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A Hotelier’s Perspective of HITEC

During the 50th anniversary of HITEC, HT caught up with Max Spangler, Director of Technology, Charlestowne Hotels to see why he attends HITEC.
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HITEC has become a tradeshow that many technology vendors plan for a year in advance and spend thousands of dollars to sponsor and attend so they can network with a variety of potential clients. While the beautiful booths of vendors (and the swag they offer) capture the eyes of many attendees, what are hoteliers truly looking for when they attend this tradeshow? To find out, I sat down with Max Spangler, Director of Technology at Charlestowne Hotels, and discussed his reasons for attending.

Why do you attend HITEC?

Charlestowne Hotels usually attends HITEC every other year and we usually only send one person. But this year we thought it would be prudent to send both myself and Jonathan Capps, our Chief Revenue Officer, as the industry is emerging with some optimism and excitement from the pandemic. Leading up to this year’s conference, we could feel the energy and excitement technology vendors were sharing about the show, and we  felt we needed to be here.

This year, we had two main goals for attending HITEC. First, we wanted to connect with our existing partners, catch up, review new products, see their roadmaps for the future, etc. Second, we really wanted to canvas the floor and see what was new. The new ideas and innovations we see often spurs us to create something on our own or lobby some of our existing partners to implement within their own systems.

What key buzzword kept popping up in your show floor conversations?

If I had a quarter for every time I heard the words: 'integration,' 'API,' 'synergy,' or 'holistic,' I would have walked away from that show with a decent chunk of change. Integration is a buzzword that leads to so many philosophical debates in the hotel industry because it means so many different things to so many different people. What we’ve found is that most technology vendors will say something along the lines of: “We integrate with everything!” but then when you peel back the layers of the onion, you realize the integration hasn’t been built yet.  And for us, that’s where we want more transparency.  It’s good that a vendor may want to integrate, but the process for requirement gathering, testing and deployment for new integrations usually takes months in our industry. 

Max Spangler, Director of Technology, Charlestowne Hotels
Max Spangler, Director of Technology, Charlestowne Hotels

We realize that in many cases, the individuals attending HITEC are sales professionals and not technical folks. This means that they often don’t have the answers to specific questions about specific integrations. But what this can cause, which I feel is an even bigger problem, is expectation alignment mismatch or over promising and under delivering. There is still a lot of room for many technology companies to grow and mature, but right now they’re trying so hard to grow quickly, and unfortunately, I think a lot of hotel companies are going to get caught up working with a technology vendor that doesn’t have the right foundation or may still be in the process of changing their core product. We’ve built a lot of trust with our properties from a technology standpoint. We don’t roll something out unless it has been really well vetted. 

What were some new technologies that caught your eye?

Digital tipping is very interesting to our brand right now. We’re in the early stages of deploying it at some of our hotels, and we’re testing how receptive guests are to the technology. We completely understand the issue with the lack of cash on hand and how that’s only going to become more pronounced in the future. We also realize that this creates an added revenue stream/employee benefit which could be used to our advantage when trying to recruit new hires. So, we used some of our time at HITEC to check out the digital tipping tech vendors.  We also spent time looking at ERP systems, as we’re always looking to have an edge on financial and inventory reporting, along with consumption trends.

Leading up to HITEC there was a flurry of announcements related to acquisitions and consolidations. For example, Whistle was acquired by Cloudbeds and then ALICE, Profitsword, Transcendent, and Hotel Effectiveness combined into a company called Actabl. When we heard those announcements, it became really important to have conversations with these companies at the show so we could better understand how these mergers might affect our relationship with the vendors or how their priorities may be changing. 

Where was there a lack of technology and innovation on the show floor?

One thing that is always top of mind for us is sustainability and energy management. Hotels are facing really large challenges when it comes to energy consumption. Hotels consume and waste tremendous amounts of energy whether that’s due to inefficient glass, lighting, waste management, water management, thermal management, etc. And on top of that, energy prices are really spiking right now. So, we are really looking to better understand where the opportunities lie to improve our hotel’s use of energy and resources, better understand the different types of energy management, and how to read those diagnostics. We have some familiarity with the systems in this space, but at HITEC we saw only a few companies there who were working on this topic, and none of them were particularly new players in the space. So, we felt we didn’t see enough of that at this year’s show.

Another missed opportunity for us was data security. Legislative changes are giving consumers more rights over their personal information, so now we need to ask ourselves: What are we doing as an industry (and what are our vendors doing) to make sure we have secured our guests’ data? There’s always going to be a friction point between convenience and security. But we have to make sure our guests’ data is secure. We work with some of the major security vendors in the industry and saw them at the conference, but for us – the missed opportunity was having more conversations that discuss where people are succeeding, what hoteliers are worried about, etc. 

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