The next generation of lodging is looming large for hotel executives as they face a future of customers who are more dependent on technology than ever before. Hospitality Technology’s ninth annual Hotel Technology Forum (HTF) brought together senior executives from across the hotel industry to discuss relevant challenges and opportunities. Discussions centered on how technological advances will play an imperative role as this shift in traveler expectations occurs. This year’s conference, held April 17-19, 2013 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, hosted more than 125 hoteliers for three days of networking and educational sessions.
The theme, “Build for the Future: Tech Innovations for the New Frontier of Lodging,” was evident from the onset of the Forum, with a keynote address by Jim Carroll, author, innovation and trends expert. Carroll invigorated the crowd as he expressed the importance of being ready for the tech-savvy upcoming generation. “The future customer is wired for technology,” Carroll noted. He went on to encourage audience members to not suffer from “aggressive indecision,” stressing that now is the time to innovate. “The future belongs to those who are fast,” he said. “History has shown that those who invest, despite economic uncertainty, are those who win.”
Carroll concluded his session with the notion that the tourist of tomorrow is already here and that it’s about how the industry will support that guest. This was a fitting sentiment to segue into the presentation of the 2013 Hotel Visionary Award winners, which honors hotels for outstanding achievement,
vision and leadership in technological innovation. This year’s winners are Choice Hotels, Red Roof Inn, Conrad Hotels & Resorts and Hyatt International (see this month’s cover story for complete profiles).
Continuing the momentum, Ted Horner, managing director of E Horner & Associates, moderated a panel on “Addressing the In-Room Tech Revolution,” with panelists Rod Mano, director, guest technology, Wyndham Worldwide; Neil Schubert, VP of IT strategy, Marriott International Inc.; and Richard Tudgay, VP of technology, Omni Hotels. Topics ranged from Wi-Fi to television content, and how to give guests plenty of options to watch their own content or use their own devices. Mano best summed up this shift and the importance of technology by saying, “The IT guy is being groomed to take over the property.”
HT’s annual presentation of the Lodging Technology Study offered insights into tech budgets, trends and priorities. HT Editor-in-Chief Abigail Lorden highlighted some of the key takeaways from the study, including how hoteliers ranked items in terms of satisfaction and importance. One of the important nuggets Lorden illustrated included the stat that high guest expectations have outpaced budget limitations as the number one challenge facing hotel technology. “The Lodging Technology Study gave me an idea of what guests are looking for; they are telling us what they need and not just what we think they need,” reflected Elton Hazel, IT Manager, COMO Hotels & Resorts.
The second day of sessions was keynoted by Mike Blake, CIO, Commune Hotels & Resorts, who offered a new model of IT in his session titled, “CIOs, Don’t Become Obsolete! Instead Learn to Broker, Integrate & Orchestrate.” Blake explained the departure from the “plan, build, run” model and concluded by saying, “When it comes to the concept of IT, most people only understand a third of what you’re saying. Figure out how to converse and bridge the gap between what you know and what you think they should know.”
The final two sessions of the Forum focused on two areas that are sure to have a big impact on the future of hospitality: SoMoLo and payment security. First, Wibecke Vinke, VP IT & Senior Consultant, Kilian & Partner Sarl, discussed the European standard for Chip and PIN technology and what it means from an interface level. She also referenced its impending integration in the U.S. stating, “If you are on the fence about chip and pin it’s time to start moving — in October 2017 those without chip and pin will be liable.”
The SoMoLo panel was moderated by Jon Inge, president, Jon Inge & Associates. He was joined by Bernard Gay, Sr. VP & CIO, Kerzner International; Bill Martin, VP & CIO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.; and Lou Ragg, VP of Internet Operations & Marketing, MGM Resorts International. The panelists shared some of the truly futuristic initiatives their properties were planning to implement, including Royal Caribbean’s plan to use mid-Earth satellite technology to provide terrestrial-like broadband speeds on cruise ships at sea, and MGM’s rollout of an augmented reality iPhone app to explore Vegas.
HTF 2014 will take place April 16-18 at the Aria in Las Vegas. Stay tuned to www.htmagazine.com for complete details.
“One of the major points that I am taking away from this year’s HTF is that it all comes down to the usability of what we’re providing. Things that were designed four or five years ago just don’t work any longer and we really have to think about how we design things. HTF has been a great opportunity to meet my peers in the industry. Everyone has been very open and had a lot of great questions and things to share. People are willing to say ‘Here’s what I’m doing, what do you think?’”
Daniel Kornick, CIO, Wyndham Hotel Group
“I’m definitely taking a lot of stuff home with me from this year’s HTF. A lot of hotels are going overboard on technology and forgetting that a user has to deal with it. So the main thing I’m taking away is that simplicity is key and that we have to make it useable. In the workshop I attended [“Game Changing” Revenue Opportunities for the Hospitality Space, faciliated by Cognizant and Marriott] we were able to work through and discuss what everyone was doing. There were a lot of things I was thinking of implementing, and it’s interesting to see that people name it different things, but it comes down to bandwidth. No matter what you offer guests you have to figure out how to charge for bandwidth.”
Elton Hazel, IT Manager, Como Hotels & Resorts
“I’ve enjoyed HTF because it is great content with sponsors. The conversations here are not about them trying to sell me something; it’s about us talking about the industry and challenges. They have the same interest in being here, and I appreciate that.”
Bruce Small, Director Systems Analysis & Design, Hyatt Hotels
HTF VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS
For those who missed attending HTF this year, this exclusive video series features executives from Omni Hotels & Resorts, Royal Caribbean,
Wyndham and more offering insights from sessions, tech priorities for their companies and what they view as top trends.
Watch online at www.youtube.com/HospitalityTechMag