Preferences for Digital vs. Human Service Experiences During Travel

Digital service experiences exploded during the pandemic out of necessity as traditionally in-person service activities were automated to avoid close contact. As the travel industry rebounds post-Covid, it begs the question: will consumers desire to re-connect through human service interactions or will they prefer the convenience of mobile apps and other technology to provide digital service when they travel?  In our latest National Technology Readiness Survey, we found the majority of U.S. travelers are ready for social interaction, and prefer in-person assistance from their travel service providers, rather than rely completely on digital service methods.

Travelers strongly prefer in-person service at the beginning of their hotel stay, with more than half of hotel stayers preferring their check in (54%) and room cleaning (53%) experiences to be with a person. The intimacy of welcoming guests with friendly staff and providing them with a clean and comfortable room provides an inviting atmosphere for arriving guests. The same can be said about having food or linens delivered to guests’ room, as 47% of guests would want the service to be in-person.

Travelers do not feel as strongly about the interaction method used for other hotel stay activities.  Hotel guest preferences were more mixed when having to change the details of their hotel stays (41% prefer in-person assistance and 37% prefer digital assistance), receiving recommendations about the local area (38% in-person vs. 33% digital), and checking out of a hotel (38% in-person vs. 38% digital).

For airport activities, travelers tend to prefer in-person interactions in their service experiences. More than four in ten travelers prefer to have their ID checked at an airport (45%), check in at an airport (42%), and check their flight itineraries (41%) with a person. These activities may have consequences when not completed correctly that can result in travelers running late for their flight adding unneeded stress, so in-person service may feel safer.

Across all travel activities, older travelers (55+) consistently favor in-person assistance, whereas younger age groups favor digital assistance. Women also care less about the mode of assistance provided compared to men.

Many travelers are ready to re-gain the human interactions that are a hallmark of travel service providers. The industry will need to bring in-person service back fully to meet the needs of travelers, particularly those in certain demographics. Hotels and airlines should provide digital service alternatives to assist other customers who prefer self-service methods. With continuing technology advancement and the popularity of digital services in a post-pandemic environment, there is value in providing a variety of service methods to ensure that each customer is well-served.

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

About the Study: The National Technology Readiness Survey is sponsored by Rockbridge Associates, Inc., A. Parasuraman and the Center for Excellence in Service, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. The study is based on an annual survey of U.S. adults age 18+ sampled from an online panel and weighted based on Census Bureau data. The 2021 study includes 1522 adults and the 2020 study includes 1216 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Written by: Quynh Hoang, Analyst and Gina Woodall, President