Written by: Inga Hjartardottir
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 I must say — what a great event. I have already set the dates for the HITEC Europe 2020 conference in my calendar (it is 21–23 April, in case you are wondering).
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Although the event took place across two days, there was also a day of pre-conference activities. With nearly 60 exhibitors and 12 educational sessions, along with numerous other general sessions, there was plenty of opportunity for networking, and for learning about new products and services. It was a great venue in a great location with fabulous food offered during the breaks between sessions. Here is what really stood out for me.
Entrepreneur 20X (E20X) Competition
This is a competition that was part of the pre-conference events, where eight hospitality technology innovators pitch their start-up ideas to a panel of judges in front of a roomful of conference attendees. As working with start-ups and businesses in their 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 that were 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 winning the E20X Judge’s Choice Award, only started with their new platform at the start of 2019 — while others have been in business a little longer.
Read this interview with Hotelway’s CEO Hannu Vahokoski to learn more about their company and their experience participating in E20X Europe.
As is often the way with start-ups and presentations like this, some presenters were more prepared than others. Some did not appear to have gotten beyond the initial idea and had no business plan yet in place, while others lacked in detail around revenues per customer — which did not impress the judges. Despite this, I really enjoyed all of the presentations. It is not an easy thing to stand up in front of judges and a large audience of hospitality professionals and deliver your message in four minutes. If you are interested in more detail about the competitors, take a look here.
It was great to have the opportunity during the conference to speak to the individual representatives of each start-up, as each were provided with their own booth in the E20X Innovation Lab in the exhibit hall. They are full of passion and energy for their product. It will be interesting to follow their progress in developing their businesses post-conference. The 2018 E20X Europe Judge’s Award-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 the E20X competition, 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 start-ups were not able to attend in person.
There was a variety of education sessions on a wide range of subjects that included topics like data analytics to understand guest loyalty, data security, GDPR, dynamic pricing and much more. It was a testament to the excellent selection of topics (and to the speakers involved) that I struggled to choose which to attend and was sorry that I could not go to more sessions due to scheduling conflicts.
One lighthearted topic 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 have been part of, even if the decisions that resulted in the foul-up were not made by you personally. While I admire the panelists for taking part and highlighting 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, it seemed they were somewhat reticent to say too much. Therefore the interaction between panelists and the audience was less engaging than in other sessions. I think the topic still has value as part of a future conference, it just needs to be presented in a different format to encourage better, more interactive discussion. Perhaps anonymous submissions of cases with a single facilitator to drive the discussion?
I also attended the session GDPR: Do You Really Think You Are Done?. It is almost a year since the EU’s GDPR legislation came into effect. I wish it had been better attended because 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 is a bit like health and safety — an ongoing, constant process. My biggest takeaway from it was how the efficient and effective policies around employee data retention can assist business in saving 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 and reports that concern other employees, too, and that data needs to be redacted before sharing. One of the panelists gave an example of a simple request from a single employee that tied up both him and their human resources department for weeks — trawling through historic e-mails, reports and other documentation in order to prepare a file for the employee.
Keynote Speaker Rohit Talwar
Wow, what an incredible speaker. He 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 the time for extraordinary leadership — as well as the need 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 and cultural sensitivity and tolerance of uncertainty to name but a few. This is where we have an advantage over AI — at least for now.
With almost 60 exhibitors offering a variety of hospitality products and services, there was plenty to explore and hear about what is new in the market. While I am not in hotel operations these days, it was an opportunity to make new connections and catch up with ones I have previously done business with. I used the HITEC mobile 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 and services coming to market, innovation to existing services and for me most of all, a great opportunity to network. And, have I told you about the fabulous food? The Melia team in charge of the venue catering excelled. Never have I seen such abundance and quality of food at an event of this scale. And, as it was all in tapas style, it was easy to network and mingle as one enjoyed it.
About the Author: Inga Hjartardottir is director at Hart Bridge Consulting and a first-time HITEC attendee at HITEC Europe 2019 (#HITECeur), which took place 9–11 April 2019 at the Palau de Congressos in Palma, Mallorca, Spain.