The Hotel Tech Forum 2014 Puts Spotlight on Connectivity & Engagement

By Abigail A. Lorden Editor-in-Chief Dorothy Creamer Managing Editor | June 05, 2014

Hotel technology today is focused on connecting in three core ways: enabling authentic connections with guests to build loyalty; connecting IT systems into an integrated and efficient framework; and providing a robust backbone of connectivity for guests’ various devices across the property. These objectives were central to the theme of the 2014 Hotel Technology Forum (HTF), The Hyper Connection: Powering Hotels & Engaging Guests in an “Always-on” Culture. This marked Hospitality Technology’s tenth annual HTF, bringing together more than 225 high-level hotel executives and technology suppliers for three days of education and networking. The forum took place April 16-18, 2014, at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

The forum’s pace was set by the high-energy keynote address from Scott Stratten, president of UnMarketing and author of UnMarketing: Stop Marketing, Start Engaging. Stratten’s presentation, a combination of marketing insight and irreverent humor, focused on how to authentically connect with consumers who, despite being more “technically tethered” than ever before, can be harder to really reach. Using real-life examples, Stratten advised, “If you want word-of-mouth, do things that are worth talking about.” Stratten was unapologetic in condemning businesses’ egregious use of QR codes. “QR codes have potential,” he said, “which means they suck now, but that they could get better.”

This year’s program included a new component, “Hotel of the Future: Top Tech Challenge!” The interactive workshop, facilitated by Russ Dazzio, chairman & CEO of R&R Global Hospitality, offered HTF attendees and sponsors the chance to create concepts for a hotel’s use of service-centric technology ten years into the future. Participants were divided into teams and each presented their plan to a panel of judges.  The winning team included Mark McBeth of Starwood Hotels, Christelle Pigeat with FCS Computer Systems, Jim Beckham with R&R Global Hospitality, and Melissa Warder with Knowcross. Their concept for the 2024 hotel included personal holograms that would serve as guests’ on-property concierges.

On the main stage, general sessions covered a variety of topics. A panel discussion on “Moving into the Cloud” featured the combined insights of Scott Gibson, CIO & SVP of distribution with Best Western International, Inc., James Lamb, CIO of Interstate Hotels & Resorts, and Gerald Lampaert, vice president of global information technology with Benchmark Hospitality International. The discussion was moderated by Hoang Nguyen, vice president, IT applications, LQ Management LLC. Gibson noted that he “doesn’t see a future without data centers,” and said that “moving above property helps us to focus on taking care of customers and not worrying about the technology.”   

Connectivity was the central theme in a co-presentation with David Heckaman, vice president of technology, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Cathy Zatloukal, founder, 5th GenWireless Consulting. Heckaman walked attendees through several scenarios for using fiber to deliver connectivity in both new and retrofit installations.

HT’s editor in chief Abigail Lorden presented findings from the 2014 Lodging Technology Study (www.htmagazine.com/reports).  Lorden was joined by Gaurav Pant, senior vice president of research, EKN, who offered cross-industry comparisons to technology trends in retail and foodservice. Among the findings, Lorden and Pant shared that average IT budgets as a percentage of revenue are 2.5% in hotels; 3.8% in restaurants; and 1.5% in retail. Hotels invest the largest portion of technology spending (20% of the overall IT budget) in property management systems, and connectivity is a priority this year with 66% of hotels planning to add bandwidth in 2014.

Lorden also presented the 2014 Hotel Visionary Awards, which are given to hotels for outstanding achievement, vision and leadership in technological innovation. This year’s winners were: Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, La Quinta Inns & Suites, and Red Lion Hotels (see this month’s cover story for profiles on the winning initiatives).

Hotelier-only workshops gave attendees an opportunity to address core business challenges in a candid, peer-to-peer, small group format. Two topics were covered: “digital strategies for building loyalty” (facilitated by Dave Barbieri, CIO of Red Lion Hotels, and John Lilley, principal, John Lilley Consulting and advisor to Aspen Ski Company); and “in-room technology” (facilitated by Randy Dearborn, VP, multi-media guest technology, MGM Resorts, and Mark McBeth, VP of IT, Starwood Hotels & Resorts).

In a session on “How Today’s Hotel Operations must Change to Cater to Tomorrow’s Travelers,” international hospitality consultant Martin Kubler shared several themes hotel operators should focus on for next-generation guests including: social & digital connectivity, design & functionality, ceaseless customization, and the end of certainty and hierarchy. Kubler shared his belief that this always-on culture is also “the age of random excellence” and stressed the need to “create moments that people feel and want to share.”

Chris Laping, CIO, Red Robin International, won high praise from attendees for his session on “Leadership Without the Permission Slip: A Watershed Moment for CIOs.” Laping energized the group with insights into how to foster change management, explaining that “the number one reason people don’t do what you want is that they don’t know what you want.”

The 2015 Hotel Technology Forum will move to Puerto Rico at the Gran Melia Resort, April 22 – 24, 2015. Information will be available at www.htmagazine.com.

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