by
Doug Rice
July 12, 2024

Definitely Doug 6/21/24: What’s New with the Newbies?

Another HITEC has come and gone, so it is time for my annual review. I spent all 15 exhibit hours walking the floor, visiting as many as I could of the 94 first-time exhibitors, including the eight contestants in the Entrepreneur 20X (E20X) competition. I succeeded in visiting a total of 65 (including a few that I spoke with virtually prior to HITEC). I was not able to meet individually with four of the eight E20X participants, but I did hear their four-minute competition pitches, bringing the total number of companies covered to 69. This included every one of the companies on my high-priority list, and all but a handful of my medium-priority list.

Why do I focus on first-time exhibitors? In my experience, they account for the bulk of innovation and disruption in our industry. They think outside the box (sometimes by design, other times because they are so new that they are not aware that there IS a box). Also, because most of them are new to the industry, they are not on the radar of most attendees, and unlike the established exhibitors, few attendees actively search them out.

Of course, veteran exhibitors sometimes have new and disruptive products as well, but usually they are more in the nature of refinements or enhancements, rather than totally new ideas or paradigms. And attendees already know these companies, look for them, and meet with them.

Time was limited; the exhibit floor is open for only 15 hours, so I could spend only a few minutes with each company. Assuming they had a practiced elevator pitch, this was usually enough for me to understand what they did and whether and how it was different from established norms. Of course, a few minutes is not enough to validate the sales claims, and undoubtedly some of what I heard will have been pure hype. But I had enough time to form impressions of what sounds new, different, and interesting – which is the subject of today’s column.

I did not try to assess the cost or ROI of these products. Typically for new products, some are priced to sell while others sport prices that can be hard to justify. But in fairness, many of these vendors are still trying to work out the right structure and levels for their prices. They are often open to significant modifications as they start to talk to real prospective customers.

Since I knew I would not be able to visit every one of the 94 first-time exhibitors. I prioritized them based on my prior research. I mostly skipped companies who provided only professional services, as well as those offering standalone consumer-type products like massage chairs. This allowed me to focus on those offering technology products or technology-driven services. I also bypassed those who were offering commoditized products (such as telephone systems, Wi-Fi, or generic hardware) unless their websites indicated a significantly different approach from the norm. It is still possible that I missed something groundbreaking, but if I did, I think I can safely say that the company was not marketing it prior to HITEC, and did not issue press releases during or after HITEC that appeared on any of the numerous news wires I follow.

There were 28 companies that caught my attention by doing something no one else has done previously, or by doing it in a distinctly different and potentially better way. I will review them by category below.  The descriptions below are based on my notes and the company websites and have not been reviewed by the companies, so they may not be 100% accurate … but they should be close enough for a first pass.

Operations Technology

The death of readily available and relatively inexpensive labor has finally put more focus on the operations side of the business, beyond the traditional domain of work-order management systems, maintenance management systems, and housekeeping solutions. Four of the most interesting new products I saw fell in this category.

  • Hub OS ties together numerous aspects of operations, starting in the construction phase and moving into daily operations including housekeeping, maintenance, service requests, minibar posting, laundry management, lost and found, restaurant bookings, staff optimization, energy and water usage, guest complaint handling and analytics, and project management. While not a fully mature product (and not a substitute for best-of-breed departmental solutions for hotels that need them), this is exactly the kind of solutions that many two-, three- and even four-star hotels need to get better guest satisfaction while keeping labor costs under control. Hub OS gets my 2024 award for the most interesting new product from a first-time HITEC exhibitor.

  • VRSIST was showing an interesting variation on a check-in kiosk that includes a large video screen behind which is a live India-based human agent that is trained specifically for a single hotel and who works that hotel exclusively. It essentially simulates a live front desk experience but using offshore labor that costs much less per hour, and with a large pool of agents that can cover for breaks. It can scan identity documents and incorporate the hotel’s preferred payment device. In principle, it could easily enable a limited-service hotel to eliminate front-desk staff coverage. The main challenge will be ensuring quality agents, although this can be easier to manage in a supervised contact-center environment than in an actual hotel where only a single front-desk agent might be on duty.

  • In the past, I have never found reason to get very excited about laundry management technology for hotels, but Metalprogetti was showing an amazing uniform management solution (if you thought you had accidentally wandered off the HITEC floor and into a dry-cleaners, that was them). It is makes sense mostly for the biggest hotels, but it is basically an RFID laundry tagging system on steroids. Employees go to a wall-mounted kiosk, swipe in, and receive a clean and pressed uniform in their size, on a hanger from an adjacent door. Staff who work in different roles can choose the uniform type they need for that day. A return chute accepts soiled items, and the system monitors each employee to ensure they are not hoarding uniforms. An elaborate conveyor system behind the scenes receives racks of items on hangers from the laundry contractor, makes sure outbound and inbound counts match, and sorts them. Holding bins near each kiosk dispenser are kept stocked with common items for quick retrieval and are automatically replenished from the main central racks. There is also an option for foldable items like aprons and towels. Most hotels will never need this solution, but it was still very cool.

