Hilton launched their CleanStay this summer and has focused on meeting the ever-changing needs of their guests, introducing WorkSpaces by Hilton for those that need a quiet alternative to home. Nils-Arne also talks about exciting new projects in the pipeline and the long term influence the pandemic will have on luxury travel.
What were your greatest lessons learned during 2020?
As the world adjusts to an ever-evolving ‘new normal,’ our industry continues to face unprecedented challenges for which we must adopt agile approaches to all portions of our business. We at Hilton quickly recognized the importance of implementing flexible strategies in order to keep up with the constantly changing travel restrictions, as well as consumers’ changing needs and demands.
For our luxury properties, it was imperative that our hotels could still provide the best-in-class service our guests have come to expect, while introducing new safety and cleanliness protocols. We wanted to make sure we didn’t take away from the experience, but rather evolve it to ensure our guests could enjoy the destination and hotel safely and seamlessly. A key component to this was the introduction of Hilton CleanStay this summer, an industry-leading standard of cleanliness and disinfection created in partnership with RB, maker of Lysol and Dettol, and the Mayo Clinic, that focuses on cleanliness that is visible to guests throughout their entire stay and provides guests with much-needed assurance and peace of mind when travelling. Many of our luxury properties, such as Conrad Maldives Rangali Island and Conrad Punta de Mita, went a step further to ensure guests’ peace of mind with in-house clinics to provide COVID testing as well as to help facilitate guests’ travel requirements to ensure compliance with government regulations upon the return of their test results.
Additionally, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of finding unique and “outside the box” ideas to drive revenue for our hotels. When remote working became the new normal for a large portion of our guests, we saw an opportunity to use the unoccupied hotel rooms as short-term alternative work areas and introduced WorkSpaces by Hilton. Based on providing distraction-free workspaces in a clean and flexible environment, guests who book a WorkSpaces room can enjoy a full day’s access to a guest room designed to enhance productivity with ample desk space, high-speed WIFI, and access to hotel amenities such as business centers, gyms and spas, and hotel restaurants where available. This program ultimately achieved two equally important goals – it provided an alternative revenue-driver for our properties, particularly for our urban hotels, as well as a useful service for our guests looking for workspaces outside of their home and office.
Do you think the pandemic will have a long-term influence on luxury travel?
Certainly- the travel industry has been forever changed. While the pandemic caused unforeseen setbacks for our industry in the short term, it has also allowed the hospitality brands such as Hilton to evolve and improve service standards, operational processes, and generally become more nimble in how we work. Hotels, particularly those within the luxury sector, have had to implement new ways to deliver high-touch service in a world of ‘no touch’, ensuring our guests still receive unparalleled service while adhering to strict safety protocols.
Hilton was in a particularly good position to address guests’ desire for more contactless and touchless options. By leaning on our already-existing technology with Digital Key through the Hilton Honors app, as well as investing in new technologies that would allow our hotels to quickly adapt to a fully contactless arrival and departure process, we were able to safely welcome guests to our hotels while simultaneously protecting our hotel Team Members.
We have seen incredible new programs rolled out at our properties globally that allow us to continue to provide unparalleled service and experiences for our guests. For instance, the idea of the ‘workcation,’ or blending of business and leisure travel, is not a new one, however, with an increase in remote working and learning, this trend has been further popularized and has presented great opportunities for our hotels. For example, at Conrad Punta de Mita, which just opened in September, the resort is offering a Work From Paradise package that allows guests to leverage technology to take their work abroad while reconnecting with family in a beautiful setting.
Another consumer trend we’ve seen develop over the last year is a heightened demand for ultra-private travel experiences such as full hotel buyouts and vacationing in remote destinations that naturally lend themselves to socially distancing. We are lucky to have several such resort destinations within our luxury portfolio including properties such as Conrad Bora Bora, Conrad Koh Samui, Conrad Punta de Mita and both Waldorf Astoria and Conrad properties in the Maldives. At these resorts, socially distancing happens almost naturally with the remote location, expansive property size and relatively low guest count, and as a result, these properties have been and continue to be extremely popular for guests. And for those ultra- discerning travelers looking for the absolute height of privacy, we recently unveiled the new Private Island at Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, the largest and most exclusive private island in the Maldives.
