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Competitive Advantage at the Nexus of Tech & Collaboration

Competition in the lodging industry grows fiercer by the day. Hotels are not only battling to woo guests away from the likes of Airbnb, but also to find ways to drive direct bookings, capturing and retaining guests from as early as possible in the path to purchase. This will require hotel brands, regardless of size or scope, to leverage technology and analytics in order to win loyalty from a population for whom digital experiences are innate.

With the theme “Unleash the Experience,” the second annual HT-NEXT provided a forum for hoteliers and technology providers to come together to be inspired to improve and enhance experiences — from customer-facing to staff-facing. The event, which combines HT’s Hotel Technology Forum (HTF) and HTNG North America, took place March 12-14 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. Over the course of three packed days, hotel executives and technology suppliers came together to educate and be educated.    

The opening keynote was delivered by Adam Steltzner, team leader & chief engineer EDL, NASA Mars Rover. Steltzner inspired attendees with his thrilling story of landing the rover Curiosity on the red planet, tying lessons learned to a message of leadership, innovation and teamwork. Steltzner encouraged attendees to create a culture of curiosity and collaboration because that is the environment where great advancements will be made. 

“Great works and great folly may be indistinguishable at the outset,” Steltzner said. “If you want to be the best though, you have to be vulnerable. Being open to anything creates that vulnerability, but by holding onto that doubt and not being afraid of it will allow for a curiosity-driven environment.”

The day continued with a fresh session format called Innovation Labs. These labs consisted of two parts: 20-minute presentations to inspire followed by interactive workshops of the topics presented. After listening to the 20-minute talks, attendees then selected which topic to do a deeper dive into later in the afternoon. The topics included: The Agile Manifesto, presented by Nikki Barua, CEO of BeyondCurious; Non-Scary Security Session, led by Bill Newhouse, National Institute of Standards & Technology; and Big Data for the Visual Learner, presented by Calvin Anderson, SVP & Chief of Revenue Optimization, RLH Corporation. Day two started off with social activities for hoteliers and technology experts to network in two fun, relaxed settings. Golfers hit the links in the early hours of the morning to enjoy foursomes for 18 holes, while others opted to take in the sites by sea on a picturesque harbor boat tour. 

Upon returning to the convention space, Mario Natarelli author and managing partner of MBLM, the brand intimacy agency, counselled hoteliers on how top brands create emotional connections. Through cross-industry research, Natarelli identifies specific archetypes and offered key characteristics of companies that are navigating digital transformation well. 

“The opposite of intimacy,” Natarelli warns, “is indifference.” 

Throughout the final two days of the conference, breakout sessions were counterpointed by HTNG workgroups, a hallmark of HTNG North America. The HTNG workgroups allow hoteliers and vendors to collaborate on guidelines, standards or outputs that hoteliers can put to practical use. The 2018 workgroup topics included: Internet of Things, Centralized Authentication, Payments, Hospitality Systems Dashboards, GDPR, NFC Contactless Payments, Voice Interaction, API Registry, Blockchain, and CBRS.

Concurrent breakout sessions provided attendees a diverse range of topics that highlighted many of the emerging technologies and issues of the day. Executives from Choice Hotels offered a look at the current and future state of payments. After Jason Stead, VP, enterprise security, provided a case study look at Choice’s rollout of 11,000 EMV devices, Bill Ramsey, senior director mobile & emerging channels, offered his perspective on preparing for the future and the role that digital wallets and e-payments will have on the industry. 

“People don’t go places thinking, ‘I can’t wait to pay,’” he cautions, reminding hoteliers of the importance of removing friction from the payment experience. Ramsey outlined that when it comes to next-gen payments that are enabled with technologies such as wearables and biometrics, at the core it is about identity and trust. These will be key to hotels making decisions about what payment methods to enable.

While a top strategic goal for hotel technology investments is improving digital customer engagement, on the final day of HT-NEXT 2018, David Osborne, executive OD consultant and trainer at Dale Carnegie Digital, put a hyper-focus on how to engage staff. Osborne challenged executives to consider how their management methods may not be yielding the desired results and offered tactics to improve leadership. Osborne shared some rather frightening stats including that 35% of workers would forego a raise to see their direct supervisor fired and that 52% of employees are disengaged. 

