Trend Spotting at HITEC 2010

Like most HITECs, the 2010 edition of the industry’s top technology conference and trade show spotlighted several major trends. This year there were two: the shift toward cloud computing and the rise of mobile media.

Many of the 250 or so vendors at HITEC displayed technologies, both old and new, that could be adapted to the concept of cloud computing, which simply is the hosting of computer applications (typically CRS or PMS, but others also) offsite, often at a vendor facility or a hotel chain headquarters, rather than in a hotel’s basement or computer room. This so-called software-as-a-service is sold and maintained on a per-transaction basis, eliminating much of the upfront capital costs associated with acquiring technology. Properties also save on cooling and power costs, maintenance and security and IT staffing expenses.

As Nick Price, Mandarin Oriental CIO/CTO and cloud-computing advocate, told a Microsoft-sponsored press briefing, “Cloud computing makes perfect sense for the hotel industry as it is organized in that way,” said Price, who was inducted into the International Hospitality Hall of Fame during this year’s HITEC. “The hotel business is built on people paying us for service.”

Price has said Mandarin will only consider future IT solutions that can be deployed using cloud computing. One key reason is the chain’s global reach. As Mandarin develops and opens properties in emerging markets, particularly Asia, Price says it’s difficult to deploy on-property technology hardware in a timely manner. “It make take six weeks to get delivery of PMS hardware at some of these locations,” he said. “We can’t wait that long, so cloud technology solves the problem, as well as the issue of finding necessary on-site tech support.”

Going Mobile
While many vendors discussed software as a service and touted their cloud technologies, they also often showed mobile applications of their systems. Deploying on everything from iPhones and other smartphones to iPads and proprietary tablet technology, vendors demonstrated how managers, department heads and line-level employees can be better connected to the data stored in their properties’ tech systems.

The other side of mobile technology getting a lot of buzz at HITEC involved mobile marketing. Preceding the opening of HITEC, the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International hosted a day-long conference on revenue management and mobile marketing. While at present few consumers use their smartphones to make hotel reservations (one speaker estimated just $160 million of travel bookings are currently done through mobile channels), many more (about 70 percent of business travelers) use the technology to gather information on flights, attractions, restaurants, etc.

Yet Max Starkov, chief strategist for Hospitality eBusiness Strategies, told the audience that 20 to 25 percent of travel companies plan to add mobile booking capabilities in 2010, and 24 percent plan to create iPhone apps. He warned the hoteliers that mobile Internet is not just wireless access to conventional websites.

“Your mobile site can’t merely duplicate a traditional website,” he said. “The mobile application must download fast, have fewer pages and be more driven by text than visuals.”

Whether developing a smartphone ap or a mobile version of a website, or both, hotel technologists and marketers need to build-in several critical features, Matt Vice, director of mobile solutions for TravelClick, told conference attendees.

Echoing other speakers, Vice emphasized a mobile strategy “isn’t about creating an abbreviated version of a traditional website because mobile users have shorter attention spans,” he said. “Above all, it must be fast and intuitive. Customers must be able to book and retrieve and change reservations. It should include customer profiles and a click-to-call button.”

A Look to the Future
One of the highlights of HITEC was Guestroom 20X, a cooperative effort between HFTP and several vendors to present a look at the future of guestroom technology. The exhibit is a guestroom prototype, complete with living area, bedroom and bathroom, and stuffed with guest-centric technology, some of it in use today and some of it in the concept stage.

Guestroom 20X debuted at the 2006 HITEC in Minneapolis as Guestroom 2010. Additional versions appeared in the next two HITECs, and it returned this year with a new name. The room included some interesting and unusual items that may end up in common use in the industry:

• In the area of security, the room’s guestroom locking system allowed a guest to use a cellphone as a room key and a digital door viewer displayed a live feed on an LCD screen.
• While hotel operators would love to eliminate phones from guestrooms, this unit included one with touch-screen interfaces to a variety of services and entertainment options.
• A canopy over the bed included a high-quality sound system, reading lights, built-in PC and a projector that slides down at the foot of the bed.
• The most unique item was a bathroom mirror that projects TV programming, weather info and a guest’s vital health signs.

Good news for the Hospitality Financial & Technology Professionals, the producer of HITEC, was an increase in attendance to about 4,500, up 23 percent over last year’s disappointing but understandable turnout in Anaheim, CA. HITEC 2010 was held in the cavernous Orange County Convention Center in warm and steamy Orlando.

Next on the HFTP calendar is the group’s annual convention and trade show, which will be held Oct. 11-14 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. The 2011 HITEC returns to Austin, TX, site of the 2008 conference and the headquarters of HFTP. Dates are June 20-23

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