Next month, Neil Thompson of HMSHost will share his insights about what future innovations are in store for airports during a keynote presentation at the Self-Service Innovation Summit Dec. 4-6 in Miami.

Some of the most stressful moments a consumer experiences take place at the airport, with flights and circumstances often changing. Hence, it’s no surprise that convenience services are more important at airports than other environments.

Which explains why some of the most innovative meal service solutions have been introduced at airports. Witness the explosion of unattended retail at airports nationwide in recent years.

HMSHost, a provider of foodservice solutions to airports, has taken a leadership role in leveraging self-service technology to airport food concessions. Next month, Neil Thompson, VP of digital at HMSHost, will share his insights about what future innovations are in store for airports during a keynote presentation “Digital Innovation in Travel: Is the Next Frontier Airport Dining?” at the Self-Service Innovation Summit, Dec. 4-6 in Miami.

During the keynote, Steven Mac-Arthur-Brooks, director of non-traditional development for the U.S. and Canada at Burger King, a Restaurant Brands International brand, will interview Thompson to kick off activity at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5 at the Loews Coral Gables hotel.

Thompson, one of the most knowledgeable individuals on self service technology, offered an overview of topics he will cover in Miami during an email exchange with this website. Following are excerpts of that interview.

Q. What has HMSHost done to improve the dining experience in recent years?

A. It’s a very exciting time for HMSHost, particularly when you look at what we have done in digital. HMSHost has significantly increased adoption rates across the board for mobile order and pay, smart self-order kiosks, smart self-checkout and QR codes to help remove friction from a traveler’s journey.

We have grown our partnership with OpenTable to offer millions of travelers much-desired flexibility and control during their airport experience through on-site digital waitlists as well as reservations. This is the first time travelers can book reservations at airport restaurants through OpenTable, so we are incredibly excited to grow that offering.

Q. How have airport Requests for Proposals (RFPs) changed for dining and concessions services providers? Have there been changes to the RFP process that have affected your organization?

A. From a digital perspective, we are seeing RFPs place more emphasis on integrating digital solutions into the dining experience to provide a more seamless travel experience overall. Many passengers already use their mobile phones to book flights, choose seats, check in, request a rideshare to the airport and pass through security, so why shouldn’t airport dining be part of that digital engagement?

There’s an enormous demand for digital solutions across North America, and HMSHost is delivering on that challenge.

Q. With foodservice adopting more technology in both the preparation and delivery of food to the consumer, how has this affected the level of required employee technology competence? Has the amount of training changed because of this?

A. Since the pandemic, many consumers have embraced technology as part of their dining experience. That shift in consumer behavior has benefitted many food and beverage brands because their employees may have already had first-hand experience with some of the front-of-house, consumer-facing technology that is now in their stores and that they’re now having to encourage customers to use.

In some roles, yes, there is a level of competence and comfort with digital solutions required, and we provide robust training to support that. But at HMSHost, we believe that technology should be there as an option for when travelers want it, and the option for human interaction should also be readily available when that suits a traveler’s needs best. We believe in a balance between digital solutions and human interaction.

Q. What do you see as some of the most promising advanced foodservice and food ordering technologies that will assist airport travelers?

A. In July, HMSHost announced that, for the first time, travelers would be able to use OpenTable’s app to book reservations at select airport restaurants in Canada. We launched the partnership at Toronto Pearson International Airport and then embarked on a nationwide rollout across our Canadian airports, with the U.S. to follow. I see a lot of promise in this new reservations offering, as well as our growing virtual waitlist capability.

Q. What digital changes are in store for airport dining in the next year?

A. Travelers will certainly see more dining venues with mobile order and pay, smart self-order kiosks, smart self-checkout, QR codes, virtual waitlists and reservations. Beyond that, HMSHost is continuing to innovate with enhanced digital engagement to revolutionize the travel experience, and we look forward to talking about these solutions more as they roll out.

Q. How does HMSHost decide what digital dining solutions to propose to airports? What is the company’s process?

A. Our strategy around digital solutions is customized to each airport based on our portfolio of restaurants in that airport. We put the traveler at the center of everything we do, so we engage in ongoing conversations with our airport partners to determine how best to help them meet the needs of travelers.

Q. What do you consider to be the most successful airport dining offerings to date?

A. I think the most successful airport dining venues are the ones that offer travelers a choice to cater to the amount of time they have before their flight. It’s an offering that allows for fast, grab-and-go food via smart self-order or smart self-checkout for travelers with only a few minutes to spare, while also offering a more leisurely experience for those with more time.

The most successful airport dining venues will also have a balance of digital solutions and a human touch in the form of an attendant ready to assist at any point.

To register for the Self-Service Innovation Summit, click here.

About Networld Media Group

Founded in 2000, Networld Media Group is a leading media communications company specializing in digital media, events and associations in the technology, restaurant, banking, and retail industries. It’s media brands include,,,,, and Events under the Networld umbrella include the Fast Casual Executive Summit, the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit and the Self-Service Innovation Summit.

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