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SPOTLIGHT ON Feisal Jaffer, Global Head of LXR Hotels & Resorts, Hilton

By Sharon Hirschowitz, Global Head of Media & Communications for The International Luxury Hotel Association
29 January 2021
11 min read
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Feisal gives an indepth look at how Hilton has been rising to the challenges of the pandemic, the policies and procedures they have put in place to make their guests and staff feel safe as well as their Hilton EventReady program for event planners.

How are Hilton’s luxury properties doing globally and what markets are seeing an uptick in recovery?
While our warm hospitality may look a little different in the short term, Hilton is unwavering in its commitment to welcoming guests’ safely as soon they are ready to return to travel. We firmly believe in the universally irrepressible desire to travel, connect and discover. Having said that, guest expectations are changing, and we will continue to find innovative solutions for today’s unprecedented challenges – quickly and nimbly. The extent we have already achieved is testament to our incredibly strong leadership.

Despite the unparalleled downturn in travel, our overall Enterprise growth remains strong. As of Q2 this year we’ve added 7,000 rooms to our global inventory, thereby achieving 4.8% net unit growth compared to the same period last year. Additionally, monthly openings increased throughout the second quarter, and in June, openings in the Americas were nearly 15% higher than last year.

Regionally, our luxury category – comprising Waldorf Astoria, LXR and Conrad — is seeing strong performance in Asia Pacific, with both leisure and business travel rebounding particularly in China. In the Americas, occupancy also continues to grow, boosted by an increased demand for leisure travel to markets that are within driving distance of guests’ homes.

Our luxury properties all offer some natural advantages for those looking for a safe yet relaxing hotel experience. This is particularly true of our exquisite resort destinations which have fewer guests, large hotel rooms and private villas, and a multitude of outdoor dining experiences allowing guests to indulge in privacy, physical distancing, and spend time away safely while enjoying the highest standards of luxury.

Over the next 18 months we will add 15 hotels and resorts across our luxury portfolio, including Waldorf Astoria hotels and resorts in Monarch Beach, Xiamen and Cancun; LXR properties in Kyoto and Las Vegas; and finally, Conrad hotels in Abu Dhabi and Las Vegas, to name a few.

However, none of this is to say that recovery will happen overnight, because it will take time and the industry will need to continue to bolster each other and partner together in ways that will ultimately serve our most important stakeholders – our guests.

What initiatives have you put in place to make guests and staff feel safe?

The wellbeing of Hilton’s guests and Team Members is our highest priority, and we take great pride in maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene.

This year, Hilton launched several new initiatives and adopted new protocols to adapt to the needs of guests – from introducing more flexible reservation and cancellation policies and extending Hilton Honors benefits, to introducing the Hilton CleanStay program, an industry-leading standard of cleanliness and disinfection created in partnership with RB, maker of Lysol and Dettol, and the Mayo Clinic, and offering contactless arrival options through the Hilton Honors app and award-winning Digital Key technology.

This initiative focuses on cleanliness that is visible to guests throughout their entire stay – in their guest rooms, restaurants, fitness rooms and in other public spaces – and provides guests with much-needed assurance and peace of mind when travelling.

We are consistently receiving positive customer feedback on these game-changing programs and resources. Our customer satisfaction analytics indicate that, as a result of these programs, guests have a much better overall Experience score and are likely to stay at another Hilton property in the future based on their experience with CleanStay.

Ultimately, our goal is to deliver what our guests want most – reliable and friendly experiences – supported by industry-leading innovations and a hotel operating model of the future. We want to continue to drive the technological advancements that our guests want now and in the future.

Can you tell us about your Hilton EventReady program for event planners?
Through our customer advisory forums, we continue to hear that our event and meeting planner customers are looking for innovative solutions for the entire event experience, including flexibility in planning, physical distancing protocols and transparency in cleanliness policies. They need to feel comfortable booking or rescheduling future events – and they also need to trust that their event attendees feel safe and secure.

In response to these needs, over the summer Hilton introduced a global cleanliness and client service program specific to meetings and events called Hilton EventReady with CleanStay. The program provides solutions for all four of our customers’ key concerns today – and anticipate into 2021.

These key concerns are 1) the need for clear and concise cleanliness protocols; 2) the desire for book-to-billing flexibility for event planners and hotel contracting options; 3) the request for safe and socially responsible event solutions such as creative, physically-distant event sets, unique F&B solutions, and environmental impact solutions measured by LightStay, Hilton’s award-winning corporate responsibility measurement platform; and finally 4) the need for leadership as our customers continue to look to us as a trusted authority in meetings and events.

While our event planner customers are still dealing with massive uncertainty, Hilton EventReady with CleanStay creates a foundation on which to build as we reimagine the future of meetings and events.

What are some unique or innovative ways Hilton luxury properties are responding to shifting guest expectations and needs?
It is clear that guest expectations about travel have changed and are continuing to change, so we are innovating to find unique solutions for today’s unprecedented challenges. Listening to and understanding consumers is at the forefront of our activities.

One thing we do know is that people want to travel again. A recent study by Hilton found that more than nine out of ten Americans surveyed are planning to travel again and two-thirds vow to quit putting off taking trips and start planning their next vacations.

Some will be more comfortable traveling than others, and we need to determine how to best accommodate all types of travellers with great flexibility. Having the ability to adapt quickly to situations that can change in a matter of hours or days will remain key, as will be maintaining a strong ecosystem to support travellers as plans change. While we have always been laser-focused on service, in a post-COVID world, the ability to anticipate guest needs and provide truly intuitive service will be paramount.

