What a difference nine months makes. Last September, we gathered in Dallas for the first post-COVID HITEC. Or more accurately, some of us did, but many of the usual exhibitors and attendees sat on the sidelines, hamstrung by the uncertain pace of the recovery, budgets, pandemic travel policies, and personal health concerns. The exhibit floor last fall was significantly smaller than in recent years, and attendance was down, even if most of the vendors felt that the quality of attendees was higher. Those who attended were seriously looking to buy, and the vendors I spoke with were mostly very happy with the event despite the downsizing.
Fast forward to next week. I have been closely following the exhibitor list over the past two and a half months. When I first checked on April 5, there were 257 confirmed exhibitors, plus seven tentatives and 12 empty booths. By last week, there were 325 confirmed booths (including eight E20X contestants that hadn’t been selected before). HFTP added more booths at least twice after April 5 to meet demand, and space is now sold out. While the exhibitor count is still below the pre-COVID peak (which I believe was around 390 booths), the acceleration in participation over the past two months is both unprecedented and really encouraging. Attendance by buyers is much harder to gauge in advance, but there does seem to be a lot more buzz this year.
As always, I like to focus my HITEC time on meeting first-time exhibitors. Most of us know what the regular exhibitors do and how to reach them; we don’t need a trade show to keep up with them. But we do need events like this to discover the emerging ones, which are often the most interesting and innovative.
Unlike prior years, I will not be able to visit all the first-time exhibitors – there are simply too many! Normally there are around 50 or 60 newbies each year, but this year’s total is 89. There just are not enough floor hours to see that many, so I’ll have to focus on the ones that sound most interesting or different, or that catch my eye as I walk the floor.
This week’s column will focus on what I found in advance research on those 89 first-timers. I have highlighted a few that are on my “must see” list at the end of the article, but have included all of them in the categories in the body of the text.
This exercise comes with big caveats. Some of the companies are so new that their website still says “coming soon,” and it’s not unusual for others to launch major product pivots at HITEC … so the exhibitor whose website is showing an auto parts ecommerce business this week might be planning to show their snazzy new ancillary upsell booking engine at HITEC. Others seem to have established businesses in other industries but show no hospitality focus on their website, so we are left guessing which of many different products they might think they can adapt for hospitality (and whether they are serious or just testing the waters). There are also last-minute replacements, booth swaps, name changes, acquisitions/mergers, and other issues that sometimes render advance research obsolete by the time the show-floor doors open. And there might be one or two that have exhibited in the past that I missed and didn’t filter out.
There are always a few mysteries and surprises, but my advance look usually gets me pretty close for all but a handful. And to any exhibitors whom I may have mischaracterized or otherwise misrepresented below, or any new exhibitors that I missed, I apologize in advance! Please reach out to me if this is the case and I will try to address the issue in a future column.
Trends, Categories, and Companies
While categorizing vendors into primary product categories is more of an art than a science, I do this to try to understand the trends, picking the single category I think fits each company best, often adjusting the category definitions several times until I think they capture the essence.
Since I only cover the first-time exhibitors here, the categorizations tend to point to where the most innovation is happening, presumably because there are unmet needs. I have tried to organize this so that you can glance through for the categories of interest to you and quickly identify relevant new entrants you might want to check out.
This year, the category with the most new exhibitors (nine) is distribution. This means products that either deliver or supplement distribution capabilities like reservations processing, channel management, and booking engines. One (HotelRunner) is a full distribution system, while the others supplement existing systems, usually by trying to get more revenue from things like upsells, attribute sales, and the presale of activities, food and beverage, recreational rentals, and other products and services. The supplemental product companies include OTA Savings (which focuses not on revenues but on auditing OTA commissions), OwnOutdoors, P3 Hotel Software, RealTime Reservation (a 2020 E20X participant under a different name), ResortPass, Roomdex, Stayflexi, and Upstay (an E20X contestant this year).
Selling more and smarter is always a priority for hotels, so it is not surprising to see distribution leading the pack, as it has for several recent years (many of the first-timers from 2019 or 2021 have enjoyed continued success and are back this year). One does have to wonder, though, why the more established distribution products don’t do more of what these companies do!