  • Downtowner provides a management solution for on-demand transportation services, typically for sprawling complexes such as ski resorts and large beach resorts (as well as for private communities and cities). The best way I can describe it is as a private-label version of Uber, usable with anything from golf carts to luxury car transfers.

Marketing and Distribution

  • TripBeast was showing a platform that enables any website (such as a hotel chain, destination marketing agency, or online travel agency) to add a white-label travel store, offering air, hotels, vacation rentals, rental cars, cruises, activities, and other components using prebuilt integrations. It supports a shopping cart to simplify the buying process and payment, and can cater to membership clubs to provide fenced, member-only rates with select suppliers. TripBeast gets an honorable mention as the second most interesting product I saw among the 69 first-time exhibitors I visited.

  • iOL was showcasing what is essentially a channel manager and payment platform for managing private relationships, such as between a hotel or brand and a travel management company, destination marketing organization, or private-label travel program. While this was its first HITEC, iOL is an established company from the Middle East which also supports MasterCard Priceless Hotel Bookings.

  • DIrectful, which had both an exhibit stand and an E20X entry, offered a solution for targeted re-engagement of one-time guests with hyper-personalized messages tailored to each guest’s preferences and past behavior. Its goal is to convert one-time visitors into repeat guests and to facilitate more direct bookings.

  • MeetingPackage, a Finnish company I had met previously but who was a first-time exhibitor this year, was showing what is essentially a reservation system and channel manager for groups and meetings. It sits atop a traditional sales and catering system and handles email and phone inquiries to a global sales office, direct bookings by agents or customers, and indirect RFPs or bookings through third parties such as Cvent.

Inventory, Procurement, and Vendor Payment

One long-time senior hotel executive I know often used the catchphrase “Sales for top line, but procurement for profit.” Study after study has shown that most hotels and restaurants fail to closely manage procurement costs, despite their obvious impact on the bottom line. And for years, the solutions available for purchasing have been largely unchanged.

This year there were not one but four new entrants trying to disrupt this space. Unlike many legacy purchasing platforms, they enable hotels to easily onboard as many vendors as they want for a given product. They offer real-time price comparisons that correctly adjust for factors such as package size and shipping costs. If your current solution cannot do this, one of these might be worth a look.

I am planning an upcoming deep dive into the procure-to-pay space in this column within the next couple of months, so I will not go into much detail here, but will mention the four companies. Folio was the winner of the judge’s choice in the E20X competition, and I found three other similar products on the show floor: DiningEdge, Lilo, and Reeco. DiningEdge started with a restaurant focus and is just getting into food side of the hotel industry, while the others were more focused on hotels from the outset. Lilo claims to be using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to learn how to read each supplier’s ordering site to get current descriptions, product information, availability, and prices. That approach should significantly reduce the cost of onboarding a new supplier or reacting to a website overhaul.

The products generally supported not only real-time price comparisons, but indications for approved or preferred products and suppliers. Some also had functionality or integrations with inventory, receiving, vendor payment, and menu costing.

Environmental Control and Monitoring

Four interesting exhibitors had very specific objectives of reducing water and energy waste.

  • Sensor Industries offers a suite of products for monitoring and controlling water usage, detecting leaks or standing water and, where appropriate, shutting valves down to minimize water damage.

  • H20Connected was a E20x participant, pitching its patented LeakAlertor solutions specifically designed to detect and alert management to leaking or running toilets. These account for a significant portion of wasted water in hotels. The company won the E20X People’s choice award (audience voting).

  • Woosh Air sells a replacement for HVAC filter frames and filters, with an IoT-connected frame that measures differential air flow on both sides of the filter to determine when a filter is ready for replacement. Rather than replacing filters on a set schedule, hotels can replace them only when they get dirty enough to matter, with significant potential savings on filters and labor offsetting the very modest cost of the frame.

  • Energex was showing a guest-room management system that not only incorporated sensor input from devices like occupancy sensors, but that used AI to optimize heating and cooling demand by detecting and responding to external factors like the weather (sunny or cloudy?) and the exposure of a particular room to sunlight.

Employee Engagement

  • Qualee was showing an employee-facing interface that connects to third-party back-end human resources systems (at the data layer or via single sign-on) and that incorporates gamification, access to training materials, recognition of special occasions, measurement of eNPS (employee Net Promoter Score), and management insights. Systems such as this can often pay huge dividends in employee engagement, retention, and upskilling.

