It’s been a very busy year for Beverly Hills,
Calif.-based Hilton Hotels Corp., one marked by new property
openings, upgraded technology and enhanced customer services.
M&C recently met with four of the chain’s leaders
to discuss key issues for 2005. Present were Robert Dirks, senior
vice president of sales strategy and development; Lawrence Luteran,
vice president, group sales and industry relations; Keith Hymel,
vice president of sales strategy and technology; and David Keys,
regional vice president of sales and marketing.
M&C: With 2,244 properties in the Hilton family of
hotels, are you still growing?
Luteran: Absolutely. We have 450 properties in the
pipeline now, mostly limited-service Hilton Garden Inns and Hampton
Inns. We also added three full-service convention headquarters
hotels within the past year, in Austin, Texas; Houston; and Omaha,
M&C: Has the influence of procurement affected your
Dirks: That’s one of the biggest trends we’re
seeing. It puts the onus on planners and hotels to speak a
different language. We need to make sure the procurement folks
understand a meeting cannot be a commodity buy. And it really does
put a responsibility on the planner to articulate the value of
their business. It elevates the role of planner.
M&C: What else is new?
Dirks: It used to be three or four days was an
acceptable response time. Today, customers want answers
instantaneously. Our solution is Hilton Direct, a call center and
meeting-site search service that manages all requests for proposal.
Now, customers using our online RFP will get a response the same
day or the next business day.
Keys: Also, we are now one of the largest
operators of facilities that meet the standards of the
International Association of Conference Centers. We have 17
IACC-approved facilities within Hilton hotels.
M&C: Is attrition still a big problem for
Dirks: We’ve seen some real improvement. In fact,
planners often need more rooms because now they’re underestimating
their room blocks.
Hymel: We’re also working very closely with
meeting planners to make sure every attendee in the hotel is
counted. We are expanding our Grip product, which compares the
conference registration list with the hotel’s confirmed
reservations. In late 2005, it will be available in all Hilton
branded, full-service hotels.