Q&A with Tech Hall of Famer Jeff Bzdawka

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At HITEC Orlando, Jeff Bzdawka, CEO, Knowland, was honored as one of the 2022 inductees into the International Hospitality Technology Hall of Fame. Before joining the company, a provider of AI-powered meetings and events data for the hospitality industry, in June of last year, he served a number of years in various roles at Hyatt, including his last position of SVP, global hotel technology. Hotel Business sat down with the industry veteran during the conference to discuss the accolade, as well as the current state of meetings and events.

What does it mean to you to be inducted into the Technology Hall of Fame?
It’s quite an honor. I’m truly humbled and honored for this. In looking at the few years I’ve spent in the industry, I really think this is an opportunity for me to recognize the many great people I had the opportunity to work alongside, and celebrate many successes and learn from our failures, as well. So, it’s really a culmination of a great career and a great journey—and I look forward to more to come.

Where are we in the recovery of meetings and events?
The meetings are back. If we just look year-over-year, comparing May of this year to May of last year, it’s nearly a 300% increase from a growth standpoint—and it’s very encouraging to see. Late last year, we introduced our Meetings Recovery Forecasts, taking our data on what happened and using it for forward-looking projections. We expect that by the end of this year, we’ll be at 80% of where we were in 2019, with full recovery anticipated for next year. So things are looking very encouraging, and even outside of the U.S.

Here in Orlando, there are plenty of meetings and events going on. How has Florida done with respect to meetings and events?
Florida was an early return to meetings and events, I think that largely has to do with the level of restrictions, or lack thereof, in Florida. So, people who felt the need to meet naturally came to Florida and definitely overall, Florida saw a significant increase in uptick. What we’re seeing with the way meetings are coming back, the smaller meetings are coming back earlier, and filling the smaller meeting rooms and event spaces. It’s the larger citywide conventions that are coming back a bit slower. In fact, what we’re also seeing is some of the larger citywides are actually getting split into multiple venues and multiple destinations. So, as you’re sitting in these larger convention hotels, it’s going to take them a bit longer to come back because they are so reliant on the large associations. With the recent removal of the international requirements and the testing, we’re seeing more international travel. I was really thrilled to see how many international participants are at HITEC. Last year, there were virtually no international attendees. As that international easement comes in, we’ll also see the larger events coming back.

How can data mining that provides actionable insights help hoteliers?
We’re really focused on taking the historical data, nearly 20 million actualized events, and we’re adding literally 10s of 1000s of events on a weekly basis, to be able to really dive deep and unlock the value. As hotels are bringing back staff, they have less time to go hunting for the actual insights, and they’re relying on the technology providers to help highlight and bring that actionable data into play. It’s understanding how your hotel is performing against your competitive set. It’s very similar to what STR does, but we are focused solely in the group and event space. As business is returning and returning back strong, the business is actually coming from the same groups, the same companies and the same organizations that booked pre-COVID. We’re able to work with the sales team to better understand where they can go fishing where they might not have fished before for the business. It’s about understanding what type of business a company, group or association books and who actually books that. From a sales standpoint, you can actually sell and preemptively get out before the RFP is generated. So, it’s less about the data and more about unlocking the value of the data.

Knowland recently formed a partnership with Uniguest. Can you tell us about that?
One of the things we’re focused on as we look at deepening and broadening our data set is to look to get deeper and broader data electronically. We started with Amadeus and Uniguest is a logical progression for that. Uniguest is, I think, the largest provider of lobby computing. Uniguest recently acquired Janus Displays, [a market leader in the delivery of digital signage and engagement technology]. They have a connector where they’re able to extract data from hotel rooms, property management systems, the various sales and catering applications that are out there, as well as other CRM solutions. So, rather than our hotels having to submit data to us through an intranet, or even for us to go out and do field reading, getting that data electronically, enables us to get data on a more frequent basis. Instead of a three-day read, we’re now getting a seven-day, and the Uniguest opportunity opens us up to 1000s of hotels to get data from electronically.

Are there any new enhancements to the Knowland platform coming in the near future?
We’re looking at the above-property experience and using our dataset to be able to answer different questions for owners, management companies, franchise organizations and brands. We’ll be doing a series of enhancements that unlocks additional insights above property and focuses on that enterprise piece itself. One of those is portfolio capture, giving an individual who has the responsibility for multiple properties the ability to have a dashboard across the multiple properties.