by
Doug Rice
June 7, 2024

Definitely Doug 6/7/24: HITEC Innovation Preview

The annual Hospitality Industry Technology Exhibition and Conference (HITEC) starts in just over two weeks, so it is time for my annual preview. In the past few weeks, I spent many hours poring over the floor plan and exhibitor list, identifying the first-time exhibitors and researching their products and services.

There is no practical way to identify every innovation that will be on offer at HITEC, so I focus on first-time exhibitors. My rationale? First, the most disruptive innovations tend to come disproportionately from startups, or sometimes from companies who have established products in other vertical markets and who think they might be able to fulfill a need in hospitality. Second, the established vendors already have reasonable visibility with potential customers, partners, and industry influencers. If they have something truly new and interesting, they know how to get the word out and have less need for a mention here.

As of June 6, the HITEC show floor showed 354 booths reserved by 351 separate companies, plus eight smaller stands offered to the Entrepreneur 20X (E20X) competitors (one of which also has a full booth). The show floor is very slightly larger than last year, with about 82,400 square feet of rentable square exhibit space, of which 1,900 square feet were still available for the inevitable last-minute additions. Of the 351 companies, I counted 92 that are first-timers based on my records going back at least four years, plus the eight E20X contestants. That is roughly comparable to other recent years, with about 26% first-timers.

Fifteen hours of exhibit time is not enough to see every booth, or even every first-time exhibitor. I make a concerted effort to visit all the new ones at least briefly, but often their staff are busy or absent when I stop by, even when I try multiple times. My advance research helps me to prioritize the must-sees vs. the hope-to-sees, so I know where I want to be persistent.

This week I will share my priorities for who I plan to visit at HITEC. Because there are so many first-time exhibitors, I do not spend floor time looking at those who have exhibited in past years.  But if your company has something groundbreaking to show and is not a first-timer, I am always happy to schedule time for virtual updates before or after (see contact info below).

My summary below was current as of June 6 but will continue to evolve as the date approaches and last-minute changes occur. I have excluded the E20x competitors because I will be one of the competition judges and want to remain unbiased for now, but I encourage you to attend the pitch competition on Wednesday morning; there are always interesting companies who present at E20x.

The Exhibitors I Most Want to Visit

In selecting my highest-priority targets, I rely on websites and LinkedIn company profiles that showcase products and services that are new or relatively new to the market, or at least to hospitality.

·      Companies that operate in well-established spaces with lots of similar competitors, such as networking, telecommunications, guest-facing mobile capabilities, or professional development and integration services, were lower priority for me, unless their marketing materials indicated something distinctly new and different.

·      Companies with websites that fail to clearly state what they do are lower on my priority list. It amazes me that companies think it is sufficient to talk about solving problems, without bothering to mention which problems!

·      Finally, I look for credibility behind product claims: is the company large enough and experienced enough to reasonably deliver what it claims, or is their product likely to have been built using the PowerPoint operating system?

A risk with first-time exhibitors is whether they will be around in the future. Last year I had 84 first-time exhibitors to look at, and 47 of them (56%) have not reserved space this year. That percentage is quite typical. Why such low stickiness?

·      Hospitality is a challenging industry for companies that have successful track records elsewhere, due to complex decision making (owners, managers, brands) and long sales cycles.

·      Many larger companies allocate funds for entering hospitality in one budget year but (even with great products) fail to make their numbers; they often exit before ever having a chance to get traction.

·      While HITEC is the best show for technology buyers, many companies need to get their products in front of business buyers, of which HITEC has fewer. These companies often stay in the industry but prioritize shows other than HITEC.

·      Invariably there are new products that simply do not fill a business need, are too expensive for the value provided, or do not fit into the complex technology ecosystem of the industry.

Some companies do major product launches at HITEC that are not publicized in advance, or they hide in stealth mode until the show. I monitor the Hotel Online newsletter during the show to try to pick up last-minute announcements.  While there are usually only a handful, they are sometimes quite important and can certainly change my priorities.

Buyer Beware: The descriptions below come with important caveats. With a few exceptions, I have not met with or spoken with these companies, so I base my summaries on my interpretation (or possibly misinterpretation!) of marketing claims from their websites, from exhibitor descriptions on the HITEC site, or from LinkedIn page descriptions. Some of the companies are large and well-established (mostly in other industries, although that does not guarantee success in hospitality), some are small or mid-sized and well established in foreign markets but not yet in North America, while others are early-stage startups and largely unproven.

Undoubtedly many of the claims will be reasonably accurate, while others may be wild exaggerations. Nothing below is intended as a recommendation for any product or service; it is just the ones that I think most likely to be innovative. Historically I have found that maybe 30% of the new exhibitors at each year’s HITEC make marketing claims that are significantly exaggerated, but I can usually only detect that when I meet with them and ask the hard questions.

Booth numbers were as listed on the HITEC exhibitor site as of June 6 but are subject to change.

