HITEC Hits the North Star State
At times it felt there were more booths than attendees at HITEC 2006, the June 19-22 Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals-sponsored conference.
But many agree that even if traffic was off from the 2005 HITEC in Los Angeles, attendee quality was high and the environment unusually appealing. The Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference claims 4,475 attendees and 600 booths.
The charm was freshness. Not only did HFTP push the envelope beyond the predictable convention cities of Orlando, Las Vegas, Nashville and Atlanta, it unveiled a peek at the future of lodging technology, Guestroom 2010.
The locale was Minneapolis, sister city to St. Paul, the capital of Minnesota. HFTP should consider similar cities for future HITECs; while it will be in Orlando next June 25-28, it will be in HFTP's home of Austin, TX in 2008. Like Minneapolis, Austin is a stylish, negotiable city.
The weather cooperated to unusual degree. It was balmy, sunny and dry, making for a pleasant stay. The Minneapolis Convention Center was well lighted and easy to negotiate, and downtown was a pedestrian delight, though some vendors complained there weren't sufficient hotel rooms to accommodate a conference of such size.
HITEC's first Guestroom 2010, featuring 56 technologies, was as refreshing as the locale.
Jules Sieburgh, the veteran lodging technologist who helped organize the exhibit, says input proved far more far-reaching than he'd expected. He also notes the infusion of non-U.S. companies in the mix.
“It was another good, solid HITEC,” says John Burns, HITEC veteran and long-time industry consultant “Guest-room 2010 was useful and thought-provoking. Guestroom 2010 was a demonstration of, and a confirmation of, HFTP's valuable and vital role as an incubator, facilitator, and forum for progressive thinking, leadership and action related to evolving hotel technology.
“In reflecting on trade show attendance, it is easy to overlook the countless side meetings taking place at the same time — meetings whose tone was reported to be consistently positive and productive. And Minneapolis was an enjoyable surprise as a HITEC venue.”
“The educational sessions seemed higher-quality this year; the ones I went to were certainly very well attended,” notes Jon Inge, another HITEC soldier. Guestroom 2010 was eye-catching and thought-provoking, he says, but “it seemed scattered, like a Sharper Image showroom but less coherent.” Better signage might have helped, he says.
And even though traffic seemed lighter, many vendors said they had a higher quality of visitor, along with serious, qualified buyers. As for Minneapolis, Inge enthuses. “Locale: Excellent. Having the convention center within walking distance of hotels and downtown made a huge difference. The ticketed f&b arrangements on the exhibit floor were also far superior to previous years' manic buffets.”
In Guestroom 2010, the most striking products included the Ammique, a $20,000 British bed featuring a variegated body suspension array with a sleeping system that adjusts to the contours of the body; a portable fabric freshener from Whirlpool designed to eliminate the need for dry cleaning while on the road; Polytronix glass that can change a panel from translucent to transparent at the flick of a switch; and the Nethrone, a “personal digital entertainment environment” consisting of an adjustable chair facing a keyboard and computer monitor of one's choice.
Several other European companies made their debut at this HITEC, like Powerdesk, a British firm that builds furniture in which the technology is embedded, giving hoteliers choice in both style and hardware.
Guestroom 2010 was busy, drawing people to its startlingly high-definition TVs, a self-cleaning shower stall, a Brookstone massage chair that kneads your tired muscles to music from a built-in CD player, and the LUX-HAD, a HDTV look-alike that changes display to fit the viewer's mood. The themes of Guestroom 2010 were interactivity, functionality and aesthetics. Making it so hands-on and edgy was smart of HFTP, which aims to freshen it yearly.
The showroom floor was generally predictable; as one long-time observer put it, HITEC 2006 was incremental. What stood out was collaborative efforts, announcements of software alliances or hardware upgrades that put companies, some of which had been competitive, together.
If last year was the year of high-speed Internet access (HSIA), this was the year of HDTV. Not only were industry stalwarts like LG Electronics, LodgeNet and OnCommand highly visible, so were NXTV, DirecTV and Extenway Solutions. The giant TV over which OnCommand broadcast the World Cup was a consistent draw, LG and Sharp had new offerings and Polaroid, aka the Petters Hospitality and Entertainment Group, made its HITEC debut with its own high-definition TVs.
