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Hotel Technology Forum 2023: Real-Time Highlights

HTF featured golf, networking, and deep dives into data, AI, and loyalty.

The Hotel Technology Forum 2023 teed off at the PGA National Resort, in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, on November 15 with an exciting golf outing on a world-famous course (undimished by inclement weather!) and a lively networking reception.

Then, our educational sessions delved into the critical challenges and operational challenges facing the lodging technology space. Here, we share real-time highlights.

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Bryan K Williams at HTF

Leadership Essentials to Overcome Any Barrier

Dr. Bryan K. Williams, Founder, BW Leadership Academy, led a compelling session exploring the challenges faced by hotel technology leaders in today's landscape. Attendees gained valuable insights into adapting and maintaining resilience for themselves and their teams. 

Highlights included: 

  • Time is the most precious resource that we have. Avoid with fury the killers of time: procrastination, doubt and fear.
  • Remind yourself, whenever you're facing a mountain: this too shall pass.
  • Who you are now is who you're going to be tomorrow unless you change something. The choice you make today will be the choice you make tomorrow. If there's something you want to do -- or stop doing -- put all your effort into today. 
  • Leaders serve and servers lead! The best is when leaders jump in and work alongside the ones they lead when they need help!
Claudia Infante CRM panel at HTF

The Power of Data in the Customer Relationship

  • Claudia Infante, Chief Data Officer, Margaritaville Enterprises
  • Ed Skapinok, CCO, Appellation Hotels
  • Jesse DePinto, CEO, FrontDesk
  • Steven Heselius, Co-Founder & Principal Consultant, T.A.P.S.

This panel explored the exponential evolution of customer relationship management through data. Participants discussed cutting-edge tools and methodologies that showcased how data-driven strategies could revolutionize guest engagement and overall satisfaction. Ed Skapinok noted, "We've built AI into our CMS. If someone were to start a reservation on the app and then move to the desktop, they don't need to start over." Jesse DePinto said, “We found in experiments that we could create better responses to customers using generative AI than our own people could. It’s not just faster and cheaper, it’s higher quality.” 

Robert Dawson at HTF

Practical Applications of Artificial Intelligence for Hotels

Robert Dawson, Founder, Invotar, explored the tangible and immediate applications of artificial intelligence in hotels. Attendees gained insights into use cases that demonstrated how AI is already transforming operational efficiencies and personalizing guest experiences in the real world. Highlights included Dawson’s outlining of AI-based image creation, AI code editing, AI-assisted voice ordering for restaurants. "Oh, and if you're nice to your AI," noted Dawson, "it statistically gives you better results."

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Visionary award winners at HTF

Official Unveiling of HT's 2023 Hotel Visionary Awards

HT’s Hotel Visionary Awards were unveiled, honoring hotel operators for their tangible, real-world implementations of technology innovations. This year's addition of the Hotel-Vendor Partnership Award recognized the collaborative spirit between hoteliers and technology suppliers. Michal Christine Escobar, Senior Editor - Hotels, Hospitality Technology, presented the 2023 Hotel Visionary Awards to:

  • Marilyn Tabet, Director of Digital Experience, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group
  • Lori Esposito, VP, Head of Client Services, Valtech
  • James Holman, Director, Custom Products & Partnerships, Marriott Digital Services
  • Shaun Wood, Head of Enterprise Architecture and Technology, Sonesta International Hotels
  • Vijay Raghavan, Director, Stay Experience Products, IHG Hotels & Resorts
  • Shawn Tarter, President, RealTime Reservation
Loyalty panel at HTF

Expand Loyalty Benefits — and Revenue

  • Evan Crawford, Corporate Director, Field Marketing, Benchmark Hospitality
  • Chad Mackay, CEO, Fire & Vine Hospitality
  • Moderator: Toby Malbec, Managing Director, ConStrata Consulting

This session explored how top brands leverage artificial intelligence to drive loyalty membership through innovative marketing and reward strategies. Case studies from the travel and hospitality sector demonstrated the value of first-party data for hyper-personalization and instant rewards.

Evan Crawford, Corp Director, Field Marketing at Benchmark, Pyramid Luxury & Lifestyle, asked,  "How can we think about rewards differently to create a network of partners that's not just limited to a hotel experience? If we can really understand our customer more effectively, maybe we trigger a reward for them to grab dinner in their hometown, and we sent that reward because they might be loyal to our hotel thousands of miles away."

Sonesta at HTF

Sonesta's Swift Loyalty Overhaul: Streamlined Operations, Enhanced Guest Experience

  • Shaun Wood, Head of Enterprise Architecture and Technology, Sonesta International Hotels
  • Abigail Lorden, VP & Publisher, Hospitality Technology

Shaun Wood and Abigail Lorden presented Sonesta's transformative journey in overhauling its loyalty system. Attendees gained insights into the challenges faced, the decision-making process, and the successful outcomes achieved within a short timeframe. Wood said, “It was a real debate: do we build our own CDP or buy one. In hindsight, it was 100 percent the right choice for us.”


Instant Hotel Wi-Fi: IHG's Game-Changing Auto Connect Feature

  • Vijay Raghavan, Director, Stay Experience Products, IHG Hotels & Resorts
  • Michal Christine Escobar, Senior Editor - Hotels, Hospitality Technology

Hotel staff spend an extraordinary amount of time answering the question “How do I connect to the Wi-Fi?” For years, hoteliers and solution providers have been working to develop a simple and seamless solution that would allow guests to connect to the internet as soon as they walk through the front doors. IHG Hotels & Resorts has spent the last two years developing Wi-Fi Auto Connect, a new feature within its mobile app that allows IHG One Rewards members to automatically connect to the internet upon arrival at any of its hotels worldwide without needing to put in an access code or a login. Vijay Raghavan discussed the development process, rollout, and the significant success witnessed post-implementation.

Mandarin at HTF

A Tale of Teamwork: Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group & Valtech

  • Marilyn Tabet, Director, Digital Experience, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group
  • Lori Esposito, VP, Head of Client Services, Valtech

Marilyn Tabet and Lori Esposito shared the collaborative journey of revamping Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group's website. The session emphasized clear communication, empathetic collaboration, and the foundation of trust that led to a successful digital transformation. “We did a series of workshops trying to uncover what they liked and didn’t like about the website. The objective was to get some KPIs we could use to create personalized strategies.”

Marriott at HTF

Nurturing a Strong Partnership: MDS and RealTime Reservation's Collaborative Success Story

  • James Holman, Director, Custom Products & Partnerships, Marriott Digital Services
  • Shawn Tarter, President, RealTime Reservation

James Holman and Shawn Tarter delved into the collaborative success story of Marriott Digital Services and RealTime Reservation. The session highlighted their shared custom data and analytics approach, focusing on enhancing guest experiences and boosting revenue. Holman noted, “I truly feel RealTime is an extension of Marriott Digital Services!”

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