Tech execs talk the future and disruptors at HITEC 2015

AUSTIN, Texas — Where will guestroom TVs be in five years, and what form will they take? This topic kicked off a panel on "International Technology" on the first day of HITEC, the hospitality industry's technology convention taking place in Austin, Texas.

Mark Campbell, CIO of the Dorchester Collection, argues that if you plan to have a TV in your home in five years you can bet there will be one in your hotel guestroom. "Guests want to stream content, but they also want a screen they can share with their partner, or a screen they don't have to hold," Campbell said. "We want to give guests choices, and we also follow trends in residential."

Hilton Worldwide's VP of IT infrastructure operations, Michael Leidinger, said that the guestroom TV is becoming more of a monitor, a blank slate for guests to project their own content. Rather than see the TV as a content provider, Leidinger said guests want strong bandwidth to afford them the opportunity to use the TV as they please.

"I don't know if there are a lot of things [hotels] can do to get guests to turn that TV on," Leidinger said. "The situation now calls for solutions to enable guests to connect their devices to the TV and get the content they want."

With such a focus on streaming data—most often video—the topic turned to net neutrality and its affect on the industry. The next major market investigating net neutrality's place in the law is India, where Raman Rama, VP and chief technology officer/CIO for JHM Hotels, said the government is likely the adopt the same policies as the U.S.

"Guests already viewed the Internet as a utility before net neutrality was passed," Leidinger said. "They aren't willing to pay more for hotter water or brighter lights. The Internet is no different."

Everyone also agreed that the race for more bandwidth is one that is impossible to win. "The more bandwidth we provide, the more it is consumed. You can't have enough," said Tony Lee, VP of business process/information systems with The Ascott Limited.

Moderator Frank Wolfe, CEO of HFTP, also brought up TripAdvisor and its effect on the industry. From a technology standpoint, though slow Wi-Fi often tops guest complaints on online ratings sites Mark Bookalil, VP, Asia Pacific with Marriott International said that investing in technology is difficult for hotels because technology often doesn't directly generate revenue. "The main focus points on TripAdvisor are the Internet and food quality, but upgrading your Internet isn't as big a draw as re-doing your lobby," Bookalil said.

"It's my role, not my supplier's role, to deliver quality Internet access to guests," Campbell said.

In regard to the greatest technology disruptors taking place in the industry right now, both Bookalil and Lee mentioned the implementation of robotics to perform back-of-house duties for hotels, which has already begun to take place. Lee specifically cited hospitals in Singapore that are using robots to deliver food to patients.

"Furthermore, in the future jobs such as the front desk will no longer be specific to the individual thanks to devices," Bookalili said. "Property management systems are going to become mobile, and tasks throughout a property will be managed by whoever is most available."

Rama said that Airbnb is the greatest disruptor to hotels right now, but he also talked about ways to fight back. "Right now we are attacking Airbnb through the law, requiring them to pay taxes and comply with life safety protocols found in the Americans with Disabilities Act, just like any other hotel," Rama said.

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