On the surface, and even upon second and third inspection, Neil Foster’s career in the hotel industry appears to be everything from a happy accident. Instead, Foster has spent the last 25 years establishing an indelible impact on the industry while collaborating with the hotel industry and technology providers to develop more efficient processes. Foster, on the other hand, would characterise his entry into the hotel industry as a happy accident.
What began as a job washing dishes and clearing tables eventually led to a position as a supervisor in charge of the company’s computer systems. Since then, Foster has presided over a number of prominent hotel chains throughout pivotal periods in their histories. Foster is now the Global President of HFTP, the hotel industry’s preeminent advocate for the finance and innovation sectors. Foster is well-positioned to maintain his lasting impact on the hospitality industry because of the comprehensive viewpoint he brings, which helps to stabilise the needs of both hoteliers and suppliers.
With HITEC quickly approaching, I got the opportunity to get down with Foster and talk about the evolution of his field, the far-reaching technical advancements he has witnessed (or participated in), and, of course, HITEC Toronto.
In the middle of the 1990s, Foster made a very modest foray into the hotel industry. My first jobs were busing tables and cleaning up after restaurants in Northwestern Ontario, he clarifies. As I recall, this form of early market immersion was great since it gave me a uniquely rooted perspective. I learned early on that conventional wisdom and outside viewpoints don’t always reflect the reality of the cutting edge.
Foster’s reaction to the question of what he likes best about the market is undeniable. The people are what I enjoy most about this market, and they are what have kept me here for so long, he says. This is why I have such a fervent appreciation for creativity. We have a major impact on people operating in the market when we find platforms or methods that resolve problems and reduce bureaucracy in routine tasks. By embracing clever technology that streamlines processes, we improve the working environment for our employees and free them to focus on providing the best possible service to our customers.
Foster joined HFTP in 2000 and went for the CHTP designation the following year. The late Carl Johnston, one of my early supervisors, took me to an HFTP conference when I first started out, and he says I “felt instantly at home.” The CHTP paved the way for me to get more involved with the association throughout the years through its many councils, chapters, board, and executive committee. Fast forward to the present day, and Foster now holds the esteemed position of HFTP Global President for the years 2022–2023. Following in the footsteps of many great leaders throughout HFTP’s 71-year existence, I am honoured to serve as President this year. I couldn’t have done it without the encouragement and support of my fellow members, industry pioneers, and many colleagues, all of whom deserve a shout-out. Kosta Tomazos, Carl Johnston, and Dave Norton (no longer with us) were tremendously encouraging and supportive of my early involvement with HFTP, and I owe them a special recommendation from my days as a Starwood marketer.
Foster remembers that the path to HFTP president is not a quick one; after serving on the Executive Board, a candidate must commit to a 5-year term on the Executive Committee. He explains that working with Frank Wolfe’s diverse board of committed directors and capable executive group has made the transition into this role easy, and that he has spent the last couple of months refreshing his knowledge of the various members and stakeholders HFTP serves. Our market’s reception of the post-pandemic era has been quite promising thus far, and I’m grateful to be able to compete without the many hurdles that faced my two most recent predecessors, Mark Pate and Michael Levie. Michael and Mark have served HFTP admirably as crisis leaders, keeping the organisation together despite the definitely difficult pandemic and simultaneously battling unforeseen association developments. I have as much information and help at my disposal as anyone could want. With an incredible Executive Council, Board, and Executive Team, I look forward to serving our members well during my time. Serving is a privilege, and I appreciate the opportunity to do so.
Foster, when asked about the development of the hospitality business, accurately describes it as a “full-blown transformation” that has ushered in a new era focused on innovation in what was previously a quietly simple, people-centered sector. He says, “It’s an enormous understatement to say that I feel fortunate to be a part of this journey.” When I first entered this field, the widespread use of e-mail and the business online was just getting started, and the concept of an EDP (electronic data processing) supervisor at a hotel with 300 guest rooms was still in its infancy. Foster claims that some of his earliest responsibilities in his current EDP role included “updating” the hotel’s events logging process (a huge book) to an early S&C system, installing the first touchscreen POS system (Squirrel), and switching from an antiquated PMS option (HIS) hosted on an IBM System 36 (with 10″ floppies for backup) to Fidelio (now Oracle Cloud PMS).
Now that technology affects every facet of hotel management, some businesses have decided to centralise IT (which is no longer a subset of finance) to better meet the needs of their entire organisation, as discussed by Foster. This strategy reduces the likelihood that decisions would be made solely on cost alone, without sufficient input from the most crucial stakeholders, the end users. Finally, we have the freedom to talk openly about the hazards to the business as a whole that can be mitigated with careful procedural style (in this case, the safety and security of guest data). Over the years, I’ve seen that the most fruitful forms of innovation emerge from processes that are open, well-managed, and consultative. Foster argues that a technology’s success may be measured by how well it facilitates positive human experiences.
Foster and his family currently reside in Vancouver, British Columbia; however, he spent a significant portion of his formative years in Toronto, a city he still fondly refers to as “the huge smoke.” He recalls that there is so much to do in the city, especially in the summer, that it is the ideal location for HITEC 2023. Seeing HITEC back in Canada, and more specifically in Toronto, where I spent so many formative years of my career with Starwood, fills me with great joy. Toronto has always stood out to him as a place where people from all walks of life can come together to celebrate and honour the best of their many cultural backgrounds through festivals, museums, and an abundance of ethnically-inspired eateries. To make the most of your time in San Diego before and after HITEC, it is a good idea to research local attractions and activities in advance.
Foster also recalls that the 2017 HITEC, held in Toronto, attracted a record number of attendees of over 6,500 people. Not only that, but responses were universally positive. As of late April, 99% of the available booth space at HITEC Toronto 2023 had been purchased, and registrations were trending above average, as revealed by Foster. With the help of Shannon, Steve, the HITEC Advisory Council they co-chair, and Bryan and Allison on the executive team, we have been able to put together an exceptional education programme for this special event, and I couldn’t be happier about it. As much as we’d like to let the cats out of the bag, we have to wait until the reception for Women in Hospitality Technology. Foster claims that HFTP is expanding on this approach by compiling a comprehensive, fact-based profile of pioneering women in IT.
He encourages women in the business world who have responsibilities related to technology to complete the course so that they may be recognised with other successful businesswomen. Please join me in Toronto for an HITEC conference you won’t want to miss.
About Puzzle Partner
Store marketing agency Puzzle Partner Ltd. specialises in intricate B2B campaigns for the rapidly growing travel and hotel innovation sector. We are experts in coordinating strategy and implementation in a way that not only maximises but also reimagines an organization’s potential. We help our clients boost their visibility, credibility, and sales by providing them with high-profile content, marketing services, and public relations that are grounded on our team’s expertise and tested via real-world experience. Our integrated engagement strategy combines paid, created, and owned media with cutting-edge services to boost brand recognition ahead of competitors and yield tangible business results.