Review of HITEC Amsterdam


"If you put wolves in Yellowstone, the rivers will change their course." Huh? That was more or less the theme in HITEC Amsterdam this year. It means, that when you - or some other party - do something, it leads to another thing and the outcome can be totally unexpected and usually something you, nor anybody else can predict. That is the world the hospitality lives in right now. Long term planning is dead as we used to know it, now things you plan for, can become totally obsolete in only few years.

The second annual HITEC in Europe was twice the size comparing to the last year. There were more speakers and twice as many booths, but the attendees were about the same. What was new, was the startup competition E20X. On the first evening dozen promising hospitality startups pitched about the fame and some fortune. Apparently, they all were winners, because the conference room we were in, was almost full of people. That tells, that even though the hospitality industry has been accused of being slow to change, there definitely is some interest in the new, modern ways. Kitro was the official winner with their concept to simplify the food waste management. I personally preferred Hotelflex, which had a plan to utilize the empty rooms during the day between the guests, and arrivedo who creates neighbourhood guides with the help of 1.000 bloggers. Maybe we will pitch about our universal hotel app Hotelway in Dubai in December. It is all depending on the setup HFTP will plan to be there.

HITEC offered also many great keynote sessions. I personally attended in 3. Nancy Rademaker had the opening session and it truly was inspiring. Over the years I have heard so many speeches about how important it is to be ready for the change, but somehow this was different. Nancy was spot on with so many her thoughts and they were not just empty buzzwords. She talked about the essence of the modern consumers. They want to be part of the tribe and something bigger, but still they are self-centered. What the guests of today want are: 1. Know me 2. Have a conversation with me and 3. Make it matter. When the OTA-channels have taken the ownership of the guests (information), the hotels do not know their customers anymore, neither do they communicate with them in a meaningful way, so that it helps the guest to have a better experience. And everything should be effortless. The hotels have become places to spend a night, rather than to offer something that you would remember later. At that point I almost wanted to stand up and shout "All hotels should join Hotelway and this problem is solved!". I managed to stay still.

The second session I attended, was a case about how to change a 50 year old company (Transavia Airline) into a startup-like agile team by Daan Noordeloos. It was a bit more traditional approach, but nevertheless showed the importance of being alert for the change. Their process started 2 years ago and is still ongoing, changing slightly as it moves forward. There was one sentence that struck and stuck. Somebody asked a question about the surveys they had made and Daan said: "I am not interested in facts." That raised some eyebrows and he continued: "I want to know the perception of the customer"..that will eventually turn into a fact in the customers' minds in few weeks. And that right there was the core of the speech. Moments matter. There are certain peak moments during the customer's journey, that will turn into long lasting memories. And parties in the hospitality industry need to make sure there are seamless flow of routines and enough of positive peak moments, which will turn service into an experience.

The final keynote session, which ended the whole event, was delivered by Frits Van Paasschen, the former CEO of Starwood. He told us how to improve your odds of success in the times of change. He is fascinated by the technology and what it can do for us. There are trends, which can be seen, like the computers becoming more and more powerful. But then there are something no-one can predict (so called Black Swans), that can have enormous effects. One of the examples was "a couch surfing company nobody paid attention to", which turned into AirBnB and became bigger than Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt combined. Also his advise, was to be open-minded and learn from the small ones. When he was the CEO of Starwood, he even created a startup unit within the 'dinosaurus' to come up with new ideas. Experiment, do mistakes, fail and learn. That's what (we) startups do, and that is what the hotels should do as well. There most certainly are new things and skills the hospitality industry needs to learn (from the younger minds). But they need to be combined with the old school skills, like people to people interaction, something the hospitality industry is all about.

The exhibition hall itself, was more or less what is used to be seen in tradeshows: familiar faces, hospitable people, advanced ideas and the 360 coverage of different technologies to improve the performance of the hotels. I guess this spring is just a bit challenging to improve the customer experience. I had quite a few discussions with different people, and the upcoming GDPR seemed to cause stress to all IT people of the hotels. (GDPR was also the main topic of the Friday morning keynote sessions.) "We had good talks", was the comment from many exhibitors, however. So, the future looks bright. There is light after May 25th (the deadline for the GDPR).

From the 7 years of experience, to me, this was the most startup friendly event in the hospitality industry so far. I personally had some good conversations with the organizers of the event and we tossed back and forth some ideas about how to improve it further. Like it was said in a keynote I stepped in: It is no longer about big fish eating the small fish, it is about the fast fish eating the slow. The hospitality industry is on the verge of facing the biggest change ever. Let's see who will be the fearless, experimental, fast and successful.

And, about them wolves. They had disappeared years ago from Yellowstone, and they were decided to be 'planted' back. What happened was, that the deer and elk population started to decrease, and it made the plants and trees to grow and eventually there became bigger beaver population. Beavers again, built dams and finally the rivers changed their courses. Frits told us this too. So be ready for the events and outcomes you can't be ready for.

By: Hannu Vahokoski