What’s Hot in Hotel Technology for Meeting Professionals – Direct from the Show Floor at HITEC 2005.
©2005 Corbin Ball Associates
The Hospitality Industry Technology Education Conference (HITEC) (http://www.hitec.org/) held by HFTP - Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals, is one of the best shows I go to each year to see what is new for meetings professionals. Held June 20-23, 2005 in Los Angeles, its focus is on hotel technology -- but the new technology hotels will be providing often has a significant impact on meeting planners and meetings.
Wi-Fi Expands (faster, better, cheaper)
Last year’s buzz was on providing wireless internet access with about one-fifth of the approximately 300 exhibitors offering some type of way to provide it. Although the field has narrowed a bit for 2005, there still were lots of wireless vendors.
The interesting change this year go way beyond providing Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) hotspots in the hotel lobby. Higher power and wide mesh antennas offer internet connectivity at greater speeds (up to 30 Mb/sec – 5 times faster than standard Wi-Fi) and greater distances (miles instead of feet) in what are precursors to WiMax (Wireless Microwave Access), the next generation of Wi-Fi.
What does this mean to hotels? Faster, cheaper and easier to set up wireless internet and intranet networks and more capabilities (see next sections).
What does this mean for planners? Access to the above!
The trend is still moving toward free internet access, but the upper-scale hotels will likely cling to charge for the next couple of years.
There were several wireless PDA tools designed to help improve the guest experience. For example, the Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) booth displayed a Symbol Wi-Fi enabled Pocket PC designed to communicate between the front desk and housekeeping and VIP receptionist. Sleeping room availability can immediately be sent by housekeeping as soon as a room is available. A message can be sent from the front desk alerting housekeeping that the guest has arrived and to do a final sweep of the room setting to guest specifications. This same system is also voice-enabled using VoIP (voice over internet protocol on a hotel’s Wi-Fi network) to act as a portable radio.
VoIP – Voice over Internet Protocol
Telephone calls are increasingly being routed over the internet, allowing for an explosion of new features while slashing costs.
For example, Avaya was showing their “desk phone emulator” – simply plug you computer into any broadband internet connection (such as in your hotel room) and your “virtual phone” will ring when anyone dials your office phone. The virtual phone, although you have to plug in a headset to your computer and use your mouse to access some of the buttons, acts just like your desktop phone, with all of the features that you have at work.
Also, companies such are Percipia (www.percipia.com) are working with IP-based hotel plans that would allow unlimited international calling plans for a flat fee.
In-Room Telephones – the Next Generation
Also using VoIP, your guest room phone is about to go through a major makeover, with colorful screens and a myriad of options. Would you like your group to be welcomed by name and group logo displayed on the guest room phones? Avaya (www.avaya.com), Nevotek (www.nevotek.com), Percipia (www.percipia.com) and the major players such as Nextel (www.nextel.com) all had interesting options.
As the screenshot show below, you can use these hotel phones to check your flight status, airline arrivals/departures, currency rates/conversions, news, city/hotel guides, play games, request staff services, send email, set a wake-up call/do not disturb notice, order room service, check the weather forecast and more.
HDTV – and Guest Room Entertainment
If last’s years buzz was Wi-Fi, this year was clearly the move toward flat-panel TVs, HDTV and improved and fully integrated entertainment systems.
After the bed and the shower, guests rank this is the most important guest room feature.
The exhibit floor was awash with flat panel high-definition TV of all shapes and sizes from home-theater like sets for suites, to flat panel TVs integrated into the bathroom mirror.
The world's largest flat-panel TV was on display -- 80” – and it can be yours for a cool US$70,000!
Although it will be a couple of years before HDTV sets are widely adopted in mid-scale properties, you will start seeing these deployed in the upper-scale and luxury properties as differentiators soon. Plans are furiously being made by all for deployment as the FCC will be converting to a digital only TV signal in the U.S. in 2006 (or 2007 at the latest).
HDTV will provide a much crisper image making them like very large computer monitors. A wide range on internet, computer interactive features, and more are coming online. The ability to broadcast your plenary session to the guestroom of your attendees, either real-time or on demand at a later time will be some of the options.
Do you want to plug in your i-Pod to your rooms high quality sound system?
Do you want to know what the weather is in any city in the world?
Do you want to listed to your local radio station, even if you live in Paris?
These are just a few of the enticing options opening up.
Meeting Software Companies
There were also a few exhibiting companies directly in the meetings arena:
Passkey (www.passkey.com) had a large booth and is actively working with hotels to use their product as their housing system. No longer just for big city-wide events, benefits such as being able to suck group rooming lists directly into their property management system without re-keying are among the many features offered.
StarCite (www.starcite.com) announced its full two-way sourcing tool that works with Delphi and Daylight (two of the most significant hotel sales management software companies around). A lead from the StarCite RFP process will appear on a hotel sales mangers desktop in the same manner as if it were sent from the corporate office. They can then respond to that lead in the same manner as well.
Meeting Matrix (www.meetingmatrix.com) also had large booth and was touting their improved 3D rendering of meeting space and also their meeting space verification program with PCMA.
Standards are being adopted.
Two hotel industry standards organizations: The Open Travel Alliance (OTA) www.opentravel.org and Hospitality Technology Next Generation (HTNG) www.htng.org are making strong progress in how standards are being deployed to the hotel industry. Supported by technology heavyweights such as Microsoft, the ability to transfer data (instead of paper) is becoming a reality.
This bodes well for APEX (accepted practices exchange - www.conventionindustry.org/apex/apex.htm) the meetings industry’s voluntary standards initiative. The only way that APEX can truly transform the meetings industry in my opinion is to develop an XML (eXtensible Markup Language) schema - enabling data to be exchanged easily on the web. This data map, if planners, hotels and meetings technology providers will write to it, will allow us to be on the same page electronically. This is the only way that we will be able to move from the extremely inefficient paper-based means that most meeting planners/hotels communicate with today.
APEX is already working with OTA and HTNG, and it is my hope that this will expedite this process for a true revolution on how meetings data are managed.
Of course, there were lots of other bells and whistles on the HITEC show floor, many without direct impact to meetings, but most all aimed to make hotels more efficient while providing better services.