop functions, Syntax says.
LG Electronics introduced Pro:Idiom, a technology developed with LodgeNet Entertainment that is designed to guarantee security for the digital content provided to the hotel industry. The boxless technology is the first digital rights management system developed for lodging, according to LG Electronics. LG also exhibited a 42-inch plasma TV and a 32- and 32-inch cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs at HITEC. LG also announced that DIRECTV has approved an LG content-secure transcoder device that reformats DIRECTV satellite HDTV signals to meet digital television standards for distribution through a hotel's existing wiring‥
On Command Corp. announced an agreement with ESPN to deliver live college football and basketball games to hotel rooms; touted a new, customizable HD menu system for hotels; and offered a new, secure end-to-end solution including a new welcome channel, the upgraded menu system and new security technology.
Like On Command, LodgeNet promoted its college sports arrangement with ESPN. It also cited new developments in the interactive nature of its video-on-demand (VOD) offering, such as interactive guest directories and a relationship with Movielink to develop and deploy a service enabling fast laptop movie downloads in guest-rooms boasting LodgeNet's interactive TV and HSIA systems.
TotalVision, a video-on-demand over Internet provider (VOD over IP) company, joined the in-room infotainment chase with displays featuring HDTV, video games, guestroom interactive services and HSIA. The Alabama company soon plans to offer bundled cable, phone and Internet services over its own fiber-optic network. Extenway, a Canadian firm offering a solution bundling CRM, HSIA, HD and hookup capabilities on one platform, mounted similar displays.
Chase Merchant Services unveiled FX NOW!, a currency conversion solution that gives international travelers the chance to convert and process bankcard transactions in their native currency when they buy at participating establishments.
First-time exhibitor FireTide introduced HotPort 3101, a wireless Wi-Fi mesh node designed to give lodging establishments a cost-effective way to extend Internet access and networking services property-wide with minimal disruption to day-to-day operations. The technology eliminates the need for “backbone” wiring. FireTide competitor BelAir Networks announced it installed a new wide-area wireless infrastructure at Kerzner International's One & Only La Palmilla Resort Los Cabos, Mexico. Broadband integrator Viasys Network Services deployed a combination of 16 BelAir switch routers and multi-service nodes on light poles, buildings and palm trees at the Baja California resort.
On a related front, iBahn, formerly STSN, announced the first network deployment of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), security code that iBahn says dramatically increases data protection and access control on existing Wi-Fi networks. This security element is now available at the 2,100-plus properties iBahn currently serves.
Wi-Fi powerhouse Wayport is moving into voice recognition in conjunction with Vocera Communications, a wireless communication firm that provides instant voice communication for mobile personnel.
Numerous phone manufacturers were on hand including long-time exhibitors Teledex (unveiling its freshly designed iPhone A series) and TeleMatrix (announcing a technology swap deal in which Mitel will license design of a dual-mode IP phone to TeleMatrix). Making its HITEC debut was Motorola, which unveiled its DTR Series digital two-way radios. Like Nextel, Motorola is aiming for the hospitality market with these units, which deliver direct communication between hotel employees.
Old hands offering their latest wares included VingCard Elsafe, Bartech, Pegasus Solutions (which announced an alliance with IT automation and utility computing software manufacturer Opsware), and Newmarket International, which introduced Meeting Broker, a service permitting meeting planners to make a reservation for groups of up to 25 people online in real time. INNCOM International demonstrated its multi-functional GDA-700 tabletop control console, a power supply/subwoofer and an AM/FM radio.
Mark Haley, of The Prism Partnership, says the line between PMS and CRS continues to blur, adding the key of this HITEC was integration. “People on both (the) buy and sell sides are taking integration seriously,” he says. “Note the activity levels in the HTNG booth, and everything in the Microsoft booth was all about integration.”
At the same time, Haley wonders about in-room entertainment. “Why do people keep trying to enter the in-room entertainment space? Don't they ever learn that it is a nasty, dangerous business that is very difficult to do well and even more difficult to do well in?”
While that field is crowded, Haley was happy to see revenue management vendors return to the arena, bigger and more robust. But he's “still looking for a really viable management solution, one that will allow me to analyze and manage 100 percent of my demand from a single screen.”
Maybe next year, when HITEC convenes in Minneapolis.
Visit www.LHonline.com for more information and related articles.
THE BIG IDEAS
Bundle, bundle, bundle. Whether it's high-speed Internet access, in-room entertainment or software, the dominant theme of this year's HITEC was integration. The biggest exhibits belonged to those companies offering more than one application.
Flat-screen TVs are a minimum requirement. At this HITEC there wasn't a curved screen to be seen other than those on desktop computers, and there were several new TV/monitor exhibitors. The new shape of in-room entertainment is flat, and the screen is big. Now all that technology has to do is become less expensive — which it inevitably does.
Pamper the guest, assure your source. Competitive vendors On Command and LodgeNet both offered wide-ranging infotainment menus incorporating video, games and fast Internet. At the same time, they offered new technology that guards their content sources against online piracy, a growing concern. And, of course, they presented these on a wide range of monitors that kept the HITEC crowds glued to very big screens.
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