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HT Talks Tech with Max Spangler, Director of Technology, Charlestowne Hotels

HT caught up with Spangler at HITEC 2023 and spoke about common tech hiccups, digital payment tech, and artificial intelligence.
Toronto Convention Center
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HITEC is always a great time to catch up with old friends, discover new technology, and improve working relationships. For Hospitality Technology, that included catching up with Max Spangler, Director of Technology, Charlestowne Hotels. HT spoke with Spangler on why he and his team attend HITEC, their focus at the show, artificial intelligence, and more! Read on to hear a few excerpts from our conversation.

On attending this year and future HITEC shows

This year we expanded our presence at HITEC to four team members including myself, our Chief Revenue Officer, our VP of Revenue and our Director of Revenue. This is the first time we’ve brought a larger team and it worked really well both from a corporate team building perspective and also because we were really able to talk shop. In the years to come, we’re definitely going to invite other members of our team to attend so we can get a more diverse perspective when evaluating technology on the show floor. In particular, I’m thinking of accounting and marketing, which are two disciplines that have very strong opinions on technology but don’t usually get the opportunity to attend these shows.

On the team’s focus during the show

First of all, we were really focused on spending quality time with our vendor partners. During these chats, they take the time to talk about how their technology is continuing to grow and evolve and how that’s going to specifically affect our portfolio of hotels in the coming years. 

This year we also spent time looking at solutions that can add a more dynamic retail component to the booking engine. This is something that is already pervasive online with the likes of Shopify and Amazon, but hasn’t yet reached the hospitality space even though it’s desperately needed to drive ancillary revenue to meet guests at the point-of-booking for the type of packages they want to see. 

On Common Tech Hiccups

Many times a technology “works well” but the integration requirements or the user requirements are very specific and then the tradeoffs begin to take away from the original value of the product. “Death by a thousand cuts,” as they say. So when we’re evaluating technology, we take the promises that are being made with a grain of salt and do our best to really evaluate and unpack how the technology will work in the real world. And even still, sometimes you can’t foresee everything that’s going to happen. But HITEC gives us an opportunity to really test drive the technology more, ask deeper questions, and get a better idea of what the vendors have to offer.

On Digital Payments & Tipping Technology

We’re passionate about digital currency and digital payments. That space is going to continue to become more and more important as cashless continues to be more of a focus for guests. We want to remain competitive in this tight job market, so we have made sure that our hotels have access to a platform that facilitates digital payments and tipping for the customer. 

On Artificial Intelligence

AI has been a topic for the last few years, mostly in delivering a better experience for guests via chatbots, or how AI can affect the RMS and booking side of things and provide some predictive analytics. But no one has really done a particularly good job of showing that they’re really successful at it. There hasn’t really been a company yet that has proved how AI is going to fit into the hospitality space. There are plenty of use cases, but privacy concerns are still a very important consideration. Everyone is talking about AI but no one is talking about the consequences of feeding AI a tremendous amount of data - specifically PII. And no one knows how AI will end up being regulated. Will the regulations be restrictive or loose? So, I think the hospitality industry will probably proceed pretty slowly and carefully. 

Many companies are all of a sudden claiming to be AI experts, and they are baking AI into all of their platforms. But, to be honest, in most cases - it’s pretty half-baked. Even the absolute experts, such as Google and OpenAI, are still really working hard at making AI work. So, is it really truthful to expect a hospitality company to have done a good job of solving this? It’s exceedingly unlikely. 

A few weeks before HITEC, I did an internal talk for our teams on ChatGPT and explained how it could help them solve blank page problems when writing an SOP or a memo, etc. But I made sure they knew they weren’t to feed any sensitive information into it. So, there’s definitely an opportunity here - but we should just be apprehensive in the short term. 

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