Mr. Kurre

Food & Beverage

Emergence of New Trends in Guest Services

By Adrian Kurre, Global Head, Homewood Suites & Home2 Suites by Hilton

Earlier in my career, I spent some time on the food and beverage side of the hospitality business. A former manager once told me the golden rule of food and beverage: "Serve hot food hot. Serve cold food cold. And do it with a smile."

It is a simple notion that makes a big difference for guests. But its straightforwardness belies a deeper complexity - applicable beyond food and beverage - that we need to continually address across the hospitality industry: delivering on our promises and creating an excellent experience for guests at every step. The reality, as we all know, is the research, the testing, and the partnership with all the stakeholders that create that experience is far from simple.

When it comes to fulfilling our promise to our stakeholders, every hotel brand goes through the usual motions - every few years, we make an upgrade to a property here or there. We switch up the shampoo and conditioner offering; strike a partnership deal with a relevant brand; update our logo. We make incremental changes. The true opportunity is to ensure each change, no matter how small, connects with the entire experience we aim to create for our customers.

Incrementalism is no longer enough. Guests expect more, and rightly so. Their preferences are changing. As choices expand, brand loyalty is more important than ever and harder to win (and keep winning every time).

To meet the moment, hotel brands must think and act for the long term, embracing the complexity and uncertainty of our category.

At Hilton Garden Inn, we've adopted a roadmap, called 'Flourish', that's as much brand strategy as it is a mindset that provides direction and context for everything we do. We use it as a filter to help us make decisions about what's right for guests and to help our general managers, owners, and our entire hotel teams deliver a highly relevant, highly memorable experience and, most importantly, deliver on our promises.

The Hard Trends

To do this, we are making big bets on the trends we see happening in front of us that light the path to the future. Working with researchers, analysts, and futurists, we recognize a number of major shifts under way that we need to address now.

  1. Increasing connectedness. It's no secret that the rise of mobile and connected technology is fundamentally changing the way people make choices, make purchases, and interact with brands. We're focused on ensuring our 'mobile experience' is not a distinct part of the equation, but flows seamlessly into the live experience in every Hilton Garden Inn hotel. Every touch point guests have with us is important, and more and more of those touch points are digital.

  2. The changing face of travelers. Every day, 10,000 baby boomers retire and roughly 10,000 more will reach retirement age each day for the next 19 years. A younger, hardwired generation is coming of age, entering the workforce, and creating profound social, cultural, and economic shifts. Generationally, expectations for travel and hospitality are changing. Generation Yers, in particular, want more options and flexibility in the way they travel, be it for work or play.

    Just one way we are meeting these expectations is through Project Grow, our initiative to transform lobby areas to be more inviting and provide opportunities to socialize, while also offering more intimate spaces for those who prefer to work or unwind alone. In other words, younger travelers told us they would spend more time in the lobby to be around other people, but still wanted the option to have a quiet space in it for them to work, or watch TV. Simple design changes achieve this.

  3. A focus on health and wellness. The past several years has seen a renewed and absolutely welcome emphasis on eating better, staying fit, and overall wellness. 'Options,' through the form of choice and control, remains the theme - travelers want more options to help them stay healthier.

    For example, research shows that when people order food in a lobby environment, it's typically healthier than what they might order through room service. Evidently, some "peer pressure" works positively in this setting.

    One small way we are starting to meet this is with our signature 'Welcome Bar', a granola bar each guest receives upon arrival. It's a gesture of welcome, and respects our guests' decision to be more conscious of what they eat.

All these trends provide huge opportunities for our owners, too. If people feel more comfortable and have more opportunities to socialize in hotels, we have more chances to sell them appetizers or cocktails, for instance.

How We Flourish

We know that the key to staying on top is a long-term commitment to always being better. Flourish is designed to help us honor that commitment with all of our stakeholders.

For the past two years, we've rolled out a series of initiatives and improvements that have been tested and re-tested, priced and re-priced, and simplified for easy, cost-effective execution. And we'll continue to do so, with equal focus both on the physical look and feel of our hotels, as well as the intangibles that come with great customer service and meaningful interactions with our team.

For example, we've upgraded our coffee program through a strategic partnership with Keurig, adding Keurig single cup coffee makers in all our guestrooms in the U.S. and Canada.

Our partnership with Keurig is an illustrative example for our overall approach. Research told us how much our guests value a great cup of coffee in the morning. Many say that it's a critical success factor in their day. So we wanted to give them an enjoyable option for their morning ritual, and Keurig made perfect sense for partnership. It's proven to be symbiotic in terms of reward. