SAHIC 2016: Hilton's Nassetta gives keynote address

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador — Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton, won the South American Hotel Investment Conference's Inspirational Icon Award in Guayaquil, Ecuador today.

Arturo Garcia Rosa, president and founder of SAHIC (left), presents Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton, with the Inspirational Icon Award.

Arturo Garcia Rosa, president and founder of SAHIC (left), presents Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton, with the Inspirational Icon Award.

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador — Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton, won the South American Hotel Investment Conference's (SAHIC) Inspirational Icon of the Hotel and Tourism Industry Award at the Hilton Colon hotel in Guayaquil, Ecuador today. Arturo Garcia Rosa, president and founder of SAHIC, presented the award following a keynote interview with Nassetta at the gathering of 400 hotel investors and developers.

Hilton has grown dramatically since 2007, Nassetta said in a wide-ranging talk with Garcia Rosa. Nine years ago, Hilton was in 78 countries with 2,864 hotels and 496,000 rooms. The total pipeline was 116,000 rooms and 42,000 rooms were under construction.

Today, Hilton is in 104 countries with 4,727 hotels and 776,000 rooms. The pipeline consists of 288,000 rooms with 143,000 under construction.

Statistics for Latin America show that Hilton has tripled its presence in the region over the last five years, and now has more than 90 hotels with more than 16,000 rooms. The pipeline consists of 55 hotels with more than 7,700 rooms.

“This is an important part of the world for us,” Nassetta said, adding that Hilton wants to serve customers anywhere in the world they want to be; that Hilton needs to be geographically diverse and chain-scale diverse.

“We want to be in Latin America for Latin Americans, and also when Latin Americans travel, we want them to be loyal to us. We are very focused on building out our distribution system for Latin America. We have tremendous momentum now in the distribution network and brand awareness. We have a network of local companies, and we can now spread our wings and grow at a much better rate than we've seen.”

Hilton's success is based on a company-wide focus on what true north is, Nassetta told Garcia Rosa. Starting at the top, it's important to connect values and key priorities, and to have intense alignment around those concepts. “We have 350,000 people in 105 countries, which makes intense alignment difficult. We achieve it in a lot of different ways. 

“The most challenging aspect is distribution of leadership — empowerment. We make the big global decisions, but decisions about serving customers must be made locally within boundaries. It must be done at the point of greatest knowledge and definition, and that is the front lines.”

“We give them the right framework, empower them and they deliver great experiences.”

Business Immersion Program

Nassetta also talked about Hilton's Business Immersion Program, where executives worked the front lines of hotels, saying he got “interesting reactions.” 

“The corporate and field operations had started to grow apart. A lot of folks in finance and tax had never worked at a hotel. We wanted everyone to understand what it takes to execute good service. We had senior corporate people work in hotels — to help rebuild bridges and demystify hotel operations. It had a desirable effect — in fact it's gone viral,” Nassetta said.

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