HOT 2006: A Heady Mix

The range of speakers and a popular new feature, the Roundtable, were among the most pleasant surprises of the 6th annual Strategic Conference on Hospitality Operations & Technology, held at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas March 8-10.

Like other HOTs sponsored by Lodging Hospitality and BearingPoint, this drew all manner of technological experts, vendors and hoteliers to the landmark hotel. Unlike other HOTs, however, this edition debuted the Roundtable, a chance to exchange ideas and experiences about the most recent technological solutions to operational problems.

The Roundtables focused on applications such as property management systems, CRS, POS, CRM and guestroom entertainment. Envisioned as opportunities to bring vendor and hotelier together in a case study format, they mushroomed into unexpectedly well attended discussion circles.

As in years past, the conference featured panels on topics spanning new frontiers in central reservations, the ongoing effect of third-party Internet travel sites on brand integrity and rate, and the integration of technology and entertainment. It also boasted morning sessions featuring chief operating officers and chief information officers. A keynote speech by noted marketing commentator Peter Yesawich, the head of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, drew particularly well.

The COO panel spanned veteran luxury hotel executive Atef Mankarios, Red Roof Inns COO Joe Wheeling and Roger Bloss, a longtime friend of HOT who heads Americas Best Value Inn by Vantage Hospitality Group.

Alan Campey, chief assets officer for EBR Holding, also participated in the COO panel. Less than a week after HOT, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts announced that he had been named managing director of Cordevalle, a Rosewood resort in San Martin, CA.

The conference immediately followed the Hotel Technology Next Generation conference, also at the Anatole. Each gathering drew about 250, and there was overlap: Douglas Rice, the intellectually rigorous executive director of HTNG, participated in the HOT CIO panel, a highly technical discussion of issues including Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, growing concerns about identity theft and dealing with legacy technology older than the hotel staff.

Panelists disagreed on the efficacy of Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephony, particularly in light of the cost of VoIP phones.

Rice said the issue is Internet telephony, or using the Internet as a phone channel over non-phone devices like the computer. Are PBXes necessary anymore? he asked.

Also involved in the legacy issue: payment card industry, or PCI, requirements that strain the capabilities of old hotel computer systems. In addition to these PCI demands, which are designed to prevent identity theft, VISA's Cardholder Information Security Program (CISP), also is straining hotel technology, suggested Neil Schubert, vice president of strategic technologies for Marriott International.

Vio Nicola, VP of information technology at Ameristar Casinos, said the gaming industry has less of a problem with such issues because it's always been heavily regulated.

Schubert, who once heard that the acronym CIO stood for “career is over,” also suggested that the content encryption moves of Hollywood studios — exemplified by technology like Pro:Idiom, which is designed to prevent hackers from stealing entertainment product — will someday mean that the entertainment industry will be able to tell when and where a movie is played in a hotel room.

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