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By Linchi Kwok

Were you in Houston last week for HITEC 2018? The Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference (HITEC) is hosted and organized by the Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP), and has become the world’s largest hospitality technology event.

I spent a day walking through the exposition, where I experienced the latest tech products available in the hospitality industry. Through my observations, I was able to identify four themes from this year’s trade show.

1. Tech products that enhance the guest experience

The phrases of "guest-centric," "guest experience," "guest satisfaction" are almost everywhere in the trade show. Using technologies to improve guest satisfaction is definitely one big theme I observed in HITEC Houston 2018.

Many exhibitors showcased how they can provide better customer service for hotels by integrating their tech products with the hotels’ existing property management system (PMS). For example, consumers can now interact with machines more often than a real human being during a hotel stay.

Machines can:

  • Accept and manage reservations
  • Answer most of the customer inquiries
  • Allow guests to check-in in a kiosk or with their mobile devices, select the available room for their stay, and issue a room key or activate the "keyless" option in their mobile app
  • Allow guests to control "smart" room devices with voice commands or on their mobile apps, including lightings, curtains, entertainments (TV, radio, and sounds), and the thermoset
  • Assist guests in navigating the hotel and the neighborhood through voice commands or with a mobile device
  • Make reservations for a spa treatment and other services
  • Order room service
  • Make special requests, such as setting up wake-up calls, getting additional items from the housekeeping, and etc.
  • Review all charges during their stays
  • Check out with a click on their mobile devices or on the TV set in the hotel room without making a stop at the front desk
     

It seems to me, however, many of these tech products function like a customized Alexa by Amazon or Google’s AI, even though I did not see Amazon or Google with a booth in this year’s exposition.

2. Tech products that improve service operations

There are also many tech products in the exposition that are designed to help hotels run smooth operations.

On one hand, technologies can assist human resources in attracting/recruiting the right talent and retaining those employees. Billing payments can also be handled by machines.

On the other hand, big data and blockchain can help hotels gain better insights into what the customers want. Many companies in the exposition want to provide business solutions for hotels to connect the dots or various footprints that a consumer left in the hotel, allowing operators to see the “whole journey” of their customers.

I saw products that can predict consumer behaviors using big data analytics. The ultimate goal of this type of services is to encourage customers to spend more in the hotel (mainly through cross-selling and upselling), helping the business maximize the revenues.

Other tech products that got my attention include: "smart" linens that use RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) to help hotels automatically manage inventory as well as facility management systems that allow managers to keep track of the utilization, lighting, and air conditioning of the space available inside a building (hotel).


Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based SMARTLINEN’s display at HITEC.

3. Tech products that support sustainability

Many hospitality businesses have already adopted green practices and pay close attention to sustainability. Hence, it’s not surprising to find companies in HITEC Houston 2018 that provide solutions to hotels, helping them save consumptions on energy, water, and other resources (e.g., paperwork).


Energy-saving tech was a theme to note at HITEC.

4. Tech products that protect cybersecurity

Hotels are managing a tremendous amount of personal information about customers and often become the target of hackers or victims of cybercrimes.

As a result, cybersecurity remains to be a critical issue and should remain on top of a hospitality business’ top agenda. We must do our best to protect the customers who trust us and do business with us.

What I expected to see but did not find in HITEC Houston 2018

As more machines are replacing humans at work, and even the cities we live in are getting smarter than ever, I was expecting to see a few companies promoting new robots in the exposition. I understand robotic service is no longer a new concept, but I was hoping to see newer generations of robots that would "wow" me.

Meanwhile, I was also expecting to see more companies using facial recognition technology in analyzing consumers’ reactions towards the services they received.

In China, for example, facial recognition has been used in analyzing students’ reactions in the classroom (Note: I personally do not think that is right and would vote against using this type of technologies to monitor students’ behaviors).

I suggest hotels and restaurants use similar technologies to measure customer satisfaction because it is not difficult for machines to tell who looks happy, who looks boring or becomes impatient of waiting, and who looks unhappy with the experience. I assume one reason why such technology has not been used in the hospitality industry mainly is because it is still unclear where we can draw the line between protecting privacy and market research.

Did you attend HITEC Houston 2018? What did you see? Did anything surprise you?

About Linchi Kwok

Linchi Kwok is an associate professor in The Collins College of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona). He came to Cal Poly Pomona by way of Syracuse University and Rochester Institute of Technology. He is a blogger and publishes refereed journal articles on service operations, information technology and social media. Linchi is a recipient of The W. Bradford Wiley Memorial Best (Research) Paper of the Year Award. His perspectives have been quoted in The New York Times, NBC News and LA Times, among other mainstream media outlets. Linchi received an M.S. degree and a Ph.D. degree in hospitality administration from Texas Tech University and an MBA degree from Syracuse University.

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