  • I was introduced to Typsy about five years ago, but they only recently started actively marketing in the U.S. and this was their first HITEC. The company offers an online set of more than 1500 high-quality training sessions that teach basic skills needed by hotel employees. Typsy has added badges, gamification, and other features to increase engagement, retention, and recognition.

  • SocialCrowd takes gamification down to a more granular level, enabling hotels to incentivize staff to push specific offers in return for rewards.

Vending

For the first time I can recall, there were new solutions in the vending machine space. Some can also accommodate self-checkout for grab-and-go outlets, but that is a more established application that more and more point-of-sale systems (and a few unaffiliated companies) now support natively.

  • Trinity Axis was showing a compact vending machine that could be wall-mounted and that occupies minimal space. It can handle up to 16 items that do not require refrigeration. They also had a revision kit that can upgrade legacy vending machines to a modern, touch-screen interface, and backend vending operations support software. It offers a low-footprint option to providing snack items and sundries on each guest floor, with a modern kiosk-like user experience.

  • Shekel was showing an innovative vending solution that unlocks the door once payment has been authorized, and then detects what has been removed by monitoring very precise weights. While not configured for the purpose, it addresses an issue we often see in minibars and that is also present in open-access vending, where guests may take an item and then decide they do not want it, and return it. The system detects the returned item by its weight (and can even raise an alert if it has been returned to the wrong shelf). The guest is only charged for what they actually took and did not return when the door is ultimately closed.

Guest Room Technology

  • Relax with C.A.R.E. was showing a guest-room TV channel with soothing pictures and audio designed to facilitate quality sleep. While hardly a revolutionary concept, this is to me a great example of something that can provide significant guest benefit at minimal cost.

  • NEON, an established company whose main business has been digital signage for restaurants, was showing a brand-new hotel TV platform that had one of the most intuitive user interfaces I have seen. It also integrated local activity sales, a source of revenue I have written about previously but not seen in a hotel TV solution.

Human Resources

  • Ponte was showing software to support hiring of Spanish-speaking Latin American staff into positions such as housekeeping, busing, and dishwashing, where English is typically not required. Their platform helps non-English-speaking workers overcome the obstacles they face in finding, applying for, and qualifying for jobs, and provides hotels and restaurants with access to an otherwise hard-to-reach but willing-to-work labor force.

Guest Communication

  • Twilio is a well-established company in contact-center software, which recently started addressing vertical markets such as hospitality. It integrates deeply into the property management or reservation system, and can deliver guest communications via multiple platforms including SMS, WhatsApp, and email. Use cases Twilio has addressed include prearrival messages or communications in-stay such as notifying early arriving guests that their room is ready, or promotional or informational messages. Its fortes are using hotel data to identify target audiences, and delivering those messages; the content of those messages is determined by the hotel or by another system.

Payments

  • Ready Credit was demonstrating a cash-to-card kiosk designed to allow any merchant to go cashless without alienating customers who prefer cash. It accepts currency up to $500 and issues a prepaid debit card that the merchant can then accept. If a hotel is already close to 100% cashless, it enables them to close the remaining gap, and eliminate cash entirely – along with the need for cash drawer reconciliation, security for cash, and trips to the bank.

Food & Beverage

  • iPourIt showed an innovative self-service kiosk for poured drinks (beer, wine, or any other drink that does not require mixing). A display shows how much has been dispensed and how much is remaining. It can be activated by an RFID wristband or room key (issued after an ID check); this can be encoded with a stored value or credit, or payment can be made independently. Drinks can be metered or priced per ounce. This could be an interesting solution for concierge lounges or for events with hosted bars, where staff can keep watch that RFID credentials are not being shared with minors.

  • C1 (formerly ConvergeOne) was showcasing AI capabilities that they have used for customized food and beverage ordering solution for restaurants and room service. While the application itself is hardly unique, their approach was different in that it used AI to extract and integrate information from the point-of-sale system (POS) to build the menus, pricing, and other information in the app. Especially for POS systems that lack fully functional application programming interfaces, this is an interesting application of AI to what could otherwise be a very time-consuming process.

Conclusion

It is fun to see the variety of new ideas that early-stage companies and first-time industry entrants convert to technology products for hotels. While there are always a few that make me scratch my head and ask “did they do ANY market research first?”, and others that are mostly copycats of existing products, there are always some new ideas with good potential. I hope I have captured most of those here.

Feedback to my columns is always welcome. This site does not support comments, but I do post a link to my articles on LinkedIn the day they are published. So, if you have any comments or questions, simply find my profile, scroll down to the post, and have at it! (Likes and shares are always appreciated, too.)

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There really is no way for me to describe my experience two weeks ago at HITEC in Charlotte and I’m not going to try right now.

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Yes, you are going to HITEC in Charlotte, North Carolina, in just a few weeks.

