No customer service, no problem. Or is it? Hawaii travel is fast-changing in unexpected ways.

Hawaii Travel Customer Service Is Dead. Here’s What’s Next.

The Hawaii hospitality industry continues to evolve through an unprecedented transformation over the past three years. In this fascinating evolution, new innovating technology is replacing people. How will this work in terms of customer satisfaction?

Why customer service in Hawaii travel is dead.

Following Covid, we saw that hotels, airlines, and other parts of the industry could not replace workers who had quit or been laid off, even when the business wanted to. The staffing shortages are severe and unending. Not only that, but the cost of retaining hospitality workers has continued to rise steeply. With an industry unable and probably unwilling to provide traditional customer service as we once knew it, something had to give.

Outrigger, a once traditional Hawaii hotel brand started in 1947, is heading in a new direction that uses technology to replace face-to-face interactions. The company was founded by architect Roy Kelley, who worked on many of Honolulu’s iconic buildings, including the old Halekulani Hotel and the former Waikiki Theater. In the 1960s, Kelley bought the old Outrigger Canoe Club Queen Emma’s estate and built the famed Outrigger Waikiki. Then came Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, and, fifteen Hawaii properties later, the rest is history.

Oracle said that 73% of us are likelier to pick hotels with self-service technology.

At the same time, they reported that 38 percent still wanting an entirely self-service model. Outrigger is an early adopter of new technologies coming to the rescue of an industry lacking customer service. The company is implementing technology to provide immediate customer service contact points via guests’ smartphones. That includes making changes to reservations, checking the status of reservations, obtaining a room refresh, getting fresh towels, or requesting a late check-out, among other things.

The Outrigger team will be able to connect with guests in real-time. That’s true no matter the method guests prefer, from texting, web chat, web apps, Facebook, and WhatsApp. A side benefit is that it doesn’t matter what language a guest chooses since translation is a natural part of the new digital communication.

Another benefit is that guests’ data can easily be gathered and analyzed. How many guests requested a late check-out or additional towels, and at what point in their stay did those requests occur? That helps hotels plan in advance for what guests are likely to want.

Other helpful features include weather updates, notifications of changes to restaurant hours or other amenities, and all other guest updates. Outrigger said, “We understand that first-class technology with a human touch plays a critical role.”

Question: would you rather get a foreign call center or speak with a chatbot?

For us, it’s a toss-up. One large vacation rental management company we know moved all their customer service and reservation agents to a Philippine call center. We’ve spoken with them, and it wasn’t great. You also know of our recent experiences with the Hawaiian Airlines call center in the Philippines, and it simply wasn’t good either. Read $700 Fare Change On “No-Change-Fee” $100 Hawaii Airfare.

There’s no doubt that customer service in Hawaii travel isn’t what it used to be. Following the great resignation, the entire industry is just trying to keep its head above water.

Technology solutions replace time-proven customer service.

Hawaii hotel company Outrigger, with 15 locations in four islands, is taking the lead in this area and has decided that the way to solve the lack of customer service dilemma is primarily to replace it. Their goal is to improve guest communications, improve efficiency, and provide a new high-quality guest experience.

Outrigger said, “The marriage of technology and travel has become paramount. Our growth and development strategy incorporates technology for both our guests and hosts as well as front- and back-end operations. This provides an ease in interaction while enhancing the guest experience.”

Our take: There’s no one to call. Customer service is dead, but we’ve still got you covered 24/7. Your editors have experienced high-quality hands-off hotels before and, honestly, the experience wasn’t bad. But how will it work here in Hawaii?

How does the human touch remain with an all-technology solution?

Can an industry founded on high-touch customer service succeed in a new all-technology paradigm? We’d say, as long-term technologists, that it won’t be easy, and there are bumps in the road ahead.

Our suggestions on technology customer service:

1. Use video communication as frequently as guests desire. When some anonymous chatbot can’t meet the guest’s expectations, Hawaii travel companies should make it fast and easy to go face to face with guests online.

2. Mu;ti-channel, easy-to-use customer service wherever guests want. Companies must be where guests are, no matter the technology they prefer. Some travel companies and Hawaii-centric airlines do great on Facebook direct messaging and Twitter, for example. But what about guests who don’t use those? Does your hotel have a FAQ section online? What about forums or a knowledge base? These are great adjuncts.

3. Email is waning; real-time is gaining. Guests don’t want to send an email without any idea when it will be responded to. They want to know that they are immediately being taken care of.

4. Don’t go too far, too fast. Chatbots can occasionally be helpful, but they are often frustrating. Make it frictionless to get from the help that doesn’t work for a guest to help that does. A balanced approach is indicated.

5. We like check-in kiosks and digital locks for hotels and vacation rentals. It’s great to check in at our convenience, unattended. But when it doesn’t go as expected, we want to have help nearby.

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41 thoughts on “Hawaii Travel Customer Service Is Dead. Here’s What’s Next.”

