Over the last 100 years, the name Hilton has become synonymous with hotels worldwide.
Yet the world-famous hotel chain – which has just added its 5,000th property – faces stiff competition from the lodging industry. Hilton has, in turn, responded by raising its tech game to another level.
I interviewed Geraldine Calpin who knows a thing or two about technology, having spent more than 10 years at Hilton as Vice President of e-commerce, Vice President of Global e-commerce and Global Head of Digital. Since 2015, she’s been the company’s Chief Marketing Officer.
Calpin maps out five moves Hilton made to make its hotels more hospitable (and bump off the competition in the process).
1. Understand what the hospitality industry is (and is not)
It’s easy to confuse the hospitality and lodging markets, but Hilton has always been clear about the distinction.
“We’re not in the lodging industry, but the business of hospitality – people serving people to deliver exceptional experiences.
“Home-sharing and rentals aren’t new and we know we have the edge when it comes to our Hilton Honors program benefits and the unparalleled service and hospitality provided by our team members,” Calpin observes.
2. Be responsive to customers’ needs (and, better yet, anticipate them)
Good hotel service involves meeting guests’ stated requirements, but great hotel service called for Hilton staff to go one step further by (intelligently) second-guessing their customers’ needs.
“You don’t stay in business for nearly 100 years without evolving your brand but, of course, you have to stay true to its core which, for Hilton, is delivering exceptional experiences. Many times, this means anticipating what guests want,” Calpin explains.
3. Ask tough questions about technology (and let the answers lead the way)
There’s always a danger in companies aimlessly adopting the “next big thing” in technology, but Hilton doesn’t employ new technology just for the sake of it.
Calpin outlines Hilton’s three-pronged technology test. “For…any…technology we implement, we won’t launch a new option unless it adequately satisfies three questions. Firstly, will it make the guest experience simpler and more enjoyable? Secondly, will it help the hotel and/or Hilton team members? Thirdly, can it be scaled across multiple brands and properties for a consistent experience?
4. Tap into technology (and take the business further)
Despite being a legacy brand, Hilton has always arrived early at the technology party.
Calpin best sums this up when she says, “Innovation has always been the bedrock of our brand. For example, we were the first hotels with air conditioning and TVs in guest rooms… We may be nearly a century old, but we think like the customers we serve today and we’re all about delivering exceptional experiences in new ways.”
Since its early days in the hospitality business, Hilton has taken its technology innovation up a few notches – using everything from the Internet of Things (IoT) to virtual reality (VR) and mobile phone apps to increase customer engagement, improve the overall guest experience and, ultimately, gain the competitive edge over its rivals.
“Most recently, Hilton was the first to enable guests in over 1,000 hotels to use ‘Digital Key’ to unlock their doors with their phones. When you’re a Hilton Honors member, your smartphone can be your remote control to your entire travel experience and that’s something you can’t find in an apartment rental. You can book a room, check-in, choose the exact room you want [using a floor plan], request items for your room when you arrive, use your smartphone as your room key, order room service, message the front desk and so much more.
“We’ve [also] created content in a compelling format that helps our guests get to know the many ways we can meet their needs – from offering a virtual tour of Hawaii to delivering unique experiences through ‘Music Happens Here,’ an integrated music program – in partnership with Live Nation and Spotify – which celebrates travel through music.
“But we aren’t limiting these types of experiences to virtual. At our property at Hilton Hawaiian Village, we created an in-app experience called ‘Fun Finder,’ which shows guests what’s going on around the property while they’re there. Furthermore, it helps guests to navigate their way around the property. It even sends them relevant, targeted offers while they’re on the property, like a deal for ‘happy hour’ when they’re just a few steps away from the beach bar.”
5. Create consumer-generated content (and tell stories people want to hear)
With numerous surveys highlighting the effectiveness of online reviews (consumers trust them as much as a personal recommendation), Hilton encouraged its guests to use ‘vision boards’ to tell their stories on the Hilton website.
“We see consumer-generated content as one of the most authentic forms of storytelling and believe that it provides our current and future guests with an unfiltered window into what it’s like to experience a Hilton hotel. Consumer-generated content has become a main pillar for us on social media and it’s been highly successful in that we see a deeper level of engagement with this type of content,” says Calpin.
Hilton honors its mission
Hosting 14 brands and more than 812,000 rooms spanning 103 countries and territories worldwide, Hilton is arguably the largest full-service hotel brand in the world. (It’s even entered the in-room wellness market with its new guest room, Five Feet to Fitness.)
Hilton’s mission to be “the world’s most hospitable company by delivering exceptional experiences – every hotel, every guest, every time” is lofty, but achievable – one technological advancement at a time.