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Trends Reveal Consumer Demand to Drive Self-Service in Hospitality

To keep our finger on the pulse of self-service trends throughout the industry, Hospitality Technology surveys both its subscribers and a representative sample of U.S. consumers to discover their experiences with, and attitudes toward, self-service technology. The study outlines when, where and why consumers like to use self-service technology. It also uncovers the top drivers for hotel and restaurant operators towards installing kiosks, as well as their top concerns with the technology. The results of HT's 2009 Self-Service Technology Study reveal a public that's increasingly ready to use self-service devices in lodging and restaurant environments.

For their part, hospitality companies are finally beginning to respond, albeit cautiously, to consumer demand for self-service technology. In both the 2007 and the 2008 studies, hotel and restaurant operators placed their reluctance to implement self-service squarely on the fact that there was no guest demand for it. However, those studies also indicated that this perspective was misguided, as consumers overwhelmingly reported a growing interest in using self-service technology.

This year, while there's still evidence of a gap between consumers' desire for self-service options and hospitality companies' willingness to provide them, our survey shows that the disconnect is shrinking. Operators are responding to consumer readiness with a growth in intentions to implement self-service solutions between 2008 and 2009. Specifically, when hospitality operators were shown the disconnect between their perceptions of consumer demand and actual consumer demand, many indicated that this knowledge would affect their decisions: in 2009, 35% said they'd consider implementing self-service technologies in light of this information, up from 30% in 2008. Meanwhile, those operators who refused to consider self-service despite consumer interest are part of a shrinking population: they comprised 37% of respondents in 2008 but only 28% in 2009.

Lodging report
In addition to its positive impact on customer service, lodging industry respondents are exhibiting a greater interest in the operational efficiencies and cost savings benefits that self-service technologies offer them. More than half (54%) either agree or strongly agree that self-service has the potential to reduce overhead/ operating expenses in their organizations. An even higher percentage, 61%, agreed or strongly agreed that they would consider a self-service solution if it could be shown to reduce costs in their organization.

Cost concerns, in this case the cost of the technology itself, still present the highest barrier to self-service deployments, with 56% of respondents saying, "Costs associated with hardware/software need to reduce, in order to drive kiosk installations."

Restaurant report
While attitudes toward self-service are shifting among QSR operators, the technology still has been slow to find acceptance in this environment. Only 13% of survey respondents currently offer or plan to deploy kiosks in the next 12 to 18 months, although the slow economy may be a bigger factor here than resistance to self-service technology itself.

However, QSR operators may find they need to deploy kiosks as a means to maintain or improve service speed. Our consumer report indicates that just under half (49%) of respondents walked out of a QSR due to long lines in the previous year, and 34% did so more than once.

New self-service applications
While attitudes are changing, the nature of self-service is shifting even more rapidly. The next generation of self-service applications is focused less on company-provided kiosks and more on consumers' own technology Ã.‚¬" particularly cell phones, PDAs and other handheld devices. Many operators are increasingly aware of, and open to, such next-generation applications as the use of Web-enabled phones for checking-in (58% see potential use, and 43% will consider implementation), and even food ordering via SMS/text message (36% see potential use, 27% will consider implementation).

On the consumer side, our survey indicates that the younger the respondent, the more comfortable he or she is with using self-service technology. Operators who want to capture and retain these younger customers will need to explore a range of self-service options, including integration with personal portable devices.

Download the full 2009 Self-Service Technology Study.
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