TechOvation is an annual award programme held by HTNG, which brings together the latest industry innovations from hospitality technology solution providers all in one place. The first round of the competition hosted the participants’ solutions online through a hybrid competition format, which combined crowd-sourced voting and selection by a panel of judges to determine the 10 semi-finalists.

Due to travel restrictions, the second round of 2020’s TechOvation Award competition was held as an entirely virtual online event on 21 May 2020. The dynamic online format leveraged the UgoVirtual event and meeting platform to virtualise the traditional TechOvation event. Similar to previous years when the final round was held in-person at HT-NEXT, the semi-finalists presented four-minute overviews of their solutions and their impact on the hospitality market. The solutions were also available for attendees to review via virtual ‘booths’ in a simulated exhibit hall.

Opening remarks were delivered by HTNG CEO Michael Blake, before an introduction of judges and small-panel discussion. This year’s judging panel included Floor Bleeker of Accor, Hyatt’s Jeff Bzdawka, Rosewood CIO Micah Friedman and Bryan Mitkowski of Marriott International. Similar to the traditional process, HTNG’s judging panel narrowed the field to four finalists. The final crowdsourced voting process did not clearly determine one sole winner this year, so HTNG named all four deserving finalists as winners of the 2020 TechOvation Award.

The final four

The first of these is enseoCONNECT, a platform that allows guests to use their own mobile devices to control their TV, room lights, window shades, thermostats and other connected devices in their room. This unified remote approach does not require guests to download an app, maintain a login or touch the guest room remote. Guests do not even have to join the hotel Wi-Fi. Instead, they simply pair with the TV for instant access and control of their entire connected in-room experience.

“Enseo has put all of our engineering and inventing into redefining the guest experience with touchless technologies,” explains Vanessa Ogle, CEO and founder of Enseo Holdings. “The ability to use your own phone to control the TV and room around you will bring comfort and confidence for guests while travelling.”

The second winner was the InnSpire ReviewMagic.AI. Its developers started with a guiding question: what if hoteliers had a simple dashboard that continuously interpreted the entire world of online reviews for them and their teams, and made sure any issue got flagged, quantified and fixed? Their answer was an AI that relentlessly scans, analyses, understands and priorities the untamed onslaught of data out there – and visualises it in simple graphs and to-do lists – fixing issues automatically or assigning the relevant person to the job.

This was InnSpire’s second win in as many years, having received the award in 2019 for GuestMagic. AI, an online AI-driven platform for hoteliers that uses machine learning to anticipate the next step of the guest to deliver the right service at the right time, using the digital guest journey as a footprint to enhance every technical touchpoint in the guest’s path.

The third joint winner was Nonius Cast, a solution that offers guests a homelike Chromecast experience. Guests only need to be connected to the hotel Wi-Fi, creating what Nonius believes is the best solution on the market, in terms of usability and compatibility with existing TV and Wi-Fi infrastructures. Clearly this year’s judges agreed.

The final award recipient of the day was YooniK ID, an identity SaaS cloud platform that allows hoteliers to instantly recognise loyal customers with what developers say is ‘99.99% accuracy’, in full compliance with data privacy regulations, and quick and easy onboarding via mobile device or kiosk. Using facial recognition, YooniK ID enables users to have truly frictionless check-in and restaurant access as the hotel environment and its objects, such as room doors, front desk and breakfast lounge, rely on AI to recognise its customers.

Time will tell

Amid all this industry-leading innovation, it was easy to overlook the technological achievement of HTNG in pivoting so seamlessly to a completely online event. “Like many new endeavours, planning our first virtual event was a learning experience, but a worthwhile and necessary one,” says Michael Blake, CEO of HTNG. “As our mission states, we continue to try to move the industry forward, and, unfortunately, during these times we are all faced with challenges to overcome. I would like to thank our contestants, sponsors and attendees for their participation and support in this new format, and we encourage them to catch our next virtual event on the UgoVirtual platform.”

Time will tell whether the recipients of 2020 will go on to match the industry successes of previous winners. In 2018, Beekeeper, a digital workplace app where operational systems and communication channels live within one secure, intuitive platform, emerged victorious. Now used by numerous organisations – including Marriott International and Hotel Management International’s partner the European Hotel Manager’s Association – Beekeeper supports users in more than 130 countries, connecting desk and non-desk employees across locations and departments in real time via mobile or desktop, and includes an intelligent dashboard to help companies improve internal communication and streamline business processes. Other winners include Angie, the world’s first voice-based guest room assistant and integrated room-control device, a hospitality guest room water management solution, Interel’s WMS, and InnSpire’s first TechOvation win for its guest media streaming platform.

The TechOvation virtual event platform, powered by UgoVirtual and sponsored by Comcast Business and Deep Blue Communications, will remain open through 20 June 2020. HTNG encourages individuals to visit the platform to view the recorded programme, access and download content from the semi-finalists, and most importantly, maintain their industry connections by networking with others.