- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Do-it-yourselfers have one more place where they can take care of business while avoiding human contact: the hotel.

The Hilton Washington on Connecticut Avenue NW is one of 37 Hilton hotels that lets guests use self-service machines to check flight information and print out boarding passes as well as check themselves in and out of the hotel.

“Travelers like the convenience, especially with Southwest, where it’s first-come, first-serve,” said Nichole Ward, director of front office operations for the Washington Hilton.

This combination of hotel checkout and airline service at one location is the next step of the self-service trend, industry officials say — a trend driven by consumers who want the ultimate one-stop shopping experience wherever they go.

While only 10 boarding passes were printed on the hotel kiosks in March, the month the airline feature was added, at least 100 passes have been printed every month since, Ms. Ward said. Hilton is so pleased with the dual-use kiosks that the company plans to put them in all 240 Hilton brand hotels, said Thomas Spitler, vice president of front-office operations and systems at Hilton.

“We think what is really happening is that the business traveler is saying, ‘I want that same capability in my hotel.’ So the consumer is demanding the same sort of convenience throughout the whole journey,” said Michael Webster, vice president and general manager of the retail sales division of NCR Corp. The Dayton, Ohio, company is the world’s biggest manufacturer of automated teller machines and other do-it-yourself equipment such as kiosks and self-checkout machines.

NCR began manufacturing these machines in the late 1990s, when the self-service industry began to bloom, Mr. Webster said. But only since 2001 have self-service devices become commonplace in stores and hotels.

Now travelers can check themselves into and out of many hotels including the Sheraton, Marriott, Choice and Hyatt hotel chains. Kiosks also have become mainstream at airlines such as Southwest, Northwest, United and Delta.

Hotels and airlines have increased their kiosk purchases by 20 percent to 30 percent each of the past three years, according to Lee Holman, vice president of IHL Consulting Group, a Franklin, Tenn., research firm that studies technology in the retail and hospitality industries.

Large retailers such as Kroger, Home Depot and Wal-Mart depend on self-service machines. A 2005 study by IHL predicted self-checkout transactions in stores will increase from $161 billion last year to more than $450 billion by 2008.

But some consumers remain wary of the machines and prefer human interaction.

“When people talk to you, it makes you happier,” said 53-year-old Lolita Trawick, a Van Ness-area resident in Northwest, referring to checkout clerks at a Giant Food store. “Plus, when I have questions, they’re always there.”

Others look forward to the self-service revolution, even if it takes some getting used to. “I’m learning codes for produce, which I’m not sure is necessary,” said John Stehle, 25, of Chevy Chase. “But it’s awesome. You control how fast you go. It’s integration. It helps digitize the world.”

Even though the hotel kiosks offer more than one service, Mr. Spitler said they are easy to operate. A Hilton customer can access an airline Web site on the screen, check in for a flight and print a boarding pass. Customers also can review reservations and request upgrades using frequent-flier miles.

Kiosk vendor Kinetics, a subsidiary of NCR, calls its version the ResortPort. Only one hotel has adopted the system since the company put it on the market last fall with a $20,000 price tag, Mr. Webster said. But he thinks that will change soon.

“We do expect to rapidly expand,” he said. “[Hotels] are really just trying to find new ways to save time for the guests.”

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas began working with new time-saving equipment in 2003, when it debuted a system that lets travelers print boarding passes for most of its airlines on any kiosk in the airport, said Samuel Ingalls, the airport’s assistant director of information systems.

Kinetics also makes a “common-use” airline kiosk called TouchPort, a $10,000 device that can access 12 major airlines, Mr. Webster said.

“It uses the carrier’s [software] application. For example, it can launch the Delta application, and you can check in so all the functions on the Delta kiosk are on that device,” Mr. Webster said.

San Francisco International Airport and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport have followed McCarran’s example and introduced similar systems, Mr. Ingalls said. Airports in New York, Miami and Portland, Ore., are also installing them.

“People have gotten to the point where they are looking for that kiosk,” he said.

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