Another surging technology was Internet protocol telephony. Teledex showcased Iphone models, one with voiceover Internet protocol (VoIP) technology exclusively, the other a hybrid that could be upgraded to VoIP-exclusive technology later. It also announced new DECT (digital enhanced cordless telecommunications) cordless phones, which it claims provide worldwide compatibility with various region-by-region cordless telephone frequency requirements. Telematrix, which merged with Scitec this spring, unveiled new models of its Marquis and Trimline phones. The merger took place so supplier Telematrix could leverage Scitec's phones and VoIP solutions.
Overall, however, the conference was more refinement than revolution.
Newmarket International unveiled new features for its MeetingBroker web-based lead management software. Tested with Starwood, it's now scalable and widely available and features enhanced reporting and business functions.
LodgeNet announced development of a guest connectivity center to help hotel patrons link their portable media devices to high-definition displays. It also announced a new agreement that enables Panasonic displays to offer LodgeNet's content-secure, high-definition, free-to-guest and video-on-demand services. LodgeNet also unveiled Entertainment 2Go, enabling guests to download movies from an onsite digital server to their laptops.
Here's a sampling of other news:
Tangerine Global, which targets upper-upscale with its HDTV programming, announced its selection by Peninsula Hotels
Multi-Systems Inc. debuted a web booking engine that enables hoteliers to capture online reservations on their websites with real-time inventory control. MSI also used Guestroom 2010 to showcase its self-service Place Point point-of-sale solution and Pocket Concierge, a remote check-in/-out handheld PDA
Agilsys unveiled a business intelligence solution that it says allows properties to develop a “content store” integrating data from CRS, POS, inventory and procurement
Access control provider Kaba, PMS software developer Northwind and cStar Technologies allied to debut Vending Genie Hospitality, a cashless vending solution. Guests use keycards to buy goods , eliminating cash in the machine and wirelessly approving and posting transactions to the guest folio for payment at checkout
Broadband services pro-vider iBAHN showcased Conference PC, a wireless version of its Lobby PC. Designed for use in conference spaces or outside of meetings, it can be used at any location within a hotel that has Wi-Fi service
Eleven Wireless unveiled ElevenBC, a business center solution that aims to take advantage of new, Intel-based Apple iMac computers. ElevenBC allows hotels to customize the guest experience, whether the guest prefers Mac OSX or Windows XP. The new iMacs run both
Hotel Information Systems announced partnerships involving business applications integrated with its epitome.NET property management system. These include POS-plus F&B management, powered by Squirrel Systems; epitome Golf, powered by The Active Network; epitome Spa, powered by Envision; and condo-hotel management, powered by CondotelWare.
INNCOM presented the upgraded GDA-700 Guest-room Digital Assistant in Guestroom 2010. It also previewed its Designer Series, to debut this fall
IQWARE released a new timeshare module in an expanded version of its PMS. It also unveiled IQDestinations, software developed with its partner, Travelhotlink, to help book unused inventory in IQWare-enabled hotels
NCR debuted a new NCR EasyPoint Xpress Check-In kiosk, designed for hoteliers who want a smaller footprint and easy-to-manage design
CSSN showed a new version of its IdScan driver's license card scanner that now features check reading. Also new from CSSN: the SigniShell, which captures measurements of a signer's rhythm, speed, pressure and acceleration when creating a signature
TravelCLICK debuted iStay, a version of its web booking engine that it says has an enhanced user interface and superior property merchandising. It also introduced new keyword-based paid search technology in its business process management solution.
Meetings with vendors in suites and conference rooms were productive, according to Bob Bansfield, assistant vice president of information technology for Global Hyatt. But he'd like more time on the trade show floor. “HITEC is a very efficient way to do project reviews and talk about product direction and relationship management with a large number of providers,” he says. “What I'd really like is extended trade show hours where access is limited to buyers and decision-makers.” As for locale, “Minneapolis is probably the best city yet,” Bansfield says. “Several people I've spoken to have indicated they would be happy to always have HITEC in Minneapolis.”
THE BIG IDEAS
Partner smart. HITEC 2006 was all about alliances. The best products were not so much new as they were versatile. If 2005 was the year of the bundle, 2006 was the year of linkage.
Be fresh. Guestroom 2010 and a different locale, both firsts for HITEC, made this conference particularly appealing. So did huge HDTVs; the World Cup helped.
Be varied. HFTP is to be praised for presenting a conference with lots to do, absorb and see. May all conferences be so stimulating.
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