Hospitality meets Technology at Austin’s HITEC
Tuesday 16th August 2011
Hospitality meets Technology at Austin’s HITEC
Optimism and Innovation Highlight Annual Gathering
Now in its 37th year, the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference (HITEC) has become the world’s largest hospitality technology event, a place where hoteliers, vendors and hotel technology experts come together to see the latest technology, learn about coming trends and network with each other. We asked Frank Wolfe, chief executive officer of Hospitality Finance and Technology Professionals, which organizes the annual meeting, to explain what the conference is about, how it started, how it’s evolved and what the future looks like.
What is the concept of HITEC and what is its history?
The show started with about 30 people the first year. And it started as a computer users conference, because back then the only real technology was a NCR computerized cash register. This year we had more than 7,700 people and 325 companies. At last count, we had 37 different countries represented here.
It used to be a three-day show. Then we added an early day just for sessions that we used to call “what to look for”. If somebody was new to the industry and they needed to buy a property management system or something like that, they could come in on Monday and learn a little bit before everybody got here on Tuesday and the exhibits opened. Now Monday is full of regular education sessions because we didn’t have anywhere else to put them.
We have 75 to 100 speakers, and HITEC is also used for lots and lots of product launches. One of the CIOs in attendance said this year’s conference had the most innovation he’d seen at any hospitality industry show regardless of the segment.
If I had to describe this show in a word, it would be ‘optimistic’. There were about 1,000 people at the opening general session this year, which is a record for us. And there were about 1,800 people at the welcome reception, which is also a record for us. So it looks like the hospitality industry is coming back. People are buying things.
Can you explain the next generation guest room exhibit that you do every other year?
It’s called Guest Room 20X. We started building that because it takes so long for a new hotel project to open the doors that even if people were early adapters for a technology, by the time the hotel is open it is probably mainstream. Technology people needed to be able to look into the future and see what was coming. So we started doing this worldwide search for technologies that might impact the industry. We’ve had everything from a mom-and-pop company that came up with a keyhole all the way up to virtual tours of golf courses.
Some of the products we saw in our original 2006 Guest Room are in hotels now. For example, glass that allows you to turn a switch to darken it and get rid of curtains in a meeting room. Next year we’re probably going to do the project again. Some of the things we’ve been hearing about are new types of electrical outlets that would recharge your laptop, and maybe some virtual reality stuff in the room. We’ll see how all that works out.
What advice would you give to a European company attending HITEC for the first time in 2012?
There have been a lot more European and Asian companies in the last couple of years coming here. It’s really important for first-time exhibitors to attend our free webinars. We also strongly encourage them to read the marketing tips that we provide. We also have email newsletters we publish specifically for exhibitors. We send those out once every three weeks or so in the quarter before HITEC to keep everybody up to date. It’s tough even at a good show like HITEC to find the right niches and to attract attention of potential buyers, because it is a big show.
What was some of the most interesting new technology for you at this year’s show?
I’ve seen a few things in testing that are versions of TVs and some in-room entertainment. Some of it’s neat and some of it’s not so neat. But there are some interesting things I’ve seen that are already out there. Some of the self-service hotels and mid-price hotels are introducing new kiosk technology that is pretty good. And there are so many solutions right now with the iPads.
How do you decide what to include in HITEC?
We start planning by using a HITEC advisory council made up of hoteliers. Also, we have an executive vendor advisory council that’s made up of nine companies who participate in the show. Those were chosen by lottery out of a group of about 75 volunteers. Almost all the people who participate in HITEC are volunteers. HFTP only has 18 paid staff and we publish a magazine, a website, a blog and operate our certification programs. But we’re able to get expertise for this show that we could never afford to pay for thanks to those volunteers.
You were inducted in the International Hospitality Technology Hall of Fame at this year’s meeting. How do you feel about this?
For me it’s a huge honor, but my first comment is that I really don’t belong there. People that are in the Hall Of Fame are legends, people like the chairman of Micros, Tom Giannopoulos, and the CIO of Mandarin Hotels, Nick Price. My passion has always been education. For instance, we have a certification program that was developed since I’ve been CEO. And I think the reason I was selected is because of the evolution of education for the hospitality industry.
The next year’s HITEC will be hosted in Baltimore, Maryland USA , June 25-28