Hilton’s Chris Silcock on challenges for hotels in 2018
Constant connectivity, personalisation and the threat of Airbnb. Hilton’s Chief Commercial Officer Chris Silcock talks to PACE Dimensions about new areas for focus in hospitality.
As part of our research, we’ve been interviewing leaders at major brands and technology solutions about digital disruption in travel and hospitality. Chris Silcock has risen through the ranks at Hilton to lead the company’s global commercial team. We spoke to him about the current digital challenges – and opportunities – for hotels.
WHAT ARE THE KEY DIGITAL DEVELOPMENTS THAT YOU THINK WILL HAVE THE GREATEST IMPACT ON THE TRAVEL AND HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY IN THE NEAR FUTURE?
Firstly: always-on connectivity, everybody being connected to the cloud, no matter their location. Secondly: access to information, the quantity of information both curated by brands and authored by everybody else. Thirdly: customers becoming accustomed to controlling their life from the palm of their hand, from their smartphone.
Each of these developments increases the expectation that this convenience should be available in other parts of their life, including both business and leisure travel. Going forward it will be the use of data to curate what our customers or travellers see, the choices they have and the information they get served.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MAJOR CHALLENGES FOR HOTELS IN MAKING THE SHIFT TO MORE PERSONALISED COMMUNICATIONS WITH GUESTS?
For some it will feel abnormal to use data and electronic communications as a source of hospitality. Therefore, we have to transition our skills, capabilities and mind-set to support the combination of delivering exceptional experiences physically and digitally.
“As an industry, we have vast amounts of data that our customers have shared with us and can be used to provide a more personalised experience. Our industry currently under-utilises this data.”
Chris Silcock, CCO, Hilton Worldwide
WHAT KEY DIGITAL CAPABILITIES DO YOU THINK HOTELS NEED TO DEVELOP IN ORDER TO KEEP UP AS THE MARKET CHANGES?
Right now it is possible to start to transform the on-property guest experience using the smartphone. We already have about 2,500 of our hotels with digital key capability, meaning that guests no longer need to stop at a front desk, they can choose their room from a digital plan, go straight to it and open it with their phone.
Next will be the enhancement of the in-room experience, just like our guests experience in their own home, using a smartphone and the streaming services they may subscribe to in their non-travel life. We will bring that into the bedroom, including complete control of the environment, temperature, media, light etc. This is a great change for guests, but also brings sustainability and energy management benefits for hotel owners.
Our CEO, Chris Nassetta, recently spoke about a beta technology called Connected Room at the Skift conference in New York. The concepts described above are innovations we’re testing in real-time. These ‘now’ changes are where we can really start to bring to life new physical and digital experiences that make everything better for customers.
HOW MUCH OF A THREAT DO YOU THINK AIRBNB IS TO EXISTING HOTEL BUSINESS MODELS?
Airbnb is a different business in our minds. It’s definitely a change in the market; it’s bringing efficiency to that type of lodging, which is making it more transparent and more accessible.
However we are, and have been for almost a hundred years, in the business of people serving people, which is why customers seek out our hotels. We take pride in offering our guests consistent, safe, and secure accommodations, on top of exceptional hospitality.
AS OTAS CONTINUE TO GAIN GROUND, WHAT DO YOU THINK HOTELS SHOULD BE DOING TO IMPROVE THE BOOKING PROCESS FOR CUSTOMERS?
Improving the guest booking experience is something that we are focused on, regardless of the influence of OTAs in the market.
“The research that I have seen is that some customers believe the OTA marketing that you get a lower price on an OTA. I can confirm that this is not the case.”
Chris Silcock, CCO, Hilton Worldwide
The OTA value-proposition is that they have multiple brands, if you want to shop and you’re not brand-loyal, if you’re destination and price-sensitive. The research that I have seen is that some customers believe the OTA marketing that you get a lower price on an OTA. I can confirm that this is not the case and you actually will get a better price if you book direct and join Hilton Honors.
We’ve focused on booking direct through our loyalty programme and our Hilton Honors app. Transforming Hilton Honors from something that was great for frequent travellers into something that has instant benefits for all, with better pricing, the ability to choose your room, check in, use a digital key and get free Wi-Fi. We’ve grown our loyalty program to more than 69 million members and seen record downloads of our app by building meaningful, direct relationships that deliver great value for our guests.
Read more insights from leaders in travel and hospitality in our latest whitepaper.