The second most common category, with seven new exhibitors, is solutions focused on human resource challenges. In the footsteps of the “great resignation” and all the press coverage it has received, this is a predictable market response. Many of these solutions are being adapted from other industries, while a few focus on more hospitality-specific opportunities in recruitment, evaluation, onboarding, gig work, payroll (including things like instant pay), and workforce management. Companies to look at in this segment include Applause, CertiPay, Hireology, Jolt, Legion Technologies, Qwick, and Sprockets.
The third category, with five new exhibitors, was payments. Three of these (Gratuii; hifive, which appears to be the company name under which TipX is being exhibited; and TipQwik) deal with cashless tipping, which also had a few new entrants last year that seem to be growing (tipping arguably overlaps into the human resource category as well, since it impacts the compensation of front-line staff). One (CheckPlease) is a payment app for restaurants, and one (Adyen) is a major payments provider that has been around for a while in Europe and Asia but is exhibiting at HITEC for the first time.
The ancillary point-of-sale (POS) product category also has five first-time exhibitors. These are solutions that enhance but do not replace POS systems, often by adding mobile or kiosk support for key staff or guest functions. This includes American Kiosks, Beachy, CardFree, My Menu, and POS Upgrades.
Five different categories each have four new exhibitors this year. These include:
- Chatbots, voice/text platforms, and similar products designed to automate routine guest-to-staff communications (includes Aiello, Bella-the Virtual Hotel Agent, Interactions, and Quicktext)
- Guest Room technology, including three involved with video entertainment (ATX, TELEV8, and TELEVES) and one on in-room portable cable gym (MAXPRO)
- Cyber and physical security products (Fortinet, GoldSky Cyber Security, Guest Ban, and Sharpvue)
- Voice and data telecommunications (Redwood Systems Group; Think Technologies Group, Velocity; and VSR, which at this writing had no working website at the link listed on the HITEC website)
- IT Services, such as systems integration and managed cloud services (Aquiva Labs, ConsorcioTec, Intras Cloud Services, and North Country Business Products)
Four categories feature three new exhibitors:
- Core operations, such as property management systems (HotelConnect, ResNexus, and Solonis)
- Analytics, including revenue management and business intelligence (Centriqe, EveryMundo, and PredictHQ)
- Public entertainment and digital displays (Magazine Jukebox, RX Music, and True Omni)
- Consulting, including marketing agencies (Cogwheel Analytics, Corporate Tax Advisors, and Win Win Advisors)
Nine categories have two new exhibitors:
- Customer data/CRM platforms (Salesforce and SkyPoint)
- Mobile apps, which has shrunk from having been one of the biggest categories in past years (Duve and MyCONECT)
- Meetings technology (Advance Pro Tech and AVaStar)
- Marketing solutions (97Switch and GCommerce Solutions)
- Ancillary back-office systems (Avalara tax compliance software and Visual Lease lease optimization software)
- Engineering systems (Smart Rain irrigation control and Snapfix maintenance management)
- Parking systems (CorePark and Towne Park)
- Location aware software (Edison Interactive and LifeTagger).
- Hardware (Doubleradius and QNAP)
The remaining categories had just one new exhibitor each:
- Operations platform (WrkSpot)
- Point-of-sale system (GoTab)
- Robotic process automation ( Robosize ME)
- Content management (Hoteligy)
- Integration (hconnect)
- Captive portal (Select Networx)
- IoT/room control (Operto Guest Technologies)
- Contact center services (Tyme Global)
- Standards efforts (Telecom Infra Project)
- Pest management (Spotta)
- Coat check, luggage, and valet (Chexology)
- Scooter and e-bike rentals (Leaf Rides)
- Digital laundry management (Laundris)
- Spa & wellness (Milano Software)
To be sure, there is a lot of new stuff to see this year! While most attendees will concentrate their show-floor time on a few categories of technology where they have current purchasing interest, be sure to visit some of the new companies in other categories that are on your radar for the future.
As I did my research, a few companies caught my attention and interest more than others. And while this can as easily mean they have better marketing as opposed to great products (I won’t know until I see them!), they will be on my “must see” list this year. They include Duve (formerly known as Wishbox), Edison Interactive, Jolt, PredictHQ, SkyPoint, Spotta, Sprockets, and WrkSpot. But I hope to be surprised by a few others. If you see someone at HITEC who you think should be on my radar, please reach out and let me know!