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Tech Talks: Three Take-Aways from the HITEC Conference

A recent travel technology conference - the 50th annual Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference, or HITEC – has provided a number of important insights for anyone looking to stay on top of their tech-related game. With roughly 350 exhibitors and seemingly countless panel discussions, the event provides a sneak peek into the universe of potentially underappreciated issues. Perhaps, none of these are entirely original, yet they deserve a second look as they are of interest to some of the biggest players in the field.

Labor is in trouble

According to Labor Department statistics, the number of line-level employees in the hotel sector has decreased by just 315,000 since before the pandemic. That's a significant decline, but perhaps not enough to account for all the hoteliers' panicked calls. Instead, Mike Blake, the American Hotel and Lodging Association's chief technology officer, says we should consider a much more relevant figure of 1.7 million.

This is the number of positions currently available in the hospitality sector. Given that the lodging industry only employed 1.7 million production and non-supervisory workers in February 2020, this figure is astounding. However, it is supported by the government's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Series, or JOLTS, which indicates that there are 1.34 million openings at the moment.

Various businesses at the event promote the concept of fighting labor scarcity. At least two exhibitors provide panic-button-equipped keycards or key fobs, which they claim will make harried housekeepers feel safer. According to Aldo Fratta, vice president for hospitality at Philadelphia-based Roar for Good, which sells a wearable panic button device, "if one hotel has it and the other doesn't, [the housekeepers] may go there." He said that 58% of housekeepers report experiencing sexual harassment at work. Prior to Covid, there were panic buttons but an added value of employee retention is now a new perk.

Last-minute bookings still on the rise

The worldwide distribution company Amadeus, which has expanded into other data services for travel businesses, outlined a pattern that helps illustrate why the sector is still concerned about the sustainability of this year's recovery. It turns out that individual customers are still making abnormally late reservations. Because of this, there is a risk that they will slow down if the economy weakens, or inflation continues to rise.

According to Katie Moro, vice president of hospitality data partnerships at Madrid-based Amadeus, the percentage of consumers and non-group business travelers who book trips seven days or less in advance is still close to 60% week after week. That's down from the pandemic peak levels of nearly 70% but is still far higher than the more familiar 50%.

Contactless tech is the king

According to the mainstream media, consumers are largely over their fear of COVID, eager to travel, and prepared to incur a small chance of infection. Hotel occupancy in the United States is currently roughly just three percentage points below pre-pandemic levels, which illustrates how strongly the sector has rebounded. However, HITEC's suppliers and consultants are offering a different perspective. Experts' emphasis on kiosks, which are also a significant component of a recent government tourist strategy announced by the U.S. Commerce Department, is one cause for caution.

According to Ted Horner, head of the Australian tech consulting company E. Horner & Associates, people want to be engaged with the outside world while still feeling a little removed. He notes that the predicted growth of kiosk technology is due to individuals not wanting to wait in line with other people.

According to Oracle, the market leader in property management software, consumers place a higher premium on contactless tech than practically anything else, even fashionable cybercurrencies and virtual reality. They even performed better than cloud computing, one of Oracle's primary focuses, when it came to hotel executives.

Of course, a large portion of this is people promoting their products. After all, that is the primary purpose of HITEC. But everything — the consumer reluctance to book trips in advance, the labor concerns, and the rise of contactless technology — demonstrates how still traumatized the hotel industry is as a result of the Covid outbreak.

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