Q&A: Hilton Steps Up Customer Loyalty Efforts


The hotel industry is going through a rough patch. But even in tough times, consumers are looking for an occasional getaway, according to Adam Burke, svp-customer loyalty at Hilton Hotels, which earlier this year kicked off its Hilton HHonors Double Points loyalty program. The program allows Hilton customers to earn twice the number of base points for stays at more than 2,400 hotels worldwide. (Hilton includes brands such as the Waldorf-Astoria, Hampton and Doubletree.) HHonors, which runs through April, comes at a time when hotel net income is expected to drop 14 percent in 2009, per PKF Hospitality Research. In a recent interview with Brandweek, Burke discussed the new program and how the Hilton family of hotels is faring in a down economy.

Why kick off a promotion like the Hilton HHonors Double Points customer loyalty program?

Adam Burke: Our customers get a regular stream of offers that are tailored to meet their specific needs, and that was the genesis behind this Double Points program. In the past six to 12 months, there has been a significant increase in customer awareness and utilization of hotel programs. We found that people are increasingly realizing that there is tremendous value in the Hilton HHonors program. It’s very easy to earn HHonors points and redeem for rewards.
BW: How is the Hilton family of hotels weathering the recession?
AB: We are very fortunate because we [encompass everything] from focus service brands like Garden Inn and Hampton all the way through to luxury brands like the Waldorf-Astoria and Conrad. The good news is that customers—irrespective of their hotel needs or price point—can always find a product with us that meets their needs. That’s equally important—not just the distribution of our hotels, but the quality of the brands. Since J.D. Power and Associates [a market research firm] started their hotel statistics survey, our brands have [garnered] the lion’s share of first place wins for customer satisfaction, irrespective of how their needs change. We have the right product for them. The second part of it is, our brands are very focused on value. With Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites and Hampton, you are getting a lot of value for the dollar you pay with services such as a complimentary breakfast and a complimentary Internet package.
BW: How has the Hilton HHonors program been faring thus far? Are more members redeeming points for hotel stays in a down economy?
AB: We did a program like this some time ago. It’s been a good five plus years. We have gone very much towards a targeted approach. The reason we [re-launched that program is] is over time, we found that some customers are motivated by a points offer, and others, by a mileage offer. We try to put the right offer in front of someone based on their needs.
Double base points is something that has worked very well historically and in the current economy, much of the reason why we’re doing this is because we want to make sure people have every reason to want to stay with us.
BW: Has the recession caused hotels to rethink the way they approach the term “vacation?” What does a “hotel stay” really mean in a down economy? Is there even room for such luxuries as that?
AB: We’ve all heard the buzzword ‘staycation.’ That’s not a new concept to us. We’ve always had a significant mix of both leisurely stays and HHonor rewards nights, people who are taking long-term true resort stays, as well as very close-to-home short stays. Currently, we have just as many people who are coming to us for a one or two night stay as for a quick getaway.
People are very value conscious. In trying times, it’s more important than ever that we all still take the time to refuel and recharge. We’re making sure the right packages are available for people whether they’re planning on a long-term stay or doing things closer to home.

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