AUSTIN, TX—While most in the industry are familiar with Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals’ (HFTP) HITEC event, which takes place in a different North American city every year (this year’s conference will take place in Toronto in June), the association is expanding globally this year with two inaugural conferences: HITEC Amsterdam will be held next month, with HITEC Dubai following in the fall.
Frank Wolfe, HFTP’s CEO, noted that HITEC’s growth follows HFTP’s expansion throughout the world. The driving force behind the decision was the association’s members and stakeholders. “For more than a decade, we have had many requests to proceed with this growth. However, as a nonprofit organization, we wanted to make sure that we did not take anything away from our grassroots members by expanding,” he said.
As part of its strategic planning, HFTP has grown incrementally, increasing its investments to allow controlled growth without compromising quality and service, said Wolfe. “HFTP made a concerted effort to do so by establishing relationships with like-minded associations and organizations in Asia and Europe,” he continued. HFTP has co-located smaller conferences with established events, partnered on industry resources and established HFTP chapters outside of North America.
In 2015, HFTP had one of its largest-attended HITECs here in the city where HFTP is headquartered, which Wolfe said demonstrated the continued popularity of the event. “Following up, HFTP leadership decided that we were finally in a position to take the leap,” he said. “When we announced HITEC Amsterdam last year at HITEC New Orleans, we sold out the exhibit space immediately.”
And that response led to HITEC Dubai. “After our HITEC Amsterdam educational program grew such a respected group of volunteers and the exhibit space sold out in 72 hours, we decided we were really onto something and proceeded to plan HITEC Dubai,” said Wolfe, noting that HFTP has a very small staff and its successes “come from industry experts who have a passion for the industry and volunteer their expertise to make the industry better.”
Calling the feedback to the expansion globally “overwhelmingly positive,” Wolfe said, “The international events will increase involvement and better accommodate not only HFTP members located in Europe and the Middle East but also the industry itself. HFTP has been entrusted by the industry as one of the most reliable sources of places to find out about technology and finance impact on our enterprises. As I mentioned earlier, our volunteers are extremely passionate about the industry and it’s that passion that drives these positive responses.”
So why were Amsterdam and Dubai chosen as the inaugural locations? “Amsterdam is an ideal location because of not only its central location within Europe, but also its passion for the hospitality industry and its open and creative technology scene. The city also boasts an excellent transportation system, and we are sure that all who join us will appreciate the amazing restaurants and cultural offerings,” said Wolfe.
As for Dubai, he added, “It leads the way for technological advances, and is the center of the fast-developing markets of Asia and the Middle East. We are co-producing HITEC Dubai with Naseba, a business facilitation company based in Dubai—and a partner of HFTP for other conferences. This partnership combines HFTP’s experience and network of hospitality IT experts with an event planner familiar with producing events in a region with a hospitality industry that is growing exponentially.”
Wolfe noted that whether future events would be hosted in the same cities—or move around as is the case in North America—has yet to be determined. “Both cities are central to the regions they are in and that is the reason why they were chosen for these inaugural events. This expansion is a big move for HFTP and we are proceeding cautiously. With that, we are going to take the first step before we commit to the next,” he said.
One thing the organization did not want to do is recreate its North American event. “From the onset, we didn’t want our HITEC events to be mini-versions of the larger North American HITEC. Rather, we wanted them to reflect regional practices and trends,” said Wolfe. “So we have been very diligent about our educational planning committees being industry expert volunteers from the regions.
For Amsterdam, the members of the advisory council are top industry experts who are based in and do business in Europe,” he continued. “This group decided on the European-based keynote speakers and crafted the sessions, which are a variety of universal and regionally focused topics. For Dubai, as I mentioned before, we have partnered with Naseba, who has a well-established reputation in the Middle East and our advisory council there will also mirror our other councils.”
But while there are many differences in creating events in different regions of the world, Wolfe said the biggest surprise was the similarities. “Once you get past time changes, currencies and logistics, we are all members of the hospitality community and have the same goals and objectives in mind. Another surprise to me, putting on my American hat, is that these two cities are so cosmopolitan,” he said, noting that his wife fell in love with Dubai. “I would recommend visiting Amsterdam or Dubai to anyone.”