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Siegel Sez

It is May, so two things come to mind.

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Siegel Sez

Nobody does a better job professionally slamming the hotel industry than Doug Rice in his Definitely Doug column that follows.

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Siegel Sez

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Siegel Sez

In the last edition of Siegel Sez, I wrote about my experience at ITB in Berlin.

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Siegel Sez

Have you ever had to call a hotel call center because of a problem with a reservation?

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Siegel Sez

With my background as a hotelier and then a hotel technology vendor, I can absolutely relate to this week’s Definitely Doug.

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Siegel Sez

If you are in any way connected to the hotel industry you must read Doug Rice’s Definitely Doug column that follows. Not only should you read it, but you should also forward it to others you know in the industry.

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Siegel Sez

Finally, the week of dueling conferences will be here. Many of you reading this will be heading to Toronto or Las Vegas this weekend. Some will be going to both cities, but that is a bit crazy to me

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Siegel Sez

Well, the dueling conferences of HITEC and The Hospitality Show are now a thing of the past, and I know everyone is thankful for that. Doug Rice adds his thoughts on the two shows in his Definitely Doug column that follows, though I am not sure everyone will agree with him.

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Siegel Sez

"Unless you have been comatose for the past eight months, you have heard about ChatGPT." This is the opening line from Doug Rice’s Definitely Doug column that follows.

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Siegel Sez

I must commend Doug Rice in his Definitely Doug column this week. We are less than four weeks away from our 21st CIO Summit.

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Siegel Sez

For those of us who started our careers working in the hotel industry, you will probably smile reading this week’s Definitely Doug column from Doug Rice.

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Siegel Sez

Only Doug Rice can start his Definitely Doug column that follows with - do you remember the emergence of the World Wide Web?

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Siegel Sez

When I was young, bouncing checks was not that uncommon for me. Part of it was a lack of money of course, but also my inability to balance my checkbook.

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Siegel Sez

For anyone to put on an event where people travel from all around the world, there will be pressure. You want everyone to leave feeling like it was worth the trip.

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Siegel Sez

In today’s Siegel Sez, Doug Rice in his Definitely Doug column shares part-two of his look at experiences that travelers book, and how hotels leave so much money on the table.

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Siegel Sez

In his Definitely Doug column that follows, only Doug Rice can critique HFTP, AHLA, HSMAI, HEDNA and not blame the vendor community for the biggest problem the hotel industry faces in the world of technology.

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Siegel Sez

In my world, it’s all about the technology – the technology that exists today and what is coming. At our annual Executive Vendor Summit which brings together senior leaders of those that supply technology solutions to the industry this is always a hot topic as many vendors need to work together.

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Siegel Sez

I am thankful to participate in so many industry events. Last week I was at the HSMAI Sales Leader Forum at the Long Beach Hilton in California.

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Siegel Sez

When you get to mid-December it’s natural to reflect on the past year.

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I often think back to when I started my hotel career a million years ago and how clueless we were on rates.

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by
Rich Siegel
7.12.2024

Siegel Sez 7/12/24

There really is no way for me to describe my experience two weeks ago at HITEC in Charlotte and I’m not going to try right now. If you haven’t heard the news, let me just say this - if you’re going to marry someone, why not someone you’ve dated for 25 years! I will work on what I’m going to say and then share it later, maybe in Indianapolis at HITEC 2025, maybe earlier. For now, here is the release that was distributed late Monday on the first day of HITEC.

The day before HITEC (left to right) HSMAI’s CEO Bob Gilbert joins Hall of Famers Sherry Marek, Mike Blake and Rich Siegel for an impromptu picture!

Yes, the HITEC experience this year was amazing. It’s so important that once a year everyone who’s involved in technology (buyers, sellers or those in-between) come together. What we experience and learn surprises all attendees every year. From the educational sessions, to the exhibit floor, and of course the parties, not to mention the amazing conversations, you can plan on long days and little sleep. We thank HFTP for once again making HITEC 2024 not only a great experience, but an event that the industry needs.

If you’re curious about where technology might be going, Doug Rice in his Definitely Doug column that follows does something at HITEC that more should do. He focused on the small companies, often barely beyond the startup phase who share what’s coming in the future - with many believing the future is now. If you really want to look at the state of technology and where it might be going, take a few minutes to read Definitely Doug. The question as to why an exhibitor at HITEC was focused on laundry will be answered. Definitely Doug is a must read this week.

Thanks again to the hundreds who congratulated me at HITEC, it really was an amazing experience. As I told them, 32 years is a long time, but a great ride that will continue. I thank you all for putting up with me! Here now is Definitely Doug along with the latest industry technology news followed by ‘you-know-what’.

I’m taking England over Spain! ⚽️

Rich
rich@hospitalityupgrade.com

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