MCLEAN, Va. — The first indicator of the coming impact of COVID-19 in Canada came during the first week of March, when Hilton realized that attendance at an annual citywide in Toronto was not as strong as it had been in past years, Danny Hughes, executive vice-president and president, Americas for Hilton told CLN. “As the first week of March kicked off, our hotels began hearing from travellers inquiring about coronavirus protocols.”
Hilton’s reaction, right from the beginning of the pandemic, has focused on keeping their team members and guests safe, protecting the financial interests of their owners and securing their core business.
“As the pandemic began, Hilton took additional measures to make our cleaning and hygiene protocols even more rigorous,” said Hughes. “We increased the frequency of cleaning our public spaces and high-touch areas, including lobbies, elevators, door handles, and public bathrooms, and have continued using hospital-grade disinfectant. We made hand sanitizers more readily available and adjusted food and beverage service in accordance with local recommendations.”
Hilton also acted quickly to help their hotel owners assess and respond to the crisis. They provided owners with all of the information they needed to make informed decisions about temporarily suspending hotel operations. They also took other measures to provide relief, including easing brand standards, deferring capital expenditure requirements, eliminating quality assurance audits, among other topics.
“In order to protect the core business, we took actions at the corporate level that significantly reduce expenses and preserve liquidity,” Hughes noted. “We eliminated non-essential expenses, reduced executive salaries and temporarily laid off members of our enterprise workforce.
“At the start of the pandemic, our hotels and franchise owners quickly assessed the best path forward for their hotels based on demand and the business environment, as well as guidelines from local and international governments and health authorities. While some took actions to right size the business and their workforce, others found the best option was to temporarily suspend operations.”
As of Hilton’s Q1 2020 earnings report, the company had suspended operations at approximately 950 or 16 per cent of their hotels globally, including approximately 10 per cent of their hotels in the Americas. “For our hotels that remained operational, Hilton was committed to doing our part to positively impact the communities where we operate, with many of our properties donating rooms or offering discounted rates as a thank you to the healthcare heroes leading the fight against COVID-19.
“We are excited to share that we are now seeing the green shoots of recovery and have more hotels opening their doors than closing them,” Hughes said.
The Canadian situation
Consistent globally, Hilton had to take steps to right size their workforce and protect their core business. At the corporate office in Canada, Hilton had to temporarily lay off some team members, while others are working on a reduced work week. They are asking that everyone work from home.
“In Canada, we’re seeing two types of hotels continue to drive business,” Hughes said. “We’re seeing continued business from airline crews at our airport properties. Our extended stay brands, such as Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 by Hilton, continue to be a top choice for frontline medical professionals who may be staying with us for a longer period as they self isolate from their families or work on assignment.”
Hilton is working closely with their owners to monitor for business demand. They are especially keeping a close eye on the impact the borders opening on June 21 will have on their business.
Focus on cleanliness
Hilton has always had industry-leading cleanliness standards across all of their brands. That consistency and reliability is one reason guests have chosen Hilton properties year after year, Hughes said. “We have been surveying our guests regularly since this pandemic started, and it is clear that cleanliness will be even more important as a decision maker for travellers.”
To provide assurance and peace of mind to consumers when they return to travel, Hilton will collaborate with RB, maker of Lysol and Dettol, and consult with Mayo Clinic to develop elevated processes and team member training to help Hilton guests enjoy an even cleaner and safer stay from check-in to check-out. This initiative will create a focus on cleanliness that will be visible to guests throughout their entire stay – at check-in, in guest rooms, restaurants, fitness rooms and other public spaces.
Steps toward reopening
“COVID-19 has impacted the entire travel industry, including airlines and ground transportation,” said Hughes. “In the hotel industry, we’re coming together with Hotel Association of Canada/AHLA to look at the guest experience from end to end to see how we can change hotel industry norms, behaviours and standards to ensure hotel guests and team members are confident in the cleanliness and safety of hotels once travel resumes.
“As operators, we need to strike a balance between short-term and long-term goals. Sustainability for example, is the right decision to make long term, so as we think through how to make a guest feel comfortable in the short-term, we are looking to ensure that we don’t compromise our long-term vision. We anticipate fundamentals, such as an increased focus on cleanliness, is here to stay.
“We believe the desire to travel, experience new cultures and connect with others is core to the human experience. We fully expect that people will be ready and eager to travel when it is safe to do so, and we will be ready to welcome them with Hilton hospitality.”