HITEC Toronto: Our Story Thus Far

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Written By: Ron Hardin

The curtain descends on the second day of HITEC Toronto (#HITECtor), and it has been a busy couple of days. This is my first visit to Toronto, and I hope I get to come back to Canada someday when I have more free time. With the exception of a few showers, we have been blessed with lovely weather. For those of us who have attended this mid-summer event in more southern climes in recent years, the moderate temperatures have literally been a refreshing change.

Toronto has a great vibe, a nice transit system, good food and fun see-through plastic money. I got in town on Sunday, and the only glitch was technology (of course) – the customs kiosks at the airport still have bugs, resulting in really long backups to get through customs in spite of the efforts of a squadron of technicians on hand to assist. That was more than made up for by the wonderful ride in from the airport on the UP Express train – comfortable, clean, luggage space, free Wi-Fi, 20 minutes and $9.00 CAD. Given road construction and Toronto traffic, I highly recommend the UP Express train for returning to the airport. The station is connected to the convention center.

HITEC Toronto is being held in the newer South Building of the Metro Toronto Convention Center. I was tempted to say that it still has that new convention center smell, but it would be more accurate to say that it does not have that old convention center smell. It looks like a great facility, and I can personally attest that Frank Wolfe, HFTP CEO and godfather of HITEC, does not look as harried and stressed this year. Frank might just be putting up a good front, but things have gone very smoothly so far, from this attendee’s perspective.

Monday is the “settle in” day for attendees (or “set up” day for exhibitors, which is nowhere near as fun). Kudos to HFTP for eliminating the traditional clear plastic badge holders. As HITEC becomes more international, the traditional selection of badge ribbons – “HFTP Member,” “Speaker,” “Sponsor,” etc. – has been augmented by home country ribbons. It makes an interesting exercise to see where everyone is from as you meet-and-greet. There is also an increasing, and refreshingly irreverent, trend for some people to augment the standard ribbons with some creative alternatives. My favorite was a very official-looking ribbon that just said “Trouble Maker.” I am thinking of ordering some for next year to hand out to deserving recipients – they would say “Out-Of-Work CIO” – but I do not know if I can afford to get them in the quantity that would be required.

Monday kicked off for me with a morning “Super Session” (a 90-minute education session) on Guest-Facing Technology. Much of the discussion revolved around voice command and AI (think: Alexa). I think this functionality will become more commonplace, but it needs a lot of work before it delivers on the promise. The panelists concurred that “guest-serving” was more important than “guest-facing,” and recommended being pretty rigorous in assessing the value proposition of new technology. They also agreed that lots of bandwidth, and a big television with lots of content options, are still the must-haves. The panel included: Monika Nerger, CIO at Mandarin Oriental (and one of this year’s inductees into the International Hospitality Technology Hall of Fame); Nick Price, CIO at citizenM (and a previous Hall of Fame inductee); Richard Bron, CEO at Blueprint Digital; and Ryan Gardner, senior product manager at Honeywell. Excellent session.

I also caught the session “Is IoT Relevant to the Hospitality Industry?” that was moderated by Neil Foster, CHTP, MBA, director of IT at Wall Centre Hotels. The panelists included: Dan Phillips, owner at Dare2Imagine; and Barclay Brown, global solutions executive at IBM. Phillips provided background on what IoT, or Internet of Things, actually is, and the implications it has for hotels. Barclay provided some amazing insight on how verbal AI products, like Watson, actually work, and what some of the challenges are that must be addressed for AI products and services to work well for hotels. Another great session.

E20X Toronto Judge’s Winner: Stay Wanderful.

Monday afternoon was anchored by the exciting Entrepreneur 20X (E20X) pitch sessions. The selected thirteen start-ups had four minutes to pitch their product to the judges for bragging rights, and a $5,000.00 USD grand prize (the E20X Judge’s Award). There is real innovation out there, even for something as mundane as making your airport shuttle service more efficient and guest-friendly, or sourcing better-quality temp banquet labor at a lower cost. If you did not make the pitch sessions make a point to visit the E20X Pavilion in the exhibit hall and speak to some of these aspiring innovators.

Monday night kicks off the social calendar, and kudos to HFTP for the quality of the Opening Party this year at the Toronto Events Center Paris Beach nightclub (formerly Muzik Event Centre). Great venue, good food, good beverage service, not too loud, not too dark, not too hot. I had the exceptional good fortune to follow that up with an over-the-top dinner at 360 in the CN Tower. You have to love a sunset over Lake Erie from 1,100 feet above. I had to bail on the late parties – the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

HITEC Toronto Opening Party: A Night in Toronto.

Tuesday morning started with coffee and muffin at the much-appreciated HFTP Member Lounge on the education level (700 level). HFTP membership has its benefits. The Tuesday keynote session is always a must see as it includes the announcement of the CHTP of the Year, and the 2017 inductees to the International Hospitality Technology Hall of Fame: Monika Nerger and Greg Dawes. The Tuesday keynote address was on “The Blockchain Revolution,” and the coming of free and frictionless electronic transactions (think Bitcoin) that do not require a middleman or processor. I may have to read keynote speaker Alex Tapscott’s book.

Tuesday keynote featuring Alex Tapscott, CEO, Author, Speaker, Investor.

Out of the keynote session, I grabbed coffee and hit the exhibit hall floor. This is when time compresses. A couple of appointments, a couple of drop-bys, a quick lunch and boom – it is 4:00 p.m. EST, and time to prepare for upcoming evening events. I hit a trio of great vendor parties (early ones, thankfully!), skipped the heavy dinner and was back in my cozy hotel room at a reasonable hour. Enjoy the rest of the show!

Ron Hardin is principal at RonHardin.TECH Consulting, and an official HITEC Toronto Guest Blogger for HFTP Connect. Contact him at ron@ronhardin.tech.

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