Hilton’s next 100 years should be phygital

Sales staff at DoubleTree Regina had a unique way to celebrate Hilton's 100th Anniversary. See inset below for details.
Sales staff at DoubleTree Regina had a unique way to celebrate Hilton’s 100th Anniversary. See inset below for details.

MCLEAN, Va. — Over the past 100 years Hilton’s innovations include room service, A/C, direct dial phones and TVs. The next hundred will start by focusing on integrating physical and digital innovations, the “phygital” says Hilton’s Danny Hughes.

Danny Hughes, Hilton.
Danny Hughes, Hilton.

When I talked to Danny Hughes, EVP and president, Americas, on May 31, Hilton’s actual anniversary, he had just finished flipping hamburgers, along with other senior staff, for a celebration at Hilton’s head office. The day before, he had been in New Orleans as part of a global simultaneous live broadcast that included content from New Orleans, Istanbul and Singapore, and streamed to Hilton’s more than half a million employees at the office, on their computers or mobile devices.

During that broadcast, they launched The Hilton Effect Foundation, which has more than $1 million in seed money to give to good causes. One of those causes was $100,000 for a school in one of New Orleans’ disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

The Hilton Effect is a phrase that has referred to Hilton’s good work in a variety of countries. “There are so many hotels, and often we are one of the first big businesses in some of those locations,” Hughes told CLN. “We create value for suppliers and support industries, and many people who work at Hilton have great careers with an opportunity to travel the world. We also create a vehicle for people to travel to those countries.

“We looked at this and tried to capture the idea, and came up with The Hilton Effect.” When they decided to launch the foundation, they felt the most import concept was the effect. That’s why they called it the The Hilton Effect Foundation.

Hilton plans to roll out The Hilton Effect Foundation in all the corners of the world in which they operate — 5,700 hotels with 923,000 rooms in 123 countries, with a couple of thousand more in the pipeline.

On May 31, they celebrated with random acts of kindness and hospitality. In New Orleans, they made a $25,000 donation to the school in a challenged neighbourhood. At the Mississauga/Meadowvale Hilton, staff went to nearby Credit Valley Hospital with breakfast sandwiches and coffee for the staff. At St. Michael’s Hospital, the Hilton Toronto Downtown provided treats for the staff. Regina DoubleTree director of sales, Rick Fraser, had his team make 100 calls for Hilton’s 100th (see inset). They plan to make this an annual event. 

“We wanted to duplicate this in more than 5,000 hotels,” said Hughes. “It’s amazing that we did get everybody to join in to really celebrate our legacy.”

Company founder Conrad Hilton actually got into the hotel business by accident. In 1919, he had a business trip to Cisco, Texas, where he was looking at buying a bank. When that deal didn’t pan out, he bought a small but thriving hotel there, called the Mobley Hotel — and soon fell in love with the idea of being a hotel keeper. Even though Hilton was a commercially-minded individual, he believed that he could make the world a better place through travel — with light and warmth and hospitality.

There are so many Hilton firsts, things we take for granted today: room service, air conditioning, direct dial telephones and televisions in hotel rooms.

Hilton's room keys bid farewell as digital keys become the norm.
Hilton’s room keys bid farewell as digital keys become the norm.

Travel has expanded in the digital age, with people planning and researching on their computers or mobile phones, relying on information, reviews, photos and maps. “Hilton is still leading the world from a digital point of view, with digital keys in over 200 hotels. People can request a specific room, chose that room, check in, open the door and walk into their hotel room with complete security of data, because of the passwords on their phones,” said Hughes.

The next level is the connected room, where guests can get their own Netflix and Spotify on the hotel TV, since the TV will be able to communicate with their hand-held devices. “They will be able to control the physical aspects, setting the room temperature on the way to the hotel, shutting the drapes, or ordering room service so that it arrives when they do,” Hughes noted.

The next 100 years will start with Hilton connecting the physical world with the digital world; hence “phygital.”

“We’re celebrating that we’re 100 years young and sprinting full speed ahead,” said Hughes, who has worked for Hilton for 32 years. “We’re the fastest-growing hotel company, opening more than one hotel a day. 

“In the future, we will be surgically and diligently launching new brands that fulfill specific gaps in the market. We want to absolutely ensure that we continue to be the leaders of innovation in hospitality — it’s important that now we are leading in the digital as well as the physical. And finally, we want to continue to ensure that wherever we open a hotel, we make a real commitment to that community.

“No matter how much we are driven by data, we are still in the business of serving people — and we will never replace the physical emotion and the joy of travel. We must never lose sight of the fact that we are in a people business.”