IHMRS 2013: A wealth of ideas

IHMRS, held earlier this month in New York City is the granddaddy of hotel trade shows with a long pedigree. I have attended the event off and on for more than 20 years and can recall its heyday, when the show covered almost two complete floors of the Javits Center. The Internet (alternate forms of networking) and the Great Recession (lack of trade show budget) have reduced the show considerably, and the 2013 version is a mere shadow of the former glory years. Nevertheless, organizers corralled some 18,000 visitors to view some 700 booths.

This is one show that does not really have a specialty. This omnibus approach allows you to view everything from mobile food trucks and continuous fryers to bedding and POS software. Thankfully, the organizers attempt to cluster products together so there is some order to the bedlam.

With a trade show of this nature, everyone will have their own interests and highlights. Not being a chef or developer, my interests tended to focus elsewhere and in particular on the trends in guest service. So, here is my takeaway on some of the show’s highlights.

Taming the online review

As hoteliers continue to recognize the importance of online reviews, suppliers have generated a wealth of tools designed to help hoteliers manage their web presence. While online review monitoring has been available for many years, these tools are now enhanced to proactively encourage review generation. Generally speaking, these systems have also greatly improved on their manager response features, allowing a hotel’s social media team to track their follow-ups to customer reviews, which is very important as these are highly scrutinized by other prospective guests.

Social media management made manageable

The management of social media can be confusing and tiresome. Several vendors were showing online tools that allowed hoteliers to simplify their postings to selected social networks with a single entry. This shotgun approach helps consolidate all efforts under one roof, saving a user loads of time in the process.

Mobile comes of age

There seems to be nothing that is outside the realm of a smartphone application these days. Several vendors showed off their latest initiatives, including remote ordering capabilities, wine management and online booking interfaces designed to function equally well on mobile devices as on the personal computer. This trend speaks to the younger stratum of society, where a person’s smartphone is more important than his or her house keys and where Instagram, Snapchat and Vine are king. If you want to start building a following amongst the soon-to-be big spenders, you must be versed in mobile.

Innovation beyond digital

One did not have to look very hard to find ideas with immediate practical applications. One area that I found of particular interest was in table setting china. My previous experience had been primarily limited to the size of plate, color and perhaps pattern. No longer! These designs used size and shape to enhance key aspects of cost control and service consistency, not to mention uniqueness.

As I’ve stressed in the past, such physical enhancements can do wonders to linger in a guest’s memory banks. While a good digital presence is mandatory, don’t forget that a computer screen can only activate one or possibly two of the senses (sight and sound). When a guest arrives on site, it’s your chance to trigger the other three through subtle manipulations of touch, taste and smell. In this sense, it’s the small physical additions that will make all the difference.

I am always asked, was it worth attending the show? Without reservation, I would have to say yes. The exhibits alone provided a good cross section of what’s new in our industry, let alone the myriad of educational seminars offered. It only takes one good idea to pay for the whole trip. The Internet is great for follow-up, but realistically, getting your hands on the goods is a great learning experience.