Hotels following airports, retailers into self-service

Filed under: Retail |

Customers who prefer the self-checkout in stores can now take care of themselves at many major hotel chains, which are offering do-it-yourself kiosks.

Thirty-seven Hiltons provide self-service machines for guests to check flight information and print out boarding passes, as well as check themselves into and out of the hotel.

Industry officials say this combination of hotel checkout and airline service at one location is the next step in the self-service trend — giving consumers the ultimate one-stop shopping experience wherever they go.

Pleased with the dual-use kiosks, the company plans to put them in all its 240 Hilton brand hotels.

NCR Corp. is the world’s biggest manufacturer of automated teller machines and other do-it-yourself equipment such as kiosks and self-checkout machines. It began manufacturing the machines in the late 1990s, when the self-service industry began to bloom. But self-service devices weren’t common in stores and hotels until after 2001.

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 between 20 percent and 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 that self-checkout transactions in stores will increase from $161 billion last year to more than $450 billion by 2008.

While some customers still prefer human interaction, others seek the kiosks.

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, said Michael Webster, vice president and general manager of the retail sales division of NCR Corp. But he thinks that will change soon.

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas began working with 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, Webster said.

“It uses the carrier’s [software] application,” he said. “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.”

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

Fresh-food franchises flying

As the number of natural food users increases, the number of restaurants and products targeting these consumers are multiplying.

The fresh-food chains offer low-carb, vegetarian, all-natural and organic selections as an alternative to typical fast-food for consumers and business owners.

The natural food and drinks market is expected to exceed $27.5 billion by 2007, according to a survey conducted by Datamonitor. The number of natural food users in the United States is expected to hit 266 million in 2007, up 50 million from 2002.

Health-conscious franchises are tapping into all that is fresh, with soup, salad bars and smoothies. A few of the many fresh-food franchises sprouting up nationwide include: Energy Kitchen, Indigos Fruit Smoothies, Just Fresh, O’Naturals, The Original SoupMan, and Saladworks. Blendz, a smoothie/juice bar that also features soups, made-to-order salads and panini sandwiches has locations throughout California, and has plans to expand into Arizona, Colorado and Nevada.

Samba Brasil café opens

Rich and Luciana Alvarado have opened a Brazilian café and market at 410G S. 8th St.

In addition to coffee, the store features native cuisine and drinks, clothing and hand-made jewelry. Wireless Internet service is free with the purchase of a drink.

More than a café, Samba Brasil also provides opportunities to acquire Portuguese language lessons and attend monthly Brazilian dinners.

U.S. chain store sales grew

U.S. chain store sales grew 1.2 percent for the week ended June 10, according to International Council of Shopping Center’s index. The year-over-year growth rate was 4 percent for the period.

“Consumers finally opened up their wallets a bit more last week after being tight-fisted in the prior five weeks,” said Michael P. Niemira, ICSC’s chief economist and director of research. “Although consumers were spending more cautiously in recent weeks, they also were building their ‘spending power reserve,’ which they could tap when the mood was right. Last week, the mood was right.”

For the month of June, comparable-store sales for the nation’s chain stores are expected to increase by between 2.5 percent and 3 percent compared to June 2005, Niemira added.

Joan Johnson covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.