Five Popular Trends at HITEC Houston
Michael and I made a trip to the HITEC Houston convention last week. It was an excellent opportunity to meet with a number of great companies that we are currently working with and some that we hope to be working with soon. We were lucky to be able to spend the better part of a day perusing the hall with Mark Fancourt and Cheyne Cole of Testbed Vegas discussing the state of hospitality and travel technology.
Here’s a few observations on some key themes I noticed at HITEC:
1. Voice - Voice is hot right now. There were a lot of companies talking about voice. Volara seemed to be everywhere. Which is great for them. It's awesome to see a startup get so much buzz. It’s also interesting to see Amazon winning over the in room experience where Google is focused on the search and booking experience. Regardless, both have access to a lot of data that is becoming more and more useful as they carve out their own space in travel tech.
Thoughts: Regardless, this is expensive tech and cost will be a big barrier to entry from anyone but a luxury brand. While operational efficiencies are to be gained, the real test will be if it can serve as an effective upsell platform and not entirely creep people out.
2. Chatbots - Yep, still lots of buzz around chatbots. There were a lot of chatbots. I think every hospitality focused chatbot that I’ve ever heard of was there. And then some. “Chatbot” is such an amazingly over simplified buzzword right now. I had companies asking me if we could do some really odd things with a chatbot. Things that a simple form would do. That’s how bad people think they need chatbots. Ironically, most the bots that I encountered actually run on Facebook Messenger. How limited.
Thoughts: It was amazing how easy it was to stump these things. Every chatbot platform I engaged with was not able to deal with simple edge case questions. If Booking.com employs 100 data scientists to engineer their chatbot, how is some half-funded startup going to build anything substantial? Lastly, the most amazing thing we witnessed were some of the stats that these companies were bold enough to make up.
3. API’s - While not a very popular term for quite some time in this industry… I heard this thrown around a lot at HITEC. I don’t think some of the people saying it even know what it means, but there’s definitely an interest from many of the larger platforms to create a more open environment to extend the value of their software.
Thoughts: With an explosion in SaaS the past few years and competition coming in the form of more cloud-based providers with open integration policies it’s about damn time. Hat’s off to companies like Mews Systems for really making some of the big players realize they need to be doing the same.
4. App Store - This one kind of goes along with the API. It’s really the next step and it’s a smart one. The concept of the App Store or a marketplace within another platform helps create a distributed sales process for other vendors. Not only that, but it helps insure some of the larger platforms stay up-to-date technology wise.
Thoughts: While there’s many benefits, I think the main thing we will see is some of larger platforms not just gaining an additional revenue stream, but the ability to foster better partnerships and ultimately create opportunities for acquisitions.
5. In-Room Technology - Besides the indoor mapping and smart vending technology, there were some pretty fascinating products from Smart Linen to Smart Showers to Panel TV's, a hotel room's interior is about to get a serious digital and efficiency makeover.
Thoughts: A big shift is going to happen in luxury and high-end accommodations that involve smarter interiors and more efficient use of resources. And, if all goes well there will be a trickle down effect allowing boutique and independent properties to take advantage of these solutions as the costs go down. A big improvement all around.
Here's what wasn't a trending theme:
GDPR - Not as much talk around GDPR as I had expected. There were a few vendor tech talks on aspects of technology such as wifi and in-room that I would imagine had some GDPR component, however I was not able to attend. And, from what I could tell, many of the CRM's hadn't built much GDPR functionality into their platforms.
Thoughts: May 25 has come and gone. And so has the panic. It was a little surprising to me how many companies avoided the subject all together in their tech talks. I think most assume that it's "over with" since the compliance date has passed.
All in all, HITEC was a good time. I actually thought it would be larger than it was. It was our first experience and my understanding is that it was the biggest turnout ever for the US show. Ironically, I only met two people from actual hotels or hotel management companies. I'm sure the ratio trended much more in the favor of vendors and suppliers than hotels, but as I've said before. It's a little foolish to think that you can just go to a technology convention and expect to come home with customers.