July 25, 2022

First Time At HITEC

by Addie Laurencelle

As a college student and first-time Ottimate Intern, I was pretty excited to attend my very first trade show in Orlando. HITEC’s 2022 convention is the largest annual gathering of hospitality companies in the U.S., and it held more than a few surprises. My goal was to cover as much ground as possible, without dehydrating!

Trade Show Rookie 

My first day on the trade show floor was eye-opening. I was expecting younger, smaller companies, and was surprised to recognize huge players (Amazon? Comcast?!) as I made my first loop. Booths varied. Some went a simplistic route, others went all out, with interactive two-story layouts, multiple TVs, and cars. 

Interactive two-story trade show booth in Orlando Florida, at HITEC, hospitality industry convention 2022.

The most successful booths were ones you wanted to linger near, or inspect up close. Booths that pulled in new customers and also featured a more private place to meet with existing customers seemed to be drawing the most traffic. There was space to show an introduction to  the company and product, but also a more intimate space, where you could schedule meetings or demos.

It was cool to blend in with country club and hotel consumers, walking around the convention center. I got to observe what grabbed their attention. I watched our Account Executives, and saw how they each had a different, warm way of responding to foot traffic. Genuine curiosity and active listening seems to work best to keep potential customers engaged and interested. 

History of HITEC 

HITEC is the largest annual gathering of hospitality groups in the United States. 

  • 5500 attendees 
  • 30 companies 

Beginning in 1972, HITEC offered a place for technology to be promoted and displayed to hotel and country club consumers. Early on, the most significant tech in the hospitality industry was the first renditions of front office property management systems, as well as electronic cash registers and point-of-sale systems. The tech shown at the conference has changed over the past 50 years. Certainly, there were no options for digitizing invoices and automating accounts payable in the previous century. Other things have changed, too, including the setup of booths, the venues, and the sheer size of the conference. 

Colleagues adjust a demo screen at Ottimate's booth in Orlando, Florida, at the HITEC hospitality conference for hotels and country clubs. Background explains that Ottimate's accounts payable automation means that hotel groups and country clubs can digitize, approve and pay invoices from anywhere.

2022 was the 50th anniversary of the gathering, and the busiest year since Covid-19. Many new companies and attendees at the conference led to a great sense of excitement. It felt like the majority of the US hospitality industry under one roof. 

Work Hard, Play Hard

A huge part of my experience was the in-personal connections I made with our team, on and off  the trade show floor. Ottimate is a remote company, which has obvious advantages. Work schedules are flexible, my colleagues are focused during meetings, and there is a cultural appreciation for restorative time off. Ottimate works hard, but encourages its employees to play hard, too. So it stands to reason that when we are in person, we make the most out of every hour we have together. Waking up to meet for breakfast, getting excited for the schedule, connecting in the hotel lobby for a huddle, then rushing to the convention center to see who was ready for  a primer on AP Automation, and how Ottimate integrates seamlessly with existing accounting software…

I immersed myself in the action, and learned quickly. The days went by fast, and there was often an after-hours gathering. My team and I went to an indoor golf and arcade event space, one night. Things got very competitive! The following night we drove go-karts, which might have been the highlight of my summer. It was cool doing this, because you got to see that everyone was just an ordinary person who wanted to have fun. I completely understand why companies make a point to gather their employees in social settings—it’s the key to building successful, happy teams. 

Beautiful Florida sunset over the Go Kart facility, featuring a cheerful ferris wheel in the background.

Everyone got so involved in these group hangouts. It was a reward at the end of the workday. Particularly because Ottimate is made up from work-from-home professionals in nearly every US state, this helped build our team’s camaraderie and made each day more fun on the floor of HITEC. When it was time to work, we were that much more efficient because we’d grown closer. Remember how I mentioned that we got competitive while golfing? Well, going up to potential clients and scanning their badges to save their contact information turned into a big competition. It was a blast.

After-hours team selfie in front of a giant photo of flamingos. Happy Ottimate employees looking forward to dinner and rest before the next conference day.

Lasting Connections

One of our senior leadership executives sat on a panel called The Virtual Hotel: Empowering Operations with Intelligent Automation, so I handed out fliers to advertise the talk. This meant going out of my comfort zone and approaching random people with a quick invitation! Perfecting my “elevator pitch” on why they should come to the panel was an experience I won’t forget.

Snapshot of the busy trade show floor and the seminar stage, where Doug Brownell discussed "The Virtual Hotel: Empowering Operations with Intelligent Automation" with contemporaries in the hotel and country club industry.

Overall, what was most valuable for me was building connections and getting to know the Ottimate employees. I met potential clients in my hotel lobby, at different happy hours, restaurants, and even on my flight home. Our main goal is to help hospitality businesses focus on the guests’ experience. Those face-to-face interactions will always stick with me, because Ottimate is all about freeing hospitality from the back office. 

Future Forward

When one thinks of hotels or country clubs, one immediately thinks of customer interactions. Ottimate opened my eyes to the importance of tending to and modernizing the back office, and the deep importance of unsung heroes—like a hospitality group’s finance team. Those critical players go largely unnoticed by the public, even though so much work is put into accounting for restaurants, country clubs and hotels. More recognition for the finance people! 

My experience with Ottimate will be one that I will never forget, in part because the product — AP automation that helps digitize invoices and streamline accounting workflows — was built by and for people who love the hospitality industry. Ottimate simplifies processes that are often bogged down with manual data entry. That makes the product an “easy sell,” but it also focuses everyone on the big picture, which is to make the hospitality industry better. Ottimate has shown me what kind of company I want to work for, and that it is possible to find a company culture that revolves around inclusion and helpfulness.

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