Contact Centers: Voice AI technology has improved dramatically in the past year, and I expect to see many interesting innovations in this category. EHVA.AI (booth 120) claims some impressive capabilities for handling phone calls in an automated or semi-automated way, including reservations and room service. Fusion CX (booth 209) is a rebranding of Fusion BPO (business process outsourcing); the company is well established in other vertical markets and offers many interesting-sounding digital and AI-based capabilities that should have application in hospitality. C1 (booth 1849), another established company, offers similar solutions designed to integrate well with legacy technologies.

Marketing and Sales: Atica Global (booth 3948) is a 2020 startup focused on revenue-generating capabilities for hotels that sound quite disruptive; according to LinkedIn it has already reached 84 staff, which is incredible growth. Twilio (booth 756) is an established company but first-time exhibitor with a customer data platform, campaign management, and technologies for contact centers and self-service. Directful (booth 4148) targets one-time guests and uses AI and predictive analytics to manage targeted text messaging campaigns to generate repeat visits.

Distribution: HITEC has not been a distribution-heavy show for 15 or 20 years, and in recent years has had only a modest presence from a few of the larger distribution players. But one entering the hotel market this year is TripBeast (booth 430), which will be introducing a white-label cloud platform to enable retail distribution of air, cruise, attraction, experience, ground transport, and other travel components, and an AI trip planning chatbot. iOL (booth 504), another first-timer, is an established, midsized Dubai-based company with some potentially innovative distribution models that I will be interested to see.

Guest Experience: Way (booth 3156) is a medium-sized, rapidly growing company in a hot area, enabling hotels to offer curated experiences, ticketed events and recurring programming from their websites.

Human Resources: Qualee (booth 909) provides onboarding, skill development, and an employee engagement platform designed to accelerate performance. Typsy (booth 459), an Australian company I have been watching for several years, is making its HITEC debut with its staff training and engagement programs. Gamification has been a proven winner for staff retention and morale, and it is always good to see new solutions recognizing that, so I will be looking closely at SocialCrowd (booth 130), which tracks, guides, and rewards employees to keep them focused.

Food & Beverage: DiningEdge (booth 1757) is a restaurant recipe, food cost, inventory, and procurement platform designed to simplify purchasing and procurement and reduce costs.

Operations: HubOS (booth 157) is a Europe-based company with an operations platform designed to foster connection and communications between departments. HygieneIQ (booth 123) provides a sensor-based platform that can be used to improve cleanliness by tracking hand-washing by employees, traffic in public spaces, or notifications from staff that an area needs cleaning. Dharma (booth 659) is an operations platform with an AI assistant, enhanced guest profiles, work-order management, and housekeeping. All three companies were founded in 2015-2018 and are still relatively small.

Payments: Ready Credit Corporation (booth 822) provides cash-to-card kiosks that can enable hospitality businesses to go cashless by meeting the needs of cash-paying customers without the complexity and cost involved with securing and auditing cash operations. Chargeback Gurus (booth 1027) offers a suite of products to prevent credit-card chargebacks and to recover revenue.

Sustainability: APTIM (booth 914) is an environmental solutions firm that offers consultation and customized products to improve organizations’ sustainability footprint, including energy and water management, solar solutions, and electric vehicle charging. Sensor Industries (booth 419) provides a platform and sensors to monitor and alert hotels to water leaks and running toilets.

Back Office: Corpay (booth 224; rebranded from Fleetcor earlier this year) is a large public company but first-time HITEC exhibitor. It provides centralized accounts payable automation, expense reporting, and payment capabilities that offer cash rebates and discounts. Repay (booth 912) offers payment technology that streamlines payables and receivables in one system. Lilo (booth 3949) is a startup that offers an AI-powered procurement engine, while Reeco (booth 406) offers an end-to-end procure-to-pay solution with real-time prices. Centelli (booth 418) offers (among other things) robotic process automation, which can perform repetitive menial tasks efficiently.

Robotics: There has been a lot of innovation in this space, and a new exhibitor Urbot (booth 119) this year, along with a couple of returning ones. Urbot’s RobotGpt product claims to use AI and to handle multiple tasks that previously often required separate robots.

Retail: Trinity Axis Inc. (booth 913) offers smart vending solutions including contactless vending machines, self-checkout kiosks for grab-and-go, inventory management, and touchscreen retrofits for vending machines. DIGIT7 (booth 3938) provides an AI-powered smart store solution, touchless self-checkout, and even inventory counting by drone (cool, although perhaps a bit of overkill for the typical hotel grab-and-go).

Security: Genetec (booth 4250) is an established company that is fairly new to hospitality, offering physical security solution (cloud- or premise-based) that connects systems, sensors and data including access control, video management, license plate recognition, and communications.

Conclusion

There are a lot of new companies and innovative products exhibiting this year. Some of them are almost certainly ready for prime time, while others are interesting ideas but not yet fully baked, credible products or services. Stay tuned in July for my post-HITEC wrap-up, where I will summarize what I found most compelling.

If you think I have missed a major innovation, whether from a first-time exhibitor or HITEC veteran, please let me know using the contact information below, or by commenting on the post on my LinkedIn feed that links to this article (which I will post once it has been published). I hope to see many of my readers on the floor in Charlotte!

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