My First HITEC
The 2019 European Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC® Europe for short) took place in Palma on the sunny island of Mallorca last month. I was attending for the first time and what a great event. I’ve already set the dates for 2020 conference in my calendar. It’s the 21-23 April, in case you are wondering.
Although the conference & exhibition was across two days, there was also a day of pre-conference activities. With nearly 60 exhibitors, 12 educational sessions along with numerous other general sessions there was plenty of opportunity for networking as well as learning about new products & services. It was a great venue, in a great location and fabulous food on offer during the breakout sessions. Here is what stood out for me.
Entrepreneur 20X (E20X) Competition
This is a competition that was part of the pre-conference events where 8 tech innovators pitch their start-up ideas to a panel of judges as well as in front of conference attendees. As working with start-ups and/or businesses in early years of growth is of particular interest to me, this was a not to be missed event.
The start-ups were offering new technology for a host of services directly or indirectly linked to hospitality. It was great to see how many innovative ideas were being presented. It included an upselling feature, website chat management, travel planner, mobile guest experience platform and more. Some of them like Hotelway, which ended up as the Judge’s choice winner only started with their new platform at the start of 2019, others have been in business a little longer.
As is often the way with start-ups and presentations like this, some presenters were better prepared than others. Some didn’t appear to have got beyond the initial idea and had no business plan yet while others were lacking in detail around revenues per customer which did not impress the judges. Despite this, I really enjoyed the presentations, it is not an easy thing to stand up in front the judges and a large audience of hospitality professionals and deliver your message in 4 minutes. If you are interested in more details about the competitors, have a look here.
During the conference, it was great to have the opportunity to speak to the individual representatives of each start-up as they were all provided with a booths. They are full of passion and energy for their product and it will be interesting to follow their progress in developing their business post-conference. The 2018 winner, KITRO, has told how valuable the exposure at last year’s conference was to their business.
If there was one thing I would have liked to add to this event, it would be a short presentation about the previous year’s winner. I only know it is Kitro because I Googled it. A short video clip ahead of the presentation of the 2019 competitors would have been enough if those founders were not able to attend in person.
There was a variety of education sessions on a wide range of subjects. It included topics like data analytics to understand guest loyalty, data security, GDPR, dynamic pricing and much more. I think it was a testament to the excellent selection of topics (& the panellists involved) that I struggled to choose and was sorry that I couldn’t attend more sessions due to scheduling conflict.
A light hearted topic but with serious undertones was Five Fabulous Foul-Ups – What have we learned. It takes guts to admit in front of your peers the foul-ups you’ve been part of, even if the decisions that resulted in the foul-up were not made by you personally. While I admire the panellists for taking part and they did highlight some incredible foul-ups, I felt the session lacked something more. Perhaps it was due to the nature of the topic and people’s reluctance to accidentally identify which organisation the foul-ups related to, they were somewhat reticent in saying too much. Therefore the interaction between panellists and the audience was less engaging than in other sessions. I think the topic still has value as part of future conferences, just needs to have a different format that encourages a more interactive discussion. Perhaps anonymous submissions of cases with a single facilitator to drive the discussion?
I also attended a session on GDPR: Do You Really Think You Are Done? It is almost a year since the GDPR legislation came into effect. I wish it had been better attended, I feel conference attendees missed out on an important session. Perhaps it was due to GDPR fatigue after an intense implementation period. However, GDPR is not a one-off tick box exercise, it’s a bit like health & safety, an on-going, constant process, My biggest take-away from it was the how efficient and effective policies around employee data retention can assist business save valuable time when dealing with employee GDPR related requests. It is not as simple as handing over their employee file, often an employee is referenced in documentation & reports that concerns other employees too and that data needs to be redacted before sharing. One of the panellists gave an example of a simple request from a single employee tied him and HR up for weeks, trawling through historic e-mails, reports and other documentation in order to prepare a file for the employee’s.
Key Note Speaker – Rohit Talwar
Wow, what an incredible speaker, spoke for almost an hour without notes or teleprompter on the topic of Destination Unknowable – The Next Five Years of Business Disruption and Technology Disruptions. He covered a wide range of areas within this broad field, from how to harness AI to enable us to do more, not less and how now is time for extraordinary leadership. As well as the need to for us to continuously develop skills that help us stay human. To quote him, those skills will “build mindsets and capability to imagine and experiment our way to the future.” Those include self-awareness, emotional & cultural sensitivity and tolerance of uncertainty to name but a few. This is where we have an advantage over IA – well at least for now.
With almost 60 exhibitors offering a variety of services, there was plenty to explore and hear what is new in the market. While I’m not in hotel operations these days, it was an opportunity to make new connections and catchup with ones I’ve previously done business with. I used the conference app to reach out to a few new contacts, it was a brilliant way to approach someone new in a crowd of hundreds!
Overall, I really enjoyed the conference, it was an excellent opportunity to learn about new products & services coming to market, innovation to existing services and for me most of all, a great opportunity to network. Oh and I have told you about the fabulous food? The Melia team in charge of the venue catering excelled, never have I seen such abundance of food & of such quality at an event of this scale. And as it was all in a tapas style, it was easy to network & mingle as one enjoyed it.