Back to the Future of Hospitality

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There was fresh vision and an edgy look to HX, Hospitality Media Group’s annual show in New York City, says Bonnie Cavanaugh

The future of technology in the hospitality industry highlighted the 100th anniversary of Hospitality Media Group’s annual conference, held 8-10 November at New York’s Jacob Javits Center. But the real show was the show itself, which underwent a total revamp to appeal to a broader, more high-tech generation of hospitality pros.

Formerly the International Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Show—and the largest industry show of its kind in North America—its new moniker HX: The Hotel Experience more accurately sums up HMG’s commitment to provide attendees a hands-on experience, notes marketing manager Missy Stearns.

“It’s just a new, vibrant show,” she says. The rebrand also touts HMG’s new focus on emerging technologies and the upcoming generation of young hoteliers. “We needed something that was 21st century—that was more tech-friendly.”

The new layout includes additional demo areas and open-air sessions where attendees could listen in and drop in at will. “We wanted fewer sit-down sessions and more walk-by sessions,” Stearns says.

Tony Orlando, HMG’s director of tradeshow operations, says the rebranding necessitated a “total graphic overhaul” of the conference, with a new logo, signage and an overhauled show floor layout. “The whole look and feel was outdated,” he says.

The show is larger than 2014’s, with more than 20 countries attending, Stearns says. That number could reach as high as 30 nations when the final tally is counted. Stearns expected some 12,000 visitors at the event, the same as last year’s conference.

HMG expanded the technology area—dubbed HX: Tech—offering new products and services, education and live support for the event app. Other areas changed as well: HX: Beverage showcased new and edgy beverage presentations; HX: Onstage boasted separate restaurant and hotel theatre presentations on cutting-edge products and trends; HX: Studio offered guests face time with hospitality industry experts; HX: Connect provided a recharge lounge for plugging in and mingling; and HX: NextGen pumped new blood into the fray with student programming demos from show partner Georgetown University.

Hotel and meetings expert Dahlia Gazzar, a show collaborator with the HX team, headed up the HX: Tech area with tips and advice for those seeking “productivity sanity” in pairing technology with hospitality.

“Technology is intermeshed in everything,” Gazzar says. HX: Tech’s main mission is to assuage and inform attendees to “embrace technology and make that a component of their meeting design. People are visual,” she adds. “They like seeing tech tools in use.”

Dan Berger, CEO of Social Tables cloud-based software for hospitality, spoke Monday on trends and predictions for the future of hospitality, meetings and travel over the next 20 years.

With some 25 million meetings taking place in the United States each day—a number that has doubled since 1999—and meeting space shrinking as more and more offices move to open environment designs, meeting time will be much more valuable in coming years, he says.

By 2035, he says, meetings will be seen more as strategic marketing products, and events as “overall experiences.” The hospitality industry will rely on technology like never before. Decision-making will be led by what consumers want, rather than what providers want to sell.

There also will be more people in hospitality, and a jump in face-to-face meetings, as Gen-Xers and Millennials seek a change from their tech-controlled lives and livelihoods. And meeting planners, for their part, will need to be more strategic than ever to deal with these and other trends affecting the hospitality industry.

“Software is eating the world,” Bender says. Movie streaming via Netflix, for example, devoured the Blockbuster rental concept.

For hospitality, that means things like event apps will no longer exist as attendees livestream instead, and most events will likely have a virtual audience. Content will be crowdsourced, and transparency will be more prevalent in the industry. A drop in the number of business travelers due to virtual meetings will eventually morph into more group business travel for hoteliers. And, he says, nearly every space in a hospitality setting will be used as a function space for meetings.

Industry trends can really be broken down into long-term and short-term, notes Fred Klashman, president of IDA Media Inc. and publisher of TotalFoodService. While sustainability efforts have been long ongoing in New York City, mini-trends like the on-and-off Styrofoam controversy in the New York restaurant community can be fleeting.

The city banned Styrofoam, then quickly repealed the ban. “So now it’s legal again,” he says.

Other trends could affect the restaurant industry nationwide, as changing demographics decide the fate of middle-range concepts and brands.

“In our world right now, there’s no more middle class,” Klashman says. The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is disappearing altogether—creating a hole in the fast-casual dining arena.

“Wealthy people tend to skew toward eating healthier food and will still splurge,” he says. “Poorer people are holding on for dear life.”

