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Listening and Leading: How Hilton continued innovating during the pandemic

June 18, 2021


By Frank Passanante
Senior Vice President of Hilton Worldwide Sales, Americas

Travel is an unstoppable force, and meetings and events create meaningful human connections. Again and again, history has shown both statements to be true – we’ve seen recessions slow business and storms devastate communities, but we always rebuild, we always recover and we always innovate.

What we are all experiencing in the pandemic – whether as a global hospitality company, as hotel owners, or as event planners – has no script or roadmap. At Hilton, it has been unlike anything we’d seen in our 100+ years of business.

Through our toughest days, though, what keeps me and the team going is our collective purpose. In the words of our founder Conrad Hilton, our vision is “to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.” The world needs hospitality and human connection now more than ever. The trick is to quickly evolve within all of the new constraints – and then keep listening and innovating.

Flexibility was (and continues to be) top-of-mind for customers. By reviewing our policies and loyalty benefits through that lens, early in the pandemic, we saw that we could make some quick changes. We wanted our customers and guests to know early on that we would partner with them through this challenging time.

We first made adjustments to our modification and cancellation policies for transient reservations. This optimized flexibility, given that travel remained restricted in many parts of the world but had begun to resume in others.

We also announced a number of updates to our Hilton Honors benefits since members were not able to travel as often. This included extending members’ 2019 and 2020 member tier status, rolling over nights earned in 2020 to count towards 2021-2023 tier status, pausing the expiration of Points scheduled for 2020 and extending the expiration date of Weekend Night Rewards.


In addition to flexibility, cleanliness was and remains to be top-of-mind for customers ready to travel – or who need to travel, such as essential frontline workers. In fact, when asked, customers said that three out of the top four actions a hotel could take to make guests feel safer focused on additional cleaning. This is why in June 2020 we rolled out Hilton CleanStay our industry-leading program designed to deliver elevated standards of cleanliness throughout the entirety of their stay. Through this program, we implemented a number of operational changes to help ensure each guest’s stay is a safe and positive experience. While we continue to update and evolve this program, some on-property experience changes include:

Online Resources 

Even before departure, we direct our guests and customers to visit, as well as the property website, to learn more about our cleanliness program and what to expect during their stay.

The Lobby Experience

Guests who prefer a contactless arrival experience can download the free Hilton Honors mobile app. Guests who book directly through the app, on, or through a preferred travel advisor can check in, choose their room, check out and even unlock their guest room door with Hilton Digital Key where available. If they prefer a traditional check-in, physical distancing measures are in place directing them how to move through the in-person check-in and check-out process in a safe way.

Face Coverings 

In the U.S, and Caribbean, and Latin America - in an effort to protect everyone who visits as well as works in our hotels - both team members and guests are required to wear face coverings while in indoor, public areas at our hotels.

Housekeeping Service Options

The frequency of housekeeping services is now based upon guest preference, recognizing that some may not want staff entering their room.

Reimagined Public Spaces

The frequency with which we clean the public areas has increased and physical set-ups may have changed. For instance, fitness centers may be closed multiple times a day for cleaning. Equipment has been properly adjusted and positioned to enable physical distancing, and the number of guests in the fitness center at any one time may be limited.

Food and Beverage Offerings

During breakfast, restaurants offer a range of options, including grab & go, pre-plated covered items, à la carte, and assisted service. When ordering room service (where provided), guests can experience contactless delivery.

Coat Check/Luggage/Bell Service

 Where valet parking services are suspended, self-parking is now available. Luggage and doorman services also vary by property, so we’re encouraging guests to check availability with the local hotel team; carts will be available for self-service, and sanitized after each use. Attended coat check service may be available based on the hotel. Otherwise, self-serve coat check will be available with sanitized coat hangers.

Creating the Future, Together

This pandemic continues to teach all of us important lessons – about our shared resilience and ingenuity but also about our dedication to our communities, company, and each other. Throughout the last 18 months, we as a company and a sales organization, in partnership with our customers and owners, have taken bold steps, leading the recovery efforts for both our business and the industry – and we will continue to do so. Though the world has changed dramatically, one thing remains constant: our commitment to hospitality.  


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