“If you want maximum effort from your staff, they have to feel appreciated,” Osborne notes. “They stay because they feel appreciated.” 

The last day of HT-NEXT included breakout sessions that highlighted several hot topics in hospitality. In Beyond Bitcoin: Blockchain Applications in Hospitality, attendees were given an education on how the emerging technology has very real potential for numerous areas of hospitality management — from loyalty to supply chain to security. After that primer by Doug Rice, managing director, Hospitality Technology Network, Christian Lunden, director of future business, Nordic Choice Hotels offered a look at what the company is already doing to reap the benefits of blockchain technology.

The encroaching deadline for GDPR (Global Data Privacy Regulations) has many hoteliers concerned and confused. A session presented by Finn Schulz, principal of Schulz Consulting and Richard Sheinis, CIPP-US, Hall Booth Smith, P.C., provided hoteliers with the important facts to ensure that they take appropriate action and are prepared.

A closing power panel session brought together four executives that represented a cross-section of hospitality. Comprised of Bill Martin, CIO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, Scott Strickland, CIO of Wyndham Hotel Group, Kristy Goshow, CMO of Preferred Hotels, and David Todd, CISO, White Lodging Services, the four executives offered their candid views on topics ranging from security to loyalty and what technology they think is poised to be a game changer.  

Finally, the HT-NEXT Awards Program, sponsored by Datatrend, brought the conference to a close. Including both the TechOvation Award and the Hotel Visionary Awards, the program began with presentations from the 10 TechOvation finalists. With four minutes on the clock, the hopeful tech companies presented their technologies to a panel of judges and the audience who would later vote on the ultimate winner. While the judges’ scores were tabulated, the Visionary Awards, were announced. Presented in two categories, the 2018 winners were: Caesars Entertainment, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and EAST Miami/Swire Hotels as Customer-Facing Innovators; and Hilton and Nordic Choice Hotels as Enterprise Innovators. The TechOvation award was presented to Beekeeper for its digital workplace app where operational systems and communication channels live within one secure, intuitive platform.

Stay tuned for details on HT-NEXT 2019!



Hoteliers’ top investment areas in 2018 to improve the guest experience:

35% Network (Bandwidth/WiFi)

31% Data/analytics 

15% Artificial Intelligence (Voice control)

11% Mobility 

6% Automation/Self Service 

Seen & Heard: What People Were Talking About at HT-NEXT

“One of the most eye-opening things I learned at HT-NEXT was during the discussion on GDPR — that food allergy information will be considered sensitive data and fall into PII because it is considered ‘health information.’ It’s nuances like this that the industry must be aware of before GDPR goes into effect. Overall HT-NEXT delivers in two key areas: listening and learning. Being able to network with peers and sharing concerns and constraints. In this environment, there is no competition. We all have the responsibility to make the industry better.”

 – Laurent Idrac, Former CIO, AccorHotels

“I am surprised by how much people are focusing on voice — I think the machine learning part of the
equation will really be where benefits are seen – especially in the areas of revenue management.”

 – Chris Cocca (right), Global Senior Director, Digital, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts  

“I really enjoyed the size of HT-NEXT. It fosters the ability to speak to people and enables you to maintain a focus on what you want to learn about.” 

–  Andrew Pirret, (left) Director, Operations Mobile Services, Four Seasons

“For us as a smaller company, we appreciated the opportunity that HT-NEXT provided to be able to learn from larger corporations. The fact that executives from these companies were so willing to share information in this engaging and comfortable environment was amazing.” 

– Mark Grover, Hotel Director, The Lodge 

About the Author

Dorothy Creamer

Dorothy Creamer, Editor-in-Chief of Hospitality Technology is a content strategist and publishing professional with 15+ years’ experience in both B2B and B2C communications. As the editorial lead of HT she drives the content strategy for the entire HT brand from print to web and in-person networking/educational events. Creamer also leads the analysis and writing of HT’s three benchmark industry research reports (Lodging Technology Study, Restaurant Technology Study and Customer Engagement Technology Study). In addition, she develops content and leads speaker recruitment efforts for HT’s three annual industry events (HT-NEXT, MURTEC, and the MURTEC Executive Summit).

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