While the pandemic has changed the travel landscape, it has given us a chance to rethink the way we cater to luxury travelers. The hospitality industry has proven itself to be highly resilient and we are already seeing signs of it coming out of this better and stronger because of it.
How did Conrad reimagine their operating model to stay in line with a fluctuating landscape?
First and foremost was implementing heightened safety measures and protocols such as Hilton CleanStay to ensure the safety of our Team Members and guests. Our corporate and hotel teams worked diligently to ensure this roster of robust and strict safety protocols encompassing all touchpoints of the hotel experience was rolled out across the Conrad portfolio in a timely manner. For Conrad specifically, our operating model remains largely unchanged, though as a brand we’ve found creative ways to cater to changing consumer preferences such as heightened protocols albeit in a subtle yet reassuring manner.
In addition to implementing CleanStay at every one of our properties, we had to rethink how our guests could still fully enjoy the destination in which they were traveling but in the safest way possible. At the heart of the Conrad brand pillars is “experiences with impact,” where we strive to awaken guests’ passion for our destinations through highly-immersive experiences that enable personal enrichment. With social distancing requirements and new traveler preferences and priorities, we’ve had to develop creative ways to continue to ignite these connections through unique extended stay offers at our properties as well as “staycation” packages for travelers uncomfortable with air travel and wanting to stay closer to home.
Sustainability continues to be at the core of the experiences we offer at Conrad properties across the globe. Unfortunately, the pandemic has given way to an increase in single-use plastics, so it’s more important than ever that we continue to offer opportunities for guests to feel that their travel experiences are eco-conscious or give back to communities in some way. Properties such as Conrad Maldives Rangali Island are a prime example of how our hotels are investing in a sustainable future- from collaborating with environmental organization, Parley For The Oceans, to help drive change and promote sustainable travel to the hotel’s coral protection and regeneration program, guests can feel confident that staying at a Conrad property will leave them empowered and connected to the community.
Regardless of our guests’ length of stay or distance traveled, our Team Members have remained deeply committed to providing unparalleled levels of hospitality and service through this unprecedented time. A fantastic example can be seen at our Conrad Washington, DC property where a local couple had decided to spend their “staycation” honeymoon after the pandemic cancelled their European escape. True to our Conrad values, the hotel Team Members worked diligently with our partner hotels in Europe to put together a care package of personalized notes, photos as well as themed canapés and cocktails from each city to commemorate the couple’s “travels.”
While our guests will forever remain at the forefront of our business, it’s stories like these along with the countless number of untold stories, where the strength and resilience of our Team Members really shines through. Our Team Members understand that true acts of hospitality help keep the light and warmth of travel alive and well in our hotels across the world and we have them to thank for the eventual return and success of our business.
Can you tell us about Conrad hotels slated to open in 2021?
Despite all the challenges our industry faced in 2020, we’re extremely pleased with the development progress we’ve made with Conrad over the last year, and we’re excited as we look ahead to 2021 for what’s to come. In 2020, we opened two stellar properties, Conrad Punta de Mita located on a two-mile strip of beach along the Pacific, and Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, a conversion from one of Abu Dhabi’s most prestigious and iconic hotels. We also added impressive hotels to our pipeline including Conrad Rabat Arzana, slated to open in 2021, and Conrad Costa del Sol, the brand’s debut property in Spain slated to open in 2022.
Looking to 2021, the brand will continue to expand its presence in the Asia Pacific Region as well as in the Americas. In China, we will add Conrad Urumqi and Conrad Jiuzhaigou in the late spring and summer and in the Americas, we are particularly excited to open Conrad Las Vegas at Resorts World in June. Resorts World Las Vegas is a milestone development for Hilton as it will bring together three premier brands, Hilton, LXR and Conrad, for the first time ever and renew Hilton’s foothold on the Las Vegas Strip.
Conrad continues to have a strong pipeline of upcoming developments across the Americas in Nashville, Orlando, Chicago and Mexico City, as well as throughout Asia Pacific, Europe, and Africa. In the Middle East, Conrad will debut its first all-residential development with the 2022 opening of Conrad Residences Bahrain Financial Harbour in Manama, Bahrain, which marks another significant moment for the Conrad brand, as it continues to expand its residential offering across the globe. We look forward to sharing new developments as the year progresses.