And casual dining venues like Applebee’s are based on middle class clientele, he says. It doesn’t bode well for the segment as the upper and lower classes continue to grow, and the middle class continues to disappear.

FCSI had a significant presence at the show this year with design and management advisory services (MAS) consultants taking part in a variety of panel sessions and presentations. FCSI sponsored a session on ‘Foodservice Design & Concept Differentiators’ which featured Desmond Hague, partner, William Caruso & Associates, Matthew J. Reis, principal, Tallinger Associates and a senior associate member of FCSI and Steve Carlson FCSI, president of Robert Rippe & Associates.

Ken Schwartz FCSI, president of SSA, Inc. and Juan Martinez FCSI, principal and co-founder of PROFITALITY, featured in a session with Tom Prykanowski, director, brand strategy & F&B innovation at Choice Hotels International on ‘Shaping the hotel F&B experience’. 2015 HX Foodservice Pioneering Concept Winners Andrey N. Teleguz, principal of SCOPOS Hospitality Group, Ed Arons, senior associate, Colburn & Guyette and a senior associate of FCSI, Robert Simmons, principal, Bruner Cott and Steven Paul Coté, co-founder & CEO, CaféBellas, Inc. discussed successful revenue generating designs for limited footprint locations:

“I really loved the new open space education stage they had setup this year,” says Wade Koehler CAE, executive director of FCSI The Americas. “During most of the sessions the crowds would continue to grow as people walked by showing the content was strong enough to grab people’s attention. The session with Ken Schwartz FCSI started with about 15 people and expanded to almost 100 people by the end. FCSI The Americas had a great booth location next to the HX Education Stage and the Pioneering Concept. Traffic flow was consistent with a large student population this year.

“FCSI TA would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to Marsha Diamond for all of her assistance before and during the HX Show. She really enhanced the presence of FCSI throughout the show.”

This year’s Editor’s Choice Awards were presented Tuesday to three finalists competing in the Foodservice Pioneering Concept, which called for a portable food delivery venue that is designed to fit a nonfood space. It had to be compact, ventless, appealing to multiple demographics, provide innovative menu delivery, and embrace both technology and sustainability, among other requirements.

Top-place honors went to Bienvenu, an elegant-but-understated portable tapas and wine bar concept, which starts out as a seven-foot-square box—fit for a hotel lobby reception area—that unfolds into a fast-cook oven, hand sink, bar seating for 8-to-10 people, a cold tapas display case, a POS terminal and a disappearing wine bar. Architectural firm Bruner/Cott of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and foodservice design and consulting firm Colburn & Guyette of Rockland, Massachusetts, collaborated on the project.

The display was backed by a sustainable “living wall” of houseplants designed by EcoWalls of Bordentown, New Jersey, which provides several varieties of vertical garden landscapes in three-foot-square panels for maximum variability and design use. Living walls have been trending upwards for the last four-to-five years, says Michael A. Coraggio, EcoWalls’ founding principal. EcoWalls was selling two displays a year when it launched in 2008; now the company provides ornamental walls for 40 to 50 customers annually, he says.

For many hotel and restaurant clients, the use of plants as living architecture shows customers the facility management is eco-conscious, he says. Ornamental walls are especially popular in farm-to-fork concepts; EcoWalls also produces a dedicated chef’s wall planted with herbs and other edibles.

“It’s a way to say, ‘I’m green and I’m sustainable,’” Coraggio notes.

Second place winner of the FPC contest, CaféBellas of Winnetka, Illinois, hosted the feature display in the HX: Beverage area, with its spacecraft-like pop-up café concept: a round, white, traveling foodservice and bar, with a white circular shade overhead to provide staff with sun protection, and flashing LED lights surrounding the unit’s bottom to bring in the flash—and customers.

Co-founders Jasna Ostojich, company president, and Steven Cote, an entrepreneur and industrial designer, saw their design jump from last year’s third place win due to a menu-focused revamp; previously the concept was more beverage-concentrated. The runner-up kudos came on the heels of a successful run at Taste of DC 2015 last month, with a setup on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Inside, the donut-shaped cafe boasts innovative storage capacity—the portable fridge alone can hold up to 90 lbs. of food per event. The outer design is straight out of Star Trek, notes Ostojich, who couldn’t resist a rousing “Beam me up, Scotty!” in the wake of her win.

Third place went to an open-air design from Scopos Hospitality Group of Ephrata, Pennsylvania, producers of sustainable venues for hospitality and restaurant clients.

Bonnie Cavanaugh