How Hilton Is Marketing Through the Pandemic (Pinterest Has Been Key)

'It's not about convincing someone to travel,' says vp of digital content Noha Abdalla

Noha Abdalla
Noha Abdalla's role at Hilton has grown from social media to unify all digital content under her leadership. Hilton

In the travel industry, the customer journey has always been a fickle thing for marketers. There are online travel agencies displaying discounts, thousands of review sites, and a whole Google suite of travel products dedicated to helping travelers get a good deal.

As travel demand has plunged during the pandemic, and is just barely beginning to recover, understanding this journey has never been more important. According to STR, a hotel consultancy that tracks the industry, the occupancy rate in the U.S. is still below 50%, down roughly 30% compared to 2019.

Lately, travel brands have taken to Pinterest, advertising directly to “dreamers”—travelers who have shown intent to go on a trip, but have yet to decide where they’re staying. Adweek spoke with Hilton’s Noha Abdalla, who formally used to oversee the brand’s social media content but has since expanded her role to overseeing all of the brand’s digital content, about how the hospitality chain is using the platform.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What led to your new gig?
During the pandemic, there’s been a realization that all of our digital owned channels are really critical in terms of our ability to communicate with our customers. So we’ve merged all of the digital channels under me, including social, email, web, SEO. Now we’re thinking about all of our digital channels in an integrated way.

How long has Hilton been working with Pinterest?
We’ve been working with Pinterest over the last few years, but during Covid, that’s when we really decided to reorganize our broad strategy and focus around “At Hilton” [the brand’s Pinterest campaign] so that we could restart, if you will, the conversation with consumers on the channel.

We had a lot of good content, but it was very different and dependent on the initiatives at that moment. Now, as we’ve done in many of our channels, we’re trying say, ‘How can we show up as one company that can offer you so many different things across our brands?’

Why Pinterest? What makes it more effective as a channel?
There are a lot of people on Pinterest interested in travel, over 25 million people who we can reach. It’s a platform where people can dream and plan. We know that not everybody can travel right now. But there’s an opportunity to think about, ‘Where’s that next trip that I want to take?’ Hilton wants to be there as people are dreaming and thinking about that next trip.

In the spring, we saw a lot of people searching for road trips and staycations. That helps inform our content strategy. By doing that, we saw our daily total audience quadruple, and we were also able to increase traffic to our site.

Pinners come to the platform fairly undecided of who they’re going to give their business to. That presents a big opportunity for a company like Hilton. We can present them with content that is adding value to their search, giving them an idea of where they can go, then, very organically, suggest some Hilton properties they could stay at.

What are you seeing as far as conversion and interest?
That’s the piece where the kind of environment around us is probably more of an indicator than the actual experience. It depends what state they’re in, what their comfort levels are. So we have seen bookings come from the platform, but the percentages are more of a reflection of where people are in their mindset.

@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.