Skip to main content

News & Stories

STHM alumna’s Smart Pineapple brings big technology to small hospitality businesses

By: Laila Samphilipo
First Published: April 26, 2024
Topics: Alumni, Alumni Stories, STHM School

In a world where hospitality giants dominate, Kay Walten, MS ’20, champions the underdogs. 

Her latest entrepreneurial venture is no exception: Smart Pineapple, an AI-powered marketing suite for vacation rentals, hotels, inns and lodges. It empowers them for success and local economies worldwide. 

“Small businesses are really what makes a destination captivating,” the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM) alumna says. “A lot of these small businesses don’t have marketing experience or may not speak English for that matter. So what really stood out to me with AI was the opportunity to level the playing field.” 

As founder and CEO of Smart Pineapple, Walten strives to ignite small businesses with the tools, resources and skills they need to thrive in a competitive marketplace. The hub’s marketing kit enables small businesses to create AI-infused content for various digital platforms, quickly develop customized property listings, and upgrade their guest services through tools that resemble a “virtual concierge.”

Walten underscores the importance of understanding the diverse needs of Smart Pineapple users. This approach has enabled her team to develop AI-powered tools that are not only user-friendly but also customized to meet users’ needs. 

This user-centric use of AI eliminates the need for users to navigate complex tools, reflecting Smart Pineapple’s commitment to being more than just a technology company.

“We consider ourselves a hospitality business and a partner with our users,” she says. “We want to help our partners face their challenges and achieve their successes, and there’s always going to be that human factor.” 

Walten has always been an early adopter of Internet technology. After moving to the Riviera Maya in the ‘90s to explore underwater caves and work as a diving instructor, Walten pioneered an online reservation and tourist service, promoting small local businesses and a burgeoning destination

After selling the company in 2019, Walten enrolled at STHM to pursue a master’s in tourism and travel services management.

“I wanted the academics behind all my boots-on-the-ground experience,” Walten says. “It allowed me to interact with people with different opinions and backgrounds than I did, and it allowed me to view travel and tourism through a different lens.”

Walten believes hospitality can foster cultural exchanges and understanding while creating memorable experiences by bringing diverse people together.  

“Through hospitality and tourism, we can bring people from different cultures together to gain more appreciation or understanding. We can find our common ground rather than our differences.”