Members of Hotel Technology Next Generation take time out during the recent North America conference to discuss technology challenges facing the industry today and over the next few years.
In life, there are people who talk the talk, and there are people who walk the walk.
Heading into my sixth year writing hotel news, I’ve met and interviewed plenty of the former. Brand executives who know exactly what the consumer wants, owners who can turn around profits in a heartbeat, developers with grandiose expansion plans, lenders who are ready to get you the best terms and vendors who can provide returns beyond belief.
Last week at the Westin in Buckhead just outside Atlanta, I met the latter. A group of hoteliers who don’t talk a big game. Most of them were camera shy, a handful declined interviews and those who did speak with me were soft spoken.
But what they lacked in swagger they made up for with intelligence. They certainly aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and when they solve some of the industry’s biggest problems, they pass the recognition on to someone else.
Hotel Technology Next Generation was started in 2002 by Doug Rice, Nick Price and Max Smith, with the goal of facilitating hotel innovations that would revolutionize the way hotel technology is connected. They wanted to better serve the customer by having all the information they needed at their fingertips.
In that first year, the association facilitated one “workgroup,” which is HTNG’s term for small task forces made up of suppliers and hoteliers from across the globe that meet regularly to identify and solve the industry’s toughest challenges.
This year, HTNG announced at their annual North America conference that they will facilitate 10 workgroups focused on anything from gathering payment data securely from the Internet to specifications that allow hoteliers to automatically learn about guest preferences to standards that ensure guests have optimal cellular coverage.
These challenges may not be new or groundbreaking to you and me, but without HTNG they simply would not be solved. And members do it on a volunteer basis, without pay.
“We could motorize a toilet paper dispenser so you could control it from your smartphone if we wanted to,” said Garrett Mathieu, VP of development and technical services for Senate Hospitality Group, a member of HTNG who leads one of the current workgroups. “But we’ve got to focus on the right efforts.”
Instead of toilet paper automation, HTNG—now championed by Rice out of a small office in Schaumburg, Illinois—hopes to have solved one of the biggest industry challenges in history: eliminating hotelier liability if a hacker were to gain access to guest credit-card information.
“The secure payments framework is one of the biggest impacts we’ve worked on in our entire life as an organization,” Rice said last week. “It has the promise to help hoteliers get out of the scope of (payment card industry) system requirements. We have succeeded.”
Up next, HTNG will tackle standards for the following challenges: intelligent guestrooms, point-of-sale end-of-day and offline functionality, rewrite older distribution specifications and standardize the collection and storage of customer profiles, among others.
Another massive challenge for 2013 will be supporting the development of unique global identifiers, or standardized codes for each property across the globe so suppliers, third-party room distributors and other ancillary technologies can better identify individual hotels.
Yet another workgroup is focused on in-room technology and specifically facilitating guests who want to wirelessly connect their own devices to the guestroom TV set.
“We want to give guests better or at least as good experiences than at home,” said Dick Wagner, director of emerging technologies for Marriott International, who is a member of that particular workgroup. “What happens if I mirror my iPad screen to the TV in the next room instead of mine? Or change the temperature of the room a floor above me? We’re trying to figure out what would be the problems using those technologies in the guestroom.”
All of these technologies are critical to serving the next generation of guests. While some hoteliers may sit back and complain about losing control of the guest, members of HTNG will quietly be rolling up their sleeves to ensure that doesn’t happen.
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