Last week, Hilton invited and hosted me along with a few other bloggers on an immersive visit to their headquarters in Tyson’s Corner, VA,.
During our visit, we had a chance to speak directly and candidly with Hilton’s CEO, Christopher Nassetta, and Mark Weinstein of Hilton Honors to get answers to some of our burning questions and to also learn a bit about what’s in the pipeline for Hilton.
Hilton’s Innovation Gallery
One of the highlights of the visit was getting a chance to explore the 4,200 square foot Hilton Innovation Gallery, a new addition (opened in 2017) to the flagship Hilton McClean Tysons Corner, adjacent to the Hilton headquarters.
The Innovation Gallery is constantly changed with the latest innovations across the company being showcased in the various spaces and used every day for meetings and to articulate the brand’s innovation journey.
Hilton is actively using technology in a meaningful way to engage guests. Here are just a few technologies that I found especially interesting that we may see in the future for Hilton:
LED Walls: Hilton voiced interest in potentially experimenting with an interactive LED wall at hotel properties and guest rooms, created by placing a thin wood laminate over a LED board.
Taking high-tech design to a new level, guests will have the ability to interact with and manipulate their environment – including custom welcome messages and photo displays, reactive environments (based on the movements, shadows, bubbles, or even rain drops change direction), and interactive games. This technology can take the guest experience to another level!
Five Feet to Fitness Rooms: It’s always a challenge to balance staying fit while traveling, so Hilton is testing a revolutionary room concept that offers fitness and wellbeing on your terms.
The “Five Feet to Fitness” rooms feature over 11 different types of fitness equipment and accessory options that allow you work out in the privacy of your room.
I found it neat (and fitting) that there are even work out programs for traveling families, allowing kids to join in on the fun!
Pilot (Language Translation) Earbuds: With the goal of breaking down communication barriers in real time, this translation product allows guests to speak with Hilton team members in their native language.
Sustainable Hotel Design: Hilton is shifting focus on material technology and sustainability, using materials (from renewable, post-consumer, or reclaimed sources) with unique performance qualities that set them apart from other, while not sacrificing aesthetic design or functionality.
For example, I though it was so cool that this media console delivers not only storage functionality, but also that of a table and benches as needed.
Living Walls: I think it’s truly unique that Hilton is considering to integrate natural elements and plants in the room, especially in urban areas.
The dark green panels are Nordgröna Moss made from Scandinavian Reindeer Moss. Ideal for absorbing sound waves from multiple directions, the porous nature allows it to hold and release humidity from the environment.
The cream colored tiles are Inax Ecocarat Mosaic Tiles. These ceramic wall tiles regulate the humidity of a room. This material not only gives more ambient conditions, it also reduces unpleasant odors and harmful toxins in the room.
Sound Masking: There is also a huge focus on innovative ways to mask sounds to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep. Hilton is experminating with sound-proofing solutions in many ways including recycled wool wall art that offers sound proofing and echo elimination (including within room) and Nightingale sound-proofing and white-noise-emitting power outlets.
Other things I thought were super cool were the expansion of wireless charging tables and the Soma Bar, an in-room person mixology bar. Will this be the evolution of a minibar?
Digital check in / Digital Key: Digital Key allows Guests to bypass the front desk and use the Honors app on their smartphone as a room key.
Currently 3,400 properties in 16 countries globally offer digital check-in and digital key. Hilton Honors is currently the only program that lets you choose your own room at check in. There’s also the option to securely share your Digital Key with other traveling companions.
Way of Communication: I know I am not the only one who despises talking on the phone (though Hilton is one of the few programs that offers the option to request a phone call – Take note, British Airways!)
Aside from convenience, people are more likely to express their true feelings and say what is bothering them over text rather than voice it over the phone. With texting as an option, the property has a chance to make a situation right.
Kipsu is a service currently being offered in many Hilton hotels, but it is also being integrated into the Hilton Honors app, allowing guests to communicate with team members while on-property (requesting towels, asking about breakfast hours, etc.).
