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 Celebrate HTNG and It’s On-going Successes, the Story
Could Have Played Out Quite Differently
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By Brian Cunningham, January 4, 2007 

This past fall I was at Eye4Travel where I spent part of my time doing an informal survey to gage the depth of participation in HTNG by hoteliers and vendors. I was also looking to identify the drivers that motivate vendors and operators to invest their time and money in HTNG. This exercise was not just idle curiosity on my part. 

Over the past few months I have been promoting a technology joint venture with some similar “for the greater good” concepts. Enthusiasm for these concepts was surprisingly high and yet, buy-in has been disappointingly slow. I was looking to better understand why HTNG has done so well.

The joint venture proposed having a small number of leading distribution vendors and brand Management Company’s work together to develop technologies enabling central reservations and multi-channel distribution of resort centric activities. Picture ALL of the ski, golf, spa, balloon ride, backcountry and other activities offered by resorts and independent operators in Vail Colorado. Now picture real time, demand driven rate and availability management for all those activities being accessible from a single exposed web service and you will understand the value proposition. 

Thanks in part to HTNG standards, the project is now technically quite feasible. The proposal summary has been distributed widely; deep dive presentations were made to a number of high-level industry executives. I found understanding of the value proposition to be immediate. It was clear that most understood that their respective slices of the joint venture pie would have far more fruit in it than would be likely should they cook up their own proprietary version of the solution. 

Here is where the moral of the story comes in. Granted the comparison between this project and HTNG is a long stretch and probably more akin to the original THISCO (Pegasus) joint venture but still, why the lack of buy-in? A number of reasons were given but the one nearly universal response from both the vendors and operators was that they did not want to work that closely with their competitors. Point being, this could easily have been the fate of HTNG. 

So what did I find with my poll? First and most encouragingly, there was not a single individual whose company was not already involved with HTNG or did not have immediate plans to become involved. Clearly it has become accepted wisdom in our space that HTNG participation is good for business. 

Participation by smaller vendors is something of a no-brainer but many of the established vendors have real disincentives to involvement. Many have significant, high margin revenue streams derived from their portfolio of proprietary interfaces. Also, the committee meeting formats put innovative young companies on an equal footing with visibility and a voice equal to the established vendors. Also, it is interesting to note that solutions derived from HTNG can lower barriers to entry for these smaller companies. 

When I asked individuals why their companies participate, the three most cited reasons were: 

  • The obvious industry need.
  • A well drafted charter.
  • High profile sponsorship from the brands.
Doug Rice, Executive Director of HTNG corrected me on one point that was not clear to me before. HTNG is not a standards body but rather an organization whose  “objective is to get new product (hardware, software, services) to market that meets previously unmet needs of hoteliers – either because one vendor steps up and builds it, or (more commonly) because multiple vendors work together to build it. Standards are just a means to an end”. 

Doug also articulated the “industry need” well by saying “Vendors needed a forum to learn what hotel companies – as a group – needed, and hotel companies needed a forum where they could understand what the vendor community’s constraints were.  HTNG created a meeting place where hotel technologists and vendors could get together in a neutral setting, outside the selling environment, to identify needs and possibilities, and to get vendors excited about building new technologies. He continued with “I think the lack of mutual understanding was illustrated at our European conference, when one of the hoteliers asked two questions of the audience (which included about 35 senior hotel technology executives, 90 senior vendor executives, and 25 others) two questions.  First, “how many vendors in the audience think they provide good service to hotels” (most of the vendor hands go up). Second, “how many hoteliers in the audience think they get good service from vendors” (not a single hand goes up).  This is indicative of a huge communication gap, which HTNG was designed to fill.

In a discussion with John Burns, an active member\founder of HTNG, he made the point about a good charter and excellent organization best by saying  “Every effort such as this faces the danger of becoming an academic exercise rather than a force promoting and achieving progressive change.  From the outset, HTNG committed to proposing changes that would be adoptable, and promptly adopted.  They achieved this by involving representatives of both the user and vendor communities, by identifying achievable, bite-sized deliverables, and by creating tightly-focused work groups that kept discussion on topic.  Their success was furthered by their repeated stated position that the hotel community must include adherence to HTNG standards as mandatory in its RFPs and by pushing vendors to reflect HTNG standards in their next generation developments. They had the vision to get things started it is the brand participation that has kept it going.” 

John also made another excellent observation “Equally – and possibly even more important – has been the vision, energy, focus and determination brought to the Executive Director position by Doug Rice.  His participation, more than any other single factor, has led to the success of HTNG.” 

Having attended a couple of committee meetings managed by Doug, I couldn’t agree with John more. 

Jon Inge, another founder of HTNG had his own list of three reasons why the organization has gained traction. 

  • The tech trend was heading towards Web services, and the founding of HTNG served to focus attention on their advantages.
  • The workgroups are led by hoteliers, willing to work with their peers and with groups of willing vendors to develop specific products that they commit to buy. In other words, HTNG's focused on specific, real-world needs that multiple hotels will buy, rather than theoretical sets of standard messages. 
  • All workgroups, by their charter, are required to produce deliverables every six months.  They can't sit and discuss approaches forever, they must produce output.
I personally think that Jon’s second point comes closest to being the real answer although my take has a bit more cynicism to it.  I think it is simply a matter of vendors wanting to be counted present during roll call knowing that hoteliers are more likely to buy from HTNG members regardless of whether a solution is HTNG derived or not. 

In the end, motives do not really matter, hoteliers are or will soon be getting better technology solutions. The program is a success.


Brian Cunningham is a principal in ActivityTec, a Technology, Revenue Management and Distribution Best Practices Consultancy to Resort Centric Activity Providers

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Contact:

Brian Cunningham
404.474.1913
Brian.Cunningham@ActivityTec.com
220 Willow Lake Cove
Roswell Ga 30075

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Also See: Hotel Technology Next Generation 2nd Annual Conference Draws 250 Hotel Technology Leaders; Six Individuals Win Leadership Awards / March 2006
HTNG Draws 160+ Attendees to First Annual Conference; Luke Mellors, Director of IT (CIO) at The Dorchester Group, Elected as HTNG Director / May 2005
A Path to Achieving Next-Generation Technology for the Hotel Industry / White Paper / July 2002
Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG) Selects 21 Companies to Participate in Designing the Future of Hotel Guest Room Technology / October 2004
Unlocking Interoperability; HTNG Attracts 17 Leading Hotels, Vendors and Consultants to Address Distribution Interoperability / September 2004
HTNG In-Room Technology Group Sets Goals for First Phase Deliverables; Deployment of Telephony, Entertainment Systems, and Guest Internet Access on a Common Network Infrastructure / December 2004
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