Preferences for Digital vs. Human Service Experiences During Travel

After two pandemic years, the travel industry is roaring back partly due to increased immunity and a great deal due to pandemic fatigue that is stoking desires to travel. During the pandemic, the travel industry encouraged the shift to digital and self-service features to ensure safety for travelers and staff, making investments ranging from standard digital check-in kiosks to sophisticated automated robots. These changes are now shaping the future of travel and gaining momentum as companies in the hotel, air travel and car rental sectors promote their use in efforts to lower costs and respond to a tight labor market.

In the last few waves of our National Technology Readiness survey, we investigated whether consumers have gotten used to and prefer the convenience of digital travel services within the travel industry post-pandemic or if there is desire to avoid them and re-connect through human service interactions. In the middle of the pandemic, we found the majority of U.S. travelers preferred in-person assistance from their travel service providers rather than relying completely on digital service methods. This preference persists in many areas based on the results of the most recent wave of surveys.  In one area, housekeeping in hotels, we found significantly increased preferences for having rooms cleaned by a person (63% in 2022 vs. 53% in 2021). Though not significant, travelers also have an increased preference for having a real human being deliver food/linen to their room (48% in 2022 vs. 47% in 2021), help with changing details about their hotel stay (44% in 2022 vs. 41% in 2021), and getting recommendations about the local area (43% in 2022 vs. 38% in 2021).

Not every aspect of travel is trending back to the personal touch. There is a significant decrease in preference in being checked into a hotel by a person (47% in 2022 vs. 54% in 2022), although preference for person assisted check-in is almost twice as much as for self-service.

Though nothing has changed significantly, airport travelers continue to prefer more in-person interactions in their service experiences compared to last year. Close to half of travelers prefer to have a person check their ID at an airport (47% in 2022 vs. 45% in 2021) and check them into their flight (47% in 2022 vs. 42% in 2021). Travelers may have more confidence in humans assisting them with tasks than with conducting them on their own via self-service, thus reducing their stress levels.   Not every task favors the human element. Consumers are indifferent as to whether to change their flight itinerary on their own or with the help of an employee, while preference for relying on a person has decreased in this most recent wave (37% in 2022 vs. 41% in 2021)Across a lot of travel activities, older travelers (55+) and less educated travelers consistently favor in-person assistance, whereas younger age groups and travelers with at least a bachelor’s degree favor digital assistance.

In the long run, it is possible that consumers will become more accustomed to relying on technology to conduct tasks for them rather than interacting with an employee. To assess this, we examined differences in personal service versus technology by techno-readiness segments defined through our proprietary Techqual™ tool. This psychograph classifies consumers as into five segments with different propensities to adopt technology, including Explorers (the most tech-ready in attitude; the other segments include Pioneers, Skeptics, Hesitators and Avoiders).  Across all services, all adoption segments tend to prefer humans for travel activities with the exception of the most tech-ready Explorers. What is surprising is that even Explorers prefer personal versus tech-driven service more often for 3 out of 9 travel activities, and for the remaining areas, a substantial share still prefers humans. In terms of long-range adoption, this preference suggests that future shifts to technology solutions in travel may be driven more by them being pushed by providers to save costs than being pulled by consumers to meet needs.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, there was a preference for human interactions that are a hallmark of travel service providers. Coming out of the pandemic, preference is shifting even more to the personal touch.

Learn more about TechQual, our measurement approach to consumer technology adoption.

About the Study: the National Technology Readiness has tracked technology and e-commerce trends since 1999. The survey is co-sponsored by Rockbridge Associates, Inc. and the Responsible Business Coalition at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business. The most recent wave was conducted in June 2022 and is based on an online survey of 1040 U.S. adults sampled at random from a consumer research panel. Results are weighted to match census characteristics. For more information, contact

Written by: Quynh Hoang, Research Manager and Charles Colby, Chief Methodologist