At the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, more than 200 hospitality graduate students are milling around a large lobby, sharing research information with industry experts on-hand for the 12th Annual Student Research Conference in Hospitality and Tourism. It's a brave new world for many of these future hospitality professionals, one that includes what is often cut-throat competition for business. Carl Boger is the associate dean of academics at the Hilton College and says the internet is playing a larger role in the industry every year.
"If you take a look at the number of people who book through the internet, that percentage is growing, I believe it's over 20-percent now. But I would say that over half will look at the internet before making a reservation, so they might call, but before they call they will check Orbitz, Priceline, all the others just to compare prices before they book."
Emerging markets like China and other parts of Asia are a big part of the industry's explosive growth, but the ability of resorts and hotels in remote locations to market to the entire world on the internet isn't hurting either. Kaye Chon founded the research conference in 1996 and is now the dean of the Hong Kong Polytechnic School.
"It is changing the infrastructure of the industry entirely in the way the services are distributed and how the consumers are making purchases. I think eventually, the internet is playing a very important role and also increasing the demand as a result."
Chon says increased internet competition often means resorts, hotels and spas have to look for new ways to stand-out in a crowded industry.
"Many resorts and hotels are now advertising that they can guarantee the lowest possible rate compared to the rates offered by intermediaries such as such-and-such website and Travel.com. I think this is a very interesting way that the industry is turning. But ultimately, the winners will be consumers."
The Hospitality and Tourism Conference continues through tomorrow at the University of Houston Hilton Hotel. You can find more information on our website, KUHF.org.