Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta says the COVID-19 crisis has not
eroded his optimism about his company’s long-term prospects, but he does think it
will take three to four years for demand to return to what it was in 2019 – one
of the “best years” in the company’s 100-year history and when it opened more
than one hotel per day.
Nassetta made the comments during an interview with Washington
Post opinions editor at large Michael Duffy as part of the media company’s “Path
Forward” online series.
Nassetta says all of Hilton’s properties in China – about 250
– are now open, while in Europe, 40% of its properties remain closed, and in the
United States about 12% are still closed. Hilton has more than 6,100 hotels
worldwide and 430,000 employees, of which about 60% are currently on furlough.
Nassetta says even as travel restrictions ease around
the globe, the recovery will be a “slow grind.”
“You are coming through a health crisis – and we’re not through
that by any means ... and you’re going to exit that into an economic crisis,” he
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“There’s just so much damage being done to so many businesses
out there, that I think when you get to the other side ... you are in now - and
you will be in - some form of recession for a period of time that will take
time to get through.”
In the United States - with the Memorial Day holiday weekend
approaching - Nassetta says demand has increased, particularly for hotels in
warm and coastal locations.
“We have a bunch of hotels this holiday weekend [in the U.S.]
that have very high levels of occupancy, so we are trying to make sure we have
all the right protocols in place to make sure we can distance, to make sure we
don’t take too much occupancy so we make sure we are in a safe, secure environment,”
Hilton is working with Lysol and Mayo Clinic to develop what
Nassetta calls “hospital-grade hygiene and cleanliness protocols.”
“The one thing I know ... whether it’s terrorism, a pandemic,
any form of strife, if you don’t feel safe, you don’t travel, you don’t go to
those destinations. And so right now people really don’t feel safe anywhere,”
“We can’t solve all the problems, but we can solve the
problem of when they are in our ecosystem, if they make it that far, we are
going to make sure they are safe.”
For hotel employees, Nassetta says that will mean temperature
checks, self-reporting and requiring masks and gloves in certain situations. For
guests, he says the company will “lean in” to some existing offerings - such as
contactless technologies for check-in, room entry and in-room services – and will
add new safety measures such as PPE stations with sanitizers in lobbies,
masks for guests that want them and new layouts in public spaces to enable
social distancing. Every hotel room door will also have a seal that guests will
break as they open it, to signal the room has been cleaned and not re-entered.
But will those changes be permanent? Nassetta says not likely.
“Some of the things – PPE, team members wearing masks, customers
wearing masks, distancing ... I think when you wake up in three years all of that
will be pretty much be what it was 90 days ago and not what you will see in the
short and intermediate term,” he says.
“We’ll get through the health elements of this, and people will
again begin to feel safe and go back to a more normalized existence.”