  1. During a recent visit to Hawaii this summer it was hard to feel that Hawaii businesses
    s appreciates people who visit the islands.
    Most local people we encountered were wonderful, however when interacting service industry related staff (car rentals, hotels, restaurants, etc) customer service was severely lacking.

    Lack of smiles, heavy sighs when asking simple questions, employees chatting about their night out with “Dereck” while customers are waiting to be taken care of was the norm, not the exception.

    Resort fees, 20% service/tipping, fees for returning your car early, fees for checking in a bag, OK, thats the way things are now, and it’s expected I guess. But can you at least provide adequate service and a smile to your guests

  2. The disappearance of live customer service makes me very sad. Our family has many years of fond memories of the Outrigger and its staff. They welcomed us with the spirit of Aloha and the warmth of Ohana. Technology can be used to book a room, but human iteraction is what touches the heart.

  3. Sorry to read your take on this. My prediction, coming from a lifetime as a sales person and business owner. This solution may work, but my bet will be on the hotels that continue to provide personal, face to face solutions. People problems with services and products will continue. The company that addresses those with a friendly face and great attitude, especially in hotel management will prevail or come out ahead. When a customer is using my product or service, I want that customer’s problems corrected as quickly as possible. We all know what talking to an impersonal voice at the other end of a service call is like. At best, an inconvenience and at worst, a trying, patience testing event. Good luck going forward.

  4. Mahalo Beat of Hawaii.
    I’m so thankful for you and your updates.
    I have an off topic question.
    I have Ohana wanting to come and visit. One of my family members is a very healthy native Hawaiian that left the islands, with her parents, when she was 9 years old.
    Seating is a challenge because of her size.
    Any thoughts on how to handle the situation?
    She’s coming from California, if we can figure out how.
    Aloha and blessings to you both.

  5. The hotels contribute to the social and economic abuse of Hawaiians. They charge double or triple pre pandemic prices. 1500 per nite is now typical at many. Anything under 1000 is a deal. However they still fail to pay a living wage to employees with benifits we all need. All this while posting record profits. It’s always been this way and people’s live don’t matter, only the bottom line. They have plenty of water meanwhile the workers who live upcountry are on stage 3 water restrictions. They have more money in one place and with it are able to sway the politics any direction they choose. Good luck serving the working man’s needs in a corrupt political environment. It’s just so obvious it cannit be denied.

    1. It is easy to blame Hotels and an Industry, however it is important to remember the Hotel Ownership and the Brand Marketing it for the Owners are distinct Companies, it is the Owners who control what is open offering Value to Customers. At both the Royal Hawaiian and Moana Surfrider, they have never re-opened their Beach Club or Meilani Lounges, both part of their Tower Patio Products, in Waikiki from the Outrigger’s, Hyatt’s Mosna, Royal Hawaiian, Princes Kaiulani, Sheraton Waikiki, Halikalani, Halepuna, The Prince, Kaimana Beach, Laylaw, Ritz-Carlton Residences, Doubltree, Hilton Waikiki and Grand Vacation, Illikai, Aston, Embassy Suites and the Kahala all are Japanese Owned, they ultimately control the experience and working conditions.

  6. Adding more signage at Honolulu Airport would greatly help too. I was there recently in July checking in at Alaska Airlines. After getting my boarding pass I headed to adjacent TSA screening area that was closed and directed to next gate opened. The attendant said everbody enters this line even when I showed my precheck TSA ticket for directions. 40 minutes later, the precheck line was next side over. Golly gee !!

    1. This is true Rowena! It’s like you have to know the secret line and where it is because airport employees do not know, this has been my experience the past two times I was there. Upon departure I am always looking for the TSA pre line and it is never marked, it is a secret you need to already know- I just get there a bit earlier now to scout for the secret line. it moves!

    1. Given the rates they charge, they have an abundance of income with which to achieve this goal…if they so choose to do so…

  7. The costs are high enough in Hawaii to justify feeling a real person should be present. The greed is ugly, and not paying people their worth is tacky. I purposefully wait in line when I have time at checkouts. Get rid of people at what means? Do you like automated bots asking you to repeat yourself after pressing 5 buttons for your call to be redirected? People need to interact despite the introverted data collectors think. Pay the people instead of paying for automated machines and software updates. Not impressed with cheap companies. BTW when your hotel room smells or has roaches go to that automated machine and tell it you need a new room, good luck.

  8. We have been coming to Maui and Kauai for 20 years and consider a second home – of sorts. The customer service on the islands has, in general been, really good. We are in late 70’s. I am spending my retirement dollars visiting the islands. I make all reservations on line – from flight to cars, to hotel, to activities – works well for us. But….when checking into our resort I want a live person. We have special needs that a kiosk can’t accommodate. It’s cold and impersonal so until the Aloha spirit.

  9. If I can’t speak face to face, up front and personal, it’s not for me. I am not a robot! I prefer personal service. When I visit Hawaii I want personal service, housekeeping daily, staff checking on my needs, full amenity’s ect. After all the reason for vacation is to relax. This is why I pay big bucks. We are becoming dehumanized!


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