WHY IT RATES: The Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay will soon become…
The pandemic has forced just about every industry to make changes, especially the travel industry, and hotels have been confronted with many unique situations in which they have had to tackle safety, health and well-being for guests. This has led to many advancements, some that Hilton believes will be long-lasting or even permanent.
“For more than a century, Hilton has pioneered many of the elements that define the hospitality industry today,” said Chris Nassetta, Hilton president and CEO. “In the last year, the pandemic has accelerated our innovation engine – we’ve thought of it as a decade of change in just 12 months. And though the experience in our hotels will be different as people begin to travel more freely, our Team Members around the world are eager to welcome our guests, sharing the light and warmth of our hospitality once again.”
Hilton’s recent “To New Memories” campaign found that 94 percent of Americans surveyed plan on packing their suitcases once again as soon as travel restrictions lift. Ninety-one percent of those who travel say that their hotel experiences are a memorable part of their trip, and Hilton wants to make sure that tradition continues.
The hotel brand was quick to adapt and innovate when the pandemic struck, and its experts predict seven ways the changes it made to hotel stays will last long after the pandemic fades away.
Evolving Hotel Design
First, Hilton believes the way hotels are designed will see a permanent shift. The company plans to continue to develop lobby spaces that can satisfy the transforming needs of its guests. These spaces will be designed to give people the choice to socialize or not.
“First impressions are critical, and our lobbies are not only the heart of our hotels, but they are the first place our guests are welcomed and assured that they have made the right choice in where they will stay,” said Larry Traxler, senior vice president, global design. “Everyone traveling today has a heightened sense of awareness of their own personal space and the cleanliness of their environments, and they will require additional assurances of their safety while staying with us. How do we deliver on these expectations while ensuring the welcome experience remains welcoming? That’s the challenge.”
Spaces that can adapt to each person or group’s individual needs will be a key element in designs. For example, lobby bars might have architectural screens activated with biophilia and art coupled with smaller scale movable dividers and creative seating designs.
On a more technical front, Hilton is working on air purification systems and clean surface solutions.
The Contactless Guest Experience
Hilton’s customers are quickly embracing the contactless experience, which provides guests the ability to check-in from the Hilton Honors app, use digital keys and have automated checkout options.
“We will always be in the business of people serving people, but the pandemic has proven that many guests appreciate the ability to check-in, choose their room on their phone and walk straight to their room–where their phone is now their key,” said Mike Gathright, senior vice president, customer experience. “Fortunately, we are way ahead of the industry with so many of our hotels equipped for contactless arrival through the Hilton Honors app. Now we are working to make the experience even better.”
Guests can also take advantage of high-tech guestrooms that, even before the pandemic, featured touch-less spaces with technology that reduces contact with light switches, thermostats and television remotes.
Emphasis on Cleanliness
Hilton points out that cleaning used to be a behind-the-scenes occurrence. Now, cleanliness is something guests want to see firsthand.
“At its core, I think hospitality is about welcoming guests and anticipating their needs, cleanliness being one of those most important factors,” said Phil Cordell, senior vice president, brand development. “That’s why Hilton CleanStay is a program that will continue to evolve over time, as more people start getting out and traveling.”
Room seals and custom cleaning services are likely standards that will stick around, Hilton believes, as will the hotel company’s CleanStay program.
Hilton is working to evolve its dining experiences throughout its brands and beyond just its restaurants. Large-scale events, meetings and conferences also offer opportunities for innovation.
“The pandemic has pushed us to rethink and reimagine how we provide our guests with the services and experiences that they are looking for–resulting in high-end, to-go cocktails, expanded grab-n-go markets and personalized plating for meetings and events. When life returns to a more normal state, these new offerings won’t completely go away,” said Adam Crocini, vice president and global head, food and beverage brands. “They will continue to enhance our overall food and beverage programs, but as part of a much larger and enriching in-person experience.”
Certain parts of the experience, such as virtual wine tastings, will likely fade away. But Hilton has seen the popularity of new products like to-go cocktail pouches and grab-and-go meal sets that are likely to stick around post-pandemic.
Customers Find Comfort in Trusted Brands
Surveys show that people are eager to travel and more and more feel it’s safe to do so but that, when they do, they are looking to the familiar.
“After a year without travel, people are excited to get moving, but they are out of practice,” said Matt Schuyler, chief brand officer. “Many will be seeking out ‘Comfort Travel,’ with a return to familiar places and brands. Checking into a familiar, friendly hotel for a night’s sleep during a road trip or re-visiting a favorite resort backed by the reassurance of a trusted brand will help people regain their travel savvy.”
Flexibility for Meetings and Events
“When it comes to Hilton EventReady, we’re in it for the long haul,” said Kelly Knowlen, executive director, sales engagement and special events. “Event planners are looking for hybrid solutions, and our new suite of offerings continues to gain a lot of traction. Our plan is to continue to expand the EventReady Playbook to address our customers’ evolving needs.”
Hilton noted that event planners are already looking for ways to create hybrid event spaces and that its EventReady Hybrid Solutions will provide the resources that planners need.
Exclusive Perks and Ongoing Support for Loyalty Members
“During the pandemic, we wanted to take care of Hilton Honors members, our best guests, even when they couldn’t travel. Loyalty is a two-way street, and we wanted our Hilton Honors members to know that we were loyal to them, just as they had been loyal to us,” said Jennifer Chick, vice president and global head, Hilton Honors and customer engagement.
Some of the ways that Hilton honored its members during the pandemic include automatically extending Point expiration dates and status and rolling out 2021 program changes to provide greater flexibility for Hilton Honors members.
Hilton Honors also cut the status qualifications in half, lowered milestone bonus night thresholds and extended Free Weekend Night Reward certificate expiration dates for Hilton Honors American Express card members.