It felt so good to be back in the real world. I suppose that is the single best summary of HITEC 2021 I can come up with. There are quite a few recaps out there on the education and vendors – so I want to focus first on the human side of HITEC. After two years of virtual meetings, video chats, and home offices, we were once again able to walk a convention floor, shake hands, hug, and celebrate in person. Despite the need to wear masks and the extra-wide spacing between chairs and booths, it felt like a normal HITEC: a large convention floor, big vendor events, and a full education program. Certainly, there were fewer people this year, but at some of the events and in some of the sessions you couldn’t tell. Many of the education sessions were standing room only - even the Monday morning sessions. 

I think I had taken for granted how much better in-person education is. After 2 years of virtual conferences and webinars, being able to sit in a room and interact in the real world was refreshing. I thought I had adapted rather well to the virtual world, but at HITEC I felt much more engaged and energized. Physical is so much better than virtual, and in-person conferences should bounce back quickly in part because of this. 

While it was unfortunate that many of our friends and supporters from other continents weren’t able to attend due to travel restrictions, many vendors who couldn’t travel still sponsored the show - giving their continued support to the industry and showing that, despite the troubles in our industry caused by this pandemic, we are bouncing back. Perhaps my favorite example of this was Steven Bronken cruising around the Safety NetAccess party on a mobile telepresence robot thing while attendees were dancing on stage with the Spazmatics. Gold!

One thing that struck me the most – it seemed like there were many more new faces than in previous years. I can’t remember another HITEC where I saw so many new exhibitors and attendees. This wasn’t actually the case, though. Official numbers list new exhibitors and attendees in the 20-25% range, which is about the same as previous years. I think it just felt like that due to the lower attendance and the extra space built in due to COVID protocols. Either way, the reduced attendance meant I was able to spend more quality time with people, which I really appreciated. I also had additional time to walk the floor and demo new products. With HITEC being such a big show, this is really a luxury. I’ve heard this echoed by many people.

On the conference side, as expected, several new contactless solutions have popped up, from white-labeled hotel apps to web and on-premise kiosks. There were a few established companies that have launched something in this space as well as several new companies dedicated just to contactless. I was quite happy to see how well developed these solutions already are, including also self-service F&B kiosks. Airlines, supermarkets, and retail outlets have shown us that well-designed kiosks are preferred by many of our customers, so this is something we should all provide as well. Proper guest service is about providing the service the way your guest wants it - and if that means a kiosk, you should have a kiosk.

I was also quite happy to see the term ‘Customer Data Platform’ growing as the industry continues its path towards putting the customer at the center of our tech architecture. The push towards open integrations and data sharing across the industry has had a noticeable impact on this, as so many systems are involved in the customer journey. We have seen a lot of progress in this area over the years, and it is refreshing to see not only new products entering the market with an “Open API/Integration” model, but also established vendors adopting this model as well.

One thing notably missing due to COVID was E20X. With startups being such an important part of innovation in the industry, I look forward to next year and the hopeful return of this exciting pitch competition. If you’re with a startup or are about to launch one, connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d love to chat with you about E20X.

So a few things were different, but overall, HITEC was HITEC. I’m thrilled I was able to see so many friends and make new ones once again. The World is returning to normal and life is continuing. I expect HITEC 2022 to be even bigger. Can’t wait to see you all there.