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TNT Conference Recap: March 17, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif.

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June 12, 2015
TNT Conference Recap
Kris Burnett

The third annual Travel & Technology Conference (TNT) was held March 17 at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco. Several executives from the hospitality and travel industries attended the event titled, “Connecting Concepts with Cash,” this year hosted by Hospitality Upgrade, and co-located with HU’s 11th annual Executive Vendor Summit.

The very popular educational sessions focused on future technology and investment trends in the travel and tourism industries, and were followed by a shark tank/deal flow competition, where a variety of technology companies pitched to an expert panel for funding, giving them the opportunity to connect with the investment community in the form of various venture capital and private equity firms. The day culminated in a joint reception of attendees from TNT and HU’s Executive Vendor Summit.

TNT’s opening session, “Know Your Guest, Know Revenue,” was led by Stephen Brobst, chief technology officer for Teradata, who focused on using data as the basis for creating great customer experience, and really looking at customer relationship management as more of customer experience management. From measuring the impact of marketing objectives to predicting market behavior, and from understanding how to best serve the customer to ensuring a positive guest experience, Brobst examined the challenges faced by many travel and hospitality-related companies today. These all require data and a good plan of action as well as good timing.

Attributing value at each touch point is a good place to start. Most companies know the answers are all in the data… it’s finding the right Big Data strategies to capture it and using it to the fullest potential to improve customer interactions.

Another segment of the travel industry is the restaurant industry. It is a massive $500 billion fragmented industry, but can hotels make money from this segment? Chris Hemmeter, managing director for hospitality venture capital group Thayer Ventures, moderated an open panel discussion to examine the relationship with the restaurant industry, who has the next edge in distribution and travel content, and where are they headed. Panelists included Greg Dollarhyde, chief energizing officer, Veggie Grill, Inc., chairman, Zoes Kitchen, Inc., and managing member, Dollarhyde Investment Group; Jay Ganatra, senior manager of corporate development, Yelp; Cory Glass, senior ISV director, travel and hospitality, salesforce.com; and Matt O’Keefe, chief technology officer, Hyatt Hotels Corporation.

Dave Berkus, managing partner of Kodiak Ventures, L.P., and Berkus Technology Ventures, LLC, and chairman emeritus of the Tech Coast Angels, one of the largest angel investing networks in the United States, moderated the final session, an investor panel that focused on how to accurately value a business, and how and why leading investment firms fund existing travel technology companies. Panelists were John Balen, general partner, Canaan Partners; Erik Blachford, one of the founding team members at Expedia and eventually Expedia’s CEO, currently working in venture capital at Technology Crossover Ventures; and Katherine Grass, head of innovation and ventures at Amadeus IT Group.

The educational sessions provided some fantastic insight into the investment world of the technology industry, but the most popular session of the day had to be the pitch/deal flow competition. This shark-tank-type session provided a forum for innovators in travel, hotel and foodservice technology. Mike Blake, former CIO of Commune Hotels and currently a consultant with 20 years of finance and technology experience in the hospitality industry, moderated the pitch session. Serving as the panel of sharks were Greg Pesik (CEO of Humantelligence, and most recently president and CEO of Passkey, acquired by Vista Equity Partners in 2014), Ed St. Onge (president of Flip.to, who at age 22 launched a SaaS product that was acquired 10 years later by one of the largest travel software companies in the world) and Greg Duff (chair, hospitality, travel and tourism practice, Garvey Schubert Barer).

Those who participated in the competition included Capton–Wireless Beverage Management and Analytics for Hospitality, Groupize Solutions, GuestDriven, GuestCentric, Kaptivating, KEYPR, Suiteness and Venga. Pitchers had six minutes to present, followed by two minutes of Q&A and feedback from the sharks, as well as questions from the audience who then voted on a winner. Capton came in with top marks, garnering a prize package valued at $10,000 including an exhibit kiosk at HITEC 2015 in HFTP’s ENTREPRENEUR20X pavilion.

- By Kris Burnett, Editor - Hospitality Upgrade

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