by Loren G. Edelstein | December 01, 2004

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, Neb.

M&C: Has the influence of procurement affected your group business?
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 groups?
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.