Apple Business Chat made its debut in March 2018, allowing guests to seamlessly interact with HRCC Team Members through iMessage. Hilton is also experimenting with the idea of allowing guests to text call centers for reservation and other needs.
There are several Hilton partnerships that you may already be aware of including Live Nation (you can redeem 10,000 points for two concert tickets this summer), American Express (with 4 new cobranded cards, and The Aspire co-branded credit card, is the only credit card of its kind that offers Hilton Honors Diamond status – learn more about hotel credit cards), and Amazon.
You probably are already aware that as of September 2017, you can redeem Hilton points towards Amazon purchases (it’s a terrible value, and I would not recommend doing so), but what’s more interesting is that there are Amazon lockers in over 100 Hilton hotels, allowing you to receive packages on the go on your own schedule without any receiving fees.
Hilton will also be running a pilot in the Summer of 2018 with Prime Now within select brand properties. Prime Now will allow guests to get same day delivery of retail products in certain markets.
As loyalty travel bloggers, we spent a significant amount of time discussing the Hilton Honors program and sharing our thoughts on the program’s strengths and weaknesses in an honest and candid conversational environment.
In my opinion, one of the biggest complaints about the Hilton Honors program are the inconsistencies we sometimes face regarding elite benefits such as late check out, confirmed suite upgrades, and inconsistencies in the number of points needed when making a points booking for two vs. one guest.
We also discussed the gap between Gold and Diamond status. I think we can all agree that Hilton has a very strong and competitive mid-tier elite status. Hilton Gold status is easy to obtain (for example, it’s a cardmember benefit of the American Express Platinum Cards) and comes with a generous free breakfast benefit. With such a strong mid-tier status, many question if top-tier Hilton Diamond is even worth chasing.
Though nothing has been officially confirmed, it appears that Hilton is taking members’ feedback very seriously and working on many elite benefit improvements as we speak, addressing the issues listed above, and striving to create a more personalized experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some new Diamond elite benefits and unique welcome amenities in the very near future.
We also discussed some of the highlights of the Hilton Honors program, such as the new points pooling ability with generous terms.
Not only can you liberally assign anyone of your choosing to your family pool, each Hilton Honors account can transfer out up to 500,000 points and receive up to 2 million points from other accounts per year.
Speaking of points, some other noteworthy strengths of the Hilton Honors program are the 5th night free benefit on award bookings, the 95,000-point cap on redemptions with no blackout dates, and the exemption of pesky resort fees on award bookings made entirely on points. It would be really nice if Hilton followed suit with Hyatt and offered Diamond members the option to make “guest of honor” bookings for others.
Hilton Honors points are worth about 6/10th of a penny in my book, and some of the best Hilton redemptions would be at aspirational resorts (utilizing the 5th night free benefit, of course), such as the Conrad Bora Bora.
New Properties in the Pipeline
During our visit, I had the chance to get to know two Hilton hotel brands that were new to me – Tapestry Collection (I spent the night at The Graham, a boutique hotel in the charming Georgetown area) and Canopy (we toured the Canopy by Hilton, The Wharf, which has awesome plane-spotting opportunities from their rooftop bar with direct views of the runways of DCA).
It was nice to get a taste of other Hilton brands that I was not previously familiar with. One thing that was really exciting to me was hearing about all of the new properties in the pipeline such as the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, Curio Navy Pier in Chicago, Waldorf Astoria Maldives (which is accessible right from Male, so no seaplane transfer is needed), and a new Hilton and Waldorf Astoria in Cancun.
We also learned that like Hyatt and its successful Ziva and Zilara brands, Hilton is interested in exploring the all-inclusive market, possibly adding independent all-inclusive properties to their umbrella as well.
I really had a nice time getting to know and understand the Hilton brand inside and out during my visit to the Hilton HQ last week. I asked a ton of questions, and I really liked the responses I heard back. I truly am happy to hear that the brand is sincere about making the guest experience better in so many ways.
What are your thoughts about the direction Hilton is going in?