In addition to Hilton’s contactless travel capabilities with our Digital Key, fully flexible booking options and cancellation policies, and greater rewards and loyalty perks from Hilton Honors, Hilton now offers unique solutions to encourage long-term work/play travel as well as alternative uses for our hotel guest rooms and spaces for remote work and/or extended stay.

For example, many properties within our luxury portfolio are capitalizing on the “work-cation” trend. The recently opened Conrad Punta de Mita is offering a “Work From Paradise” package, uniquely designed to meet the needs of today’s traveler and inspired by the work-cation trend which suggests that travelers are leveraging technology to take their work abroad while reconnecting with family in a beautiful setting.

Another similar example can be found at Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal which is offering a complimentary week when staying 30 days, i.e. buy 21 days and stay for 30. Situated on Cabo San Lucas’ most coveted parcel of land, the resort’s residential-style accommodations provide the perfect ‘home away from home’ for those seeking to get away while staying connected to work and remote learning for an extended period of time. I’m personally going to try it out later this month and invite you to do so as well!

How has Hilton been supporting the community through the pandemic?
Especially in these challenging times, Hilton remains committed to having a profound, positive impact on communities around the world, just as we have for the past 101 years. As part of this commitment, we invest in a wide range of global volunteer campaigns, food donation initiatives, and disaster relief projects, among many others. These efforts are guided by Hilton’s Corporate Responsibility strategy called Travel with Purpose, and our 2030 Goals which commit us to double our social impact investments and cut our environmental footprint in half by 2030.

partnership and alongside our strong ownership community, Hilton and American Express together made more than 1 million hotel room nights available across the United States to frontline medical professionals leading the fight against COVID-19. This included doctors, nurses, EMTs, paramedics and other frontline medical staff who needed a place to sleep, recharge or isolate from their families for fear of exposure to the virus. Approximately 3,000 hotels in Hilton’s portfolio across the US & Puerto Rico participated in the program and tens of thousands of medical professionals booked more than 900,000 of those room nights, with some staying in hotels for several weeks at a time at no cost.

In addition to shelter, we also wanted to provide the comfort of a fresh, healthy meal to these brave individuals – which was a challenge given that many of the restaurants in our hotels had suspended operations. To address this, our partners at American Express stepped up again and made an additional $1 million contribution to José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, which allowed us to provide nearly 30,000 meals to the frontline medical professionals staying with us in some of the most impacted markets, including New York, Los Angeles and many others.

Throughout this crisis we’ve also made it possible for Hilton Honors members to donate their Honors Points to several of our partner organizations who are supporting the response to COVID-19.

What do you think are the opportunities for growth out of the pandemic?
One of the things we are most proud of and grateful for is the trust that our owners place in Hilton and in our brands which allows them to continue to invest in us. This puts us in a strong position moving forward out of the pandemic.

In terms of new markets, the conversations that we were having pre-pandemic are continuing today given the long-term nature of luxury real estate investments. We have our eye on major markets where, through a combination of white space in our portfolio, highly focused brands and deep untapped demand from our Honors members, we believe that we can drive superior market share performance for owners. These markets include California, Mexico, France, Italy, Australia, Japan, and India. We will continue to maintain a strong focus on driving our luxury business forward and will have more news to share soon.

For LXR, our collection of bespoke, independent properties, conversion opportunities are particularly relevant in the current environment. Conversions offer the opportunity for independent hotels to lean on a strong partner with some of the best talent in the industry to help navigate through difficult times like these, leverage the power of Hilton’s commercial engines and technology and get direct access to a loyal 108M+ Hilton Honors customer base.

Hilton’s other collection brands for example, Curio and Tapestry, have performed well for us during these times. We are excited to offer a true luxury experience through LXR, which continues to develop a strong global pipeline. In a moment when our industry faces tumultuous times and formidable challenges, we believe that it is critical to passionately focus our growth efforts on owners with whom we share a common vision and can forge a long-term relationship, as well as on transformative projects that not only drive compelling returns but make a positive impact on the communities and the world around them.

Can you introduce us to LXR Hotels & Resorts and share more about the brand’s growth/pipeline? What are you most excited about?
I joined Hilton last year to launch and grow LXR Hotels & Resorts, a collection of independent luxury properties, each offering a singular travel experience native to its place, history, and tradition.

LXR connects legendary properties into an exclusive network of hotels that are set apart by an unrivaled commitment to personalized attention and luxurious, yet locally immersive experiences for their guests. Each hotel will offer their own unique culinary concepts and wellness programming specific to the destination and heritage of the hotel. We have created a competitive brand offering that will give independent hotel owners an opportunity to retain the individual character and identity of their properties while having access to the extensive benefits and strength of the Hilton enterprise.

Our guests are sophisticated global travelers looking for travel experiences where luxury and design are personal. They are passionate about exploring new and unique places and satisfying their adventurous spirit, while experiencing individualized service and attention to detail.

We have some incredible LXR properties and resorts open and in the pipeline globally, including the recently opened Susona Bodrum on the beautiful Aegean coastline and Zemi Beach House in idyllic Anguilla. We are also thrilled to introduce Crockfords Las Vegas (summer 2021), Roku Kyoto in Japan (autumn 2021), and several stunning announcements soon in coastal California, the east Indian Ocean, and the Indonesian archipelago.

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