With a massive flow of potential customers as visitors to nearby attractions, Orlando is a natural focus group for restaurateurs and hoteliers to try out new marketing and tech strategies.

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Interactive video wall created by Crunchy at the Hard Rock Orlando. Photo courtesy of Crunchy.

Visitors who book a room at certain Marriotts outfitted with new video display units are about to come face-to-face with the technological edge of modern hospitality.

If they head down to the pool during their favorite sport’s season, they’ll get the chance to gawk at the games on a giant LED video wall. The 10-foot-by-16-foot screen will give them a bigger, closer and crisper view of the action than people who are sitting in the stadium.

The display is clearly visible from many angles and fills up the eye’s field of view. So hotel guests will be immersed in the digital experience while they float in the pool and have food and drinks brought to them. They’ll want to stay for the whole show, and they’ll enjoy their vacation more. The hotel, meanwhile, will make more money from guests who stay longer and consume more. Both the hotel and customers win.

“These kinds of technological experiences are a huge driver of business,” says Neil Dufva, a University of Central Florida graduate and the CEO of an Orlando-based company called Crunchy that built and installed the video wall. His hotel chain client has seen a $10,000-a-month increase in beverage and food sales in some locations, and people spend two hours longer on average where the video wall is installed. “This stuff offers a real return on investment.”

Crunchy is developing and installing a range of interactive, immersive display technologies for experience providers around the world. It’s also part of a vibrant ecosystem of companies that are improving customer experience by connecting digital tools to the physical places that provide hospitality—hotels, restaurants and cruise ships, among them. And Orlando is the perfect place for innovative firms like Crunchy to headquarter in order to sell and test this kind of technology.

The collective advancements of these companies help paint a fuller picture of Orlando’s place in the hospitality industry. Working behind the scenes, they provide the technology and support functions that have enabled Orlando businesses to give a better experience to the millions of visitors who travel here every year.

And the products the firms are deploying in the region are finding a place in hospitality operations around the world.

Three Ingredients to Hospitality Dominance

Local industry insiders say the city has grown in global stature for three main reasons. The first is the dominant worldwide presence of Orlando-based anchor destinations like Walt Disney World and other attractions.

Between Universal and SeaWorld alone, which are both headquartered here, a massive amount of attractions technology is being deployed from Orlando across the globe. These create an economic engine to grow the number of hospitality providers. And with a natural flow of so many potential customers into Orlando as visitors to nearby attractions, the area is an excellent place for restaurateurs and hoteliers to try out new marketing and tech strategies. In other words, Orlando is a natural focus group.

Second, thousands of hospitality tech professionals call the area home. These are some of the most sought-after employees, and Orlando has a large pool of designers and software and web developers with expertise in the systems modern hospitality and leisure businesses need.

Finally, some of these well-trained employees from the likes of Disney Imagineers and creative directors from Universal Studios naturally step out on their own, launching enterprises that seek to solve problems in the industry.

These advantages have drawn major hospitality players like Westgate Resorts, Darden Restaurants and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and timeshare companies such as Hilton Grand Vacations, Marriott Vacations and Wyndham Destinations to put headquarters here.

“This is a large city that feels like a small town, which makes people want to live here,” says Edward St.Onge, the founder of the online travel marketing platform Flip.to, which employs 27 technical, marketing and creative professionals. St.Onge so liked Orlando that he stayed here to start Flip.to after TravelClick bought his first hospitality tech company.

“There is a lot of talented people, and Orlando has become a hub where hospitality and travel tech providers like mine put their primary or secondary offices.”

Edward St. Onge, founder of Flip.to

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Local Tech Boosts Hospitality Guest Experience

Industry-specific tech companies work on customer-facing products and back-end solutions like St.Onge’s Flip.to, which boosts hotel revenues by letting customers share their stories about picture-perfect vacations with friends.

Over at nearby ITEC Entertainment, designers and technicians create unique dining and resort designs that lean heavily on technology. Their innovations blend creative design and content development with elements like computer-controlled lighting, three-dimensional audio installations, video projection and digital show control. Together, these immerse guests in multimedia narratives and create a one-of-a-kind experience.

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ITEC Entertainment creative team meeting on a project. Photo courtesy of ITEC.

Many clients have come to ITEC to build unique guest experiences in restaurants and hotels. Its work designing smells for resorts, as one example, allows property owners to engage visitors with memorable signature scents or essences that change with the seasons. Who doesn’t feel warm and cozy in the winter when they get a whiff of balsam, gingerbread, cinnamon and cloves?

Marc Plogstedt, ITEC’s founder and chief technology officer, says modern guests of hotels and restaurants are no longer content with transactional relationships. They want to emotionally connect with the experience they’re having.

“People want more dynamic sensory stimulation,” Plogstedt says. “They judge a place on the detail of the story being told and how much emotional resonance it has. Pulling that off demands a healthy mix of architecture and immersive technology.”

Helping to fuel Orlando’s industry tech scene is the sharing of ideas by workers who were previously employed by local hospitality providers such as major hotel and restaurant chains. Others have worked in theme parks and attractions. They bring with them a thorough understanding of the most challenging customer pain points and possible solutions from around the industry, said Matt Broffman, the director of innovation for the City of Orlando.

“Finding a workforce that understands creating guest experiences in any other place would be very difficult,” Broffman says. “Here, we have the specialized talent that companies want. These people drive great experiences in hospitality.”