How the CEO of the World’s Best Workplace Leads During Crisis

Chris Nassetta, Chairman and CEO of Hilton, sat down with Matt Shay of National Retail Federation, to talk about how Hilton, the best-performing portfolio of brands in the business, with 18 brands positioned across more than 6,100 properties, is weathering the Covid-19 storm. During the session, Chris revealed his strategies for recovery and some predictions for the industry. In this article, we share some insights that should help other hoteliers find their footing and ensure they’re doing everything they can to protect their people, their communities and their customers.

On crisis management…

When asked about how he is managing the crisis, Chris responded that his playbook for Covid-19 is the same as it was for both 9/11 and the Great Recession, although neither was as disruptive to the industry as Covid-19. He says, “While the disaster might change, the approach for businesses should be the same. My playbook is, ‘Protect your people. Protect the business. Prepare for recovery.’”

On the biggest mistake that businesses make during times of crisis…

Chris said that the biggest mistake businesses make during crises is that they focus on the present situation without also preparing for recovery. He warns that if you don’t immediately begin preparing for recovery, after ensuring that your people are ok, your competition is going to do it, leaving you at a disadvantage. Planning for recovery involves thinking about the new world order and putting strategies in place to get ahead of your competition. He says, “These crises test you. They’re hard on companies and hard on people. But it’s when things get challenging that you can really distinguish yourself.” 

(Note: Last month, Revinate published a Covid-19 Recovery Guide, for this very reason! Use it to get a leg up on your competition as you prepare for travel to return.)

On leaning into culture and values…

In 2019, Hilton was named the World’s Best Workplace by Great Place to Work. Clearly, culture is a top priority for Chris and the entire Hilton team. As many other CEOs have mentioned, executing during the current Covid-19 pandemic requires leaning into your culture and values to keep the team motivated and ensure people know the lens through which decisions are being made. He admitted to over-communicating with his employees, which he stresses is important to ensure people feel connected during turbulent times.

To help motivate employees, even as the company was forced to furlough and lay off thousands of employees to save costs, he focused on painting a vision of Hilton’s future that is even better than today. He explained to his team that they’ll make it out of the recession and be even stronger than before. 

On the importance of Clean Stay…

Chris realized that in the absence of data, consumers are going to form their own opinions about whether it is safe to travel or not. Knowing that cleanliness was going to be a top concern, Hilton partnered with the Mayo Clinic and Lysol, two incredibly trusted brands in health and wellness, on a solution to the problem. (Read more about the importance of social proof in this recently published article.)

The resulting program, CleanStay, ensures the highest cleanliness and hygiene standards in all of the hotels. The rooms are ‘sealed’ so guests know that they have been fully sanitized. In addition, Hilton is removing a lot of clutter from the rooms, so the virus has fewer places to live. The brand also offers contactless check-in and other features, like ‘connected room’, which allow guests to control the TV, lights and thermostat via their mobile devices, limiting what they have to touch in the rooms.

On how conferences will change…

Like all travel experts, Chris believes that leisure travel, specifically drive-to, will rebound first. He said hotels are already seeing signs of that this summer. He thinks that business travel won’t start coming back until 2021 due to corporate travel restrictions and the fact that most companies are trying to minimize expenses. 

However, when it comes to business travel, Chris sees a new type of hybrid conference emerging, where some people will attend in person and others will watch via telecast or Zoom. He is preparing his hotels to capture this new business by focusing on the necessary technology to pull off these events.

On what will remain the same…

Chris reminded the audience that guests haven’t changed. What they want is a reliable and friendly experience and to be treated in a way that acknowledges who they are. Reliability today surely requires heightened cleaning standards and providing social distance but otherwise, guests’ expectations haven’t changed. He says, “By doubling down on hospitality, we’ll meet their needs.”

If you are looking for recovery strategies as the drive-to market heats up this summer, check out our latest guide and let us know if we can help you come out stronger than ever before.

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