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Deloitte: Travel Leaders Embrace Automation and Tech as Workforce Challenges Continue to Weigh on Industry

Amid ongoing labor concerns, airline and hospitality leaders leverage digital and technology solutions to enhance traveler experience.

New York, Sept. 21, 2023

Key takeaways

  • Travel providers are leveraging next-gen technology to alleviate workforce constraints: Nearly all airports and half of hotels surveyed are adopting new technology to bridge the labor gap.
  • Despite increased reliance on automation, only one-third of those surveyed expect it to reduce the size of their staff in the next five years, and most expect technology to improve the work experience and create new opportunities for frontline workers.
  • Technology is creating demand to enhance and augment the frontline workforce with new skills and capabilities. Nearly half of all respondents cite reskilling workers for new technology as one of their top three workforce concerns.
  • The traveler’s experience may also be impacted by new technology. Many (74% of airport managers, 56% of hotel general managers) expect automation to boost the bottom line due to a better guest experience.

Why this matters

Although air travel passenger volumes and hotel occupancy rates continue to rebound from pandemic lows, the travel industry continues to face a shortage of frontline workers. At the same time, a shift toward greater automation and technology integration is set to fundamentally alter the travel experience and work environment. Deloitte’s new report, “Toward Travel’s Frictionless Frontline: Integrating Technology and Workforce,” examines how leaders across aviation and hospitality are evaluating investments in both technology and people to help make an immediate and lasting impact.

Airline and hospitality leaders steer towards tech to navigate labor woes

More than half (53%) of hotel respondents say they are at 25-74% of their pre-pandemic workforce and nearly two-thirds (62%) of aviation respondents say their workforce is half its pre-pandemic size or smaller. Leaders are turning to technology to address labor challenges. Looking ahead, many expect ongoing advancements in next-gen technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud to not only help address existing labor issues but improve performance within five years and create competitive differentiation.

  • While hotels and airports are confident staffing levels will keep climbing, most do not expect a return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon. Fewer than 1 in 10 expect to reach 2019 staffing levels by the end of 2023, and 38% of hotel managers and only 3% of airport executives expect to be there any time in 2024.
  • Many hope technology will ease labor challenges. Nearly all airports are adopting new technology (99%), upgrading existing technology (96%) or automating repetitive tasks (93%) to bridge the labor gap. Hotels are employing these strategies as well but at a lower rate, adopting new technology (50%), automating repetitive tasks (43%) or upgrading existing technology (39%).
  • Seven in 10 surveyed airports invested in at least three new technology types, compared to 57% of hotels, a differentiator likely due to the structure of the respective industries.
  • Some leaders do not feel current options are strong enough to address current needs: For the hospitality industry in particular, leading tech adopters surveyed were nearly twice as likely (54%) as others (29%) to say existing “technology is not advanced enough.”

Opportunity for frontline workers still set to take off

As technology proliferates, helping ensure workers have the skills to operate effectively is key — and challenging. While hotels largely struggle with a mismatch of needs with skills of available workers (51%), aviation executives are challenged with redesigning work for new technology (71%). Still, executives across the travel industry see these challenges ease with time and technology implementation, alongside added benefits such as cost reduction.

  • Nearly half of leading tech adopters among airport (57%) and hotel (43%) leaders expect automation to decrease labor costs.
  • Reskilling to address technology’s impact is top-of-mind, as about half of airport managers (48%) and 4 in 10 hotel general managers (GMs) place it among their top three workforce challenges.
  • Leaders are seeing technology enhance recruitment and training practices. Nearly all airports (94%) and almost two-thirds (62%) of hotels say they are increasing their use of virtual reality in training.
  • Overall, most survey respondents positively expect automation to create new opportunities for workers (95% of airports, 64% of hotels) and improve the work environment (88% of airports, 58% of hotels).

Automation packs promise for the guest experience

Staffing challenges impacted what it is like to be a traveler, just as much as it impacted being a travel industry employee. Just as solutions to the labor gap present opportunity to change the workday for the gate agent or hotel restaurant manager, leaders hope to see it enhance guest experiences as well.

  • Labor challenges affected the travel experience: 84% of airport respondents and 70% of hotel respondents reduced or eliminated amenities and services in response to staffing shortfalls.
  • Most airports (90%) are creating self-service offerings for guests, but only 36% of hotels are doing the same.
  • Leaders are encouraged by the expected impact of automation for guests and travelers. Seventy-two percent of airport leaders and 60% of hotel leaders expect automation to improve the guest experience.
  • AI stands out for its potential to improve guest experiences for airports in particular. Within five years, they expect to see it enhance guest processing (100%), strengthen personalized recommendations and services (100%), and improve the customer experience (98%).
  • Hotels, on the other hand, see most value coming from cloud computing in processing guests (29%), managing bookings (26%), and offering personalized recommendations and services (23%) in the next five years.

Key quote

“Travel leaders have been battling labor shortages and other frontline challenges for the past several years. The rapid ascension of automation and other emerging technologies presents an opportunity to address this disruption while still helping ensure the travel experience remains front-and-center. Companies who simultaneously invest in the technology and the people behind it — helping ensure employees are well-equipped and appropriately trained — should be well-positioned to navigate the shifting dynamics of the industry, while unlocking future growth and unprecedented opportunity.”

Danielle Hawkins, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and hospitality, transportation and services human capital leader

“Toward A Frictionless Frontline” is based on a survey of 240 travel executives in the U.S. (120 airport managers and 120 hotel general managers), fielded from July 12 to Aug. 7, 2023. Interviews with executives from leading hotel brands and airlines further guided the study.

Connect with us on Twitter at @DeloitteCB or on LinkedIn @DanielleHawkins, @PeterCaputo, @MattSoderberg, @MatthewUsdin.

About Deloitte

Deloitte provides industry-leading audit, consulting, tax and advisory services to many of the world’s most admired brands, including nearly 90% of the Fortune 500® and more than 8,500 U.S.-based private companies. At Deloitte, we strive to live our purpose of making an impact that matters by creating trust and confidence in a more equitable society. We leverage our unique blend of business acumen, command of technology, and strategic technology alliances to advise our clients across industries as they build their future.  Deloitte is proud to be part of the largest global professional services network serving our clients in the markets that are most important to them. Bringing more than 175 years of service, our network of member firms spans more than 150 countries and territories. Learn how Deloitte’s approximately 457,000 people worldwide connect for impact at

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Public Relations
Deloitte Services LP
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