At last month's Eurhotec conference in Switzerland, technology futurist Arthur Esch said the hospitality industry was lagging behind many other equivalent services in accepting the benefits of technology - particularly the Internet.
"In many industries, consumers use the Internet as a research library," he said. "Armed with this new-found knowledge, the buyer is now king. This migration of knowledge power from seller to buyer is radically changing marketing, selling and distribution in numerous industries, and hospitality is no different."
But hospitality's time has come, says Esch. The industry now seems to have realised that technology isn't just about gadgets but has the possibility for limitless uses as a real business tool.
Next month sees the arrival of Hostec 2000, the first-ever IT-focused event for the UK hospitality industry. The fact that this is the inaugural such show demonstrates how much the subject has grown in importance in a short space of time.
The show, which runs from 11 to 13 April at the Wembley Conference Centre, is backed by Caterer, the HCIMA and the Hospitality Information Technology Association (HITA) and is sponsored by Crown Systems, Micros-Fidelio, NCR Corporation, IBM Partech and Ibertech.
The show has more than 40 exhibitors and a full programme of speeches and seminars that aim to address and review latest trends, highlight successful working practices and look towards to the future.
Keynote speaker on the opening day is Thomas Oliver, chairman and chief executive officer for Bass Hotels and Resorts. He is one of the decision-makers who will shape the future of technology in the industry - and he pulls no punches.
"Technology provides the life-blood for the hospitality industry," says Oliver. "We need to learn about this rapidly-changing environment to understand exactly where we are going in the future."
His views are echoed by another speaker, John Dvorak, technology columnist and editor of PC Magazine, who says: "Technology shapes everything we do in business today. We need to understand what is possible now and in the future. Only by learning about the issues can we make informed decisions."
Following the plenary sessions, Hostec delegates can choose from more than 36 conference sessions spread over the three days. The sessions will focus on four themed tracks during the three days - hotels, food service, general technological trends and case studies.
Some of the familiar industry names taking part in these sessions will be the Savoy hotel, McDonald's, Compass, Starwood, Whitbread and Jarvis Hotels, among others. Exhibitors include established suppliers such as AremisSoft, Fexco, NFS Technology, Quadriga and Vingcard.
The organisers hope Hostec will become the UK version of conferences like Eurhotec or FS/TEC, the major food service technology conference in the USA.
"This is the first dedicated technology event in this important market," says exhibition director Christine Davidson. "It was launched in response to a market need for a focused event - not one that appears as a by-product of a more general show.
"We found that companies were calling for an event that tackled their specific technology-related issues, with the relevant people attending from the hospitality and food service market."
The educational side of the programme is the key to its success, says HITA Europe chairwoman Susan Welch. "HITA's role is to promote interaction between users, suppliers and academics in the realm of hospitality technology.
"There is no doubt that the hospitality industry is improved by the use of technology - the only unknown factor is just how great that improvement can be."