As the producers of the world’s largest, oldest hospitality technology conference (#HITEC), HFTP is privileged to have someone as versed in hospitality technology as its newest leader, Neil Foster, CHTP, MBA. Foster has made a multitude of strategic moves throughout his quarter-century career that have given him the perspective to see the hospitality industry from all different angles. He understands the ways in which technology supports all areas of the business including finance and operations, the value of gaining international experiences in an industry that touches the entire world, and how to navigate the industry as both a vendor and hotelier. This holistic worldview is indispensable to an association that serves members in both finance and technology from all around the world who work for hospitality businesses and solution providers alike.
In this first “Letter from the HFTP Global President,” get to know Foster on a more personal level, and how his professional experiences shape the way he sees the hospitality industry and how to lead in it.
On finding his way into hospitality technology and the journey upwards
I first entered the hospitality industry “by accident,” finding jobs as a dishwasher and bussing tables. From these early experiences I came to understand the struggles many workers in our industry endure and resolved to find ways to improve the quality of the working environment at the front lines. It has been just over 25 years since my first role in hospitality technology as an electronic data processing (EDP) manager with a 300-room Westin property in Southwestern Ontario in Canada. This was an early IT management role, and things were very different back then in this profession. Technology and finance, at the time, were very closely aligned through EDP, and the technology was very basic without widespread Internet access. How things have changed – and it’s encouraging now to see how technology serves the entire organization as a tool to solve business problems.
The first few years of my career were enlightened with Starwood Hotels in an unexpected way, just as the relatively unknown Starwood Capital was acquiring the Westin and Sheraton brands. To say I was lucky to witness some of the most groundbreaking innovations and developments in the guest experience and the hotel product would be an understatement. There would be tons to learn and good vibes aplenty as we built something new together under open-minded and unconventional hospitality leadership at the top level. Along the way (like many readers) I was blessed to have amazing mentors. To name a few: Carl Johnston, John Jarvis, Kosta Tomazos, Keval Khanna and Gordon Carncross, who all believed in me, sharing increasing responsibility heading into leadership of four significant hotels in Toronto and the surrounding area.
On gaining a global perspective
After a return to school, I was fortunate to find perspective overseas where I worked with one of the major hospitality technology providers, now known as Oracle Hospitality, landing assignments in far-flung places as Bangladesh, the Philippines and Singapore. A stint with Carlson Wagonlit Travel was another eye-opening, vendor-partner experience on travel management and global distribution systems (GDS). In both cases, gaining a new perspective on the hotel and hospitality business from the “outside” was a valuable exercise in understanding.
More recently, my family and I had the unique opportunity to live on one of the most remote islands in the world, Saint Helena Island, as I was recruited to help develop a modest tourism industry connected to the potential of a new airport. During our time there, technology was appreciated through its relative absence, and the experience of hospitality was baked into everyday life in a small and tight-knit community we were lucky to be part of. During the COVID years, the Island was exceptionally isolated with a single flight to a single destination every six weeks.
Currently I am serving as director, technology with Coast Hotels, helping to prepare for a growth phase, and fortunate to lead a dedicated and talented technology team here.
What he enjoys most about working in hospitality technology
I’ve been lucky to have fallen into an industry I love. If hospitality is about the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors and strangers, this is where I belong. As I see it, technology is the enabling force of business operations. The process of matching business process improvements to suitable technology, identifying valuable new guest services, and generating new revenue streams with the help of technology are all areas of interest to me.
On his first introduction to HFTP
My late boss, Carl Johnston, introduced me to HFTP in the late 1990s, as I remember asking about the printed member directory on his desk. My first HFTP experience was as his guest at a meeting in Toronto, where I immediately felt comfortable and in good company with a cross-section of the who’s-who of hospitality finance leaders from around the city. My first HITEC in ’99 (Atlanta) was, as a young professional, a magical experience, and I recall our company technology meeting co-located with HITEC. My interest with HFTP evolved to certification, where I would pursue the CHTP designation in ’01, writing the test by hand. It took three months to get the results! While in Singapore, and on the basis of my CHTP designation, I would be invited by James Lee to help lead the HFTP Asia Chapter as a director on the local board. The feeling of “family” in this remote branch of HFTP would leave a lasting impact on me and drive my interest in helping to expand global reach further in the future.
Several years ago, under [HFTP Past President] Tim Nauss’ guidance, I was fortunate to be part of a council tasked to explore the next stage of international growth, and it is greatly rewarding to witness the international development and scope of chapters, USALI and HITEC (including Toronto!).
Overall, in my own experience, I have come to understand the essence of HFTP exists in our people, and in the spirit of hospitality. Thank you to all the volunteers who serve, or have served, in the chapters, councils, the board, and the executive council. Volunteers are the essence of our association, and I am grateful to each one of you for your service. For those considering involvement, there are so many ways to contribute – please join us!
As stellar examples of engagement: my congratulations to Chris Contos, recent recipient of the HFTP President’s Award, and [HFTP Past President] Daniel Conti, Jr., CHAE+, this year’s recipient of the prestigious HFTP Paragon Award, for having reached the pinnacle of contribution to the association and industry.
In closing, I am grateful to [HFTP Immediate Past] President Mark Pate, Sr., CHAE, CHTP, MBA and Past President Michael Levie, CHTP, fellow Executive Committee and Global Board members, and to Frank Wolfe (HFTP CEO) and the team at HFTP for helping us get through these last few exceptionally challenging years, and for your leadership and guidance. It is an honor to follow in solid footsteps, as I prepare to serve the association as incoming president. I am grateful for all the support, and I look forward to working together towards a strong year ahead!
A Return to Toronto Takes Place in 2023
More than 20 years later, Foster and HFTP will return to Toronto with HITEC North America 2023 – the place to be for all those who love hospitality technology, and who want to experience the inventive ways technology transforms how those in the business of hospitality welcome and serve their guests and customers. HITEC Toronto takes place June 26-29, 2023, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto, Ontario Canada. In its 51st year, HITEC continues to bring the brightest minds and hottest technologies from across the globe to one place. Learn more at www.hitec.org and start making your plans to attend next year.
Continue to Hear from Foster During His Term
Foster will continue to share his valuable insights and experiences with HFTP members and stakeholders throughout his time as president of the HFTP Global Board in the bi-monthly “Letter from the HFTP Global President” series published here on HFTP Connect. Check back in January, when he goes in-depth into his goals and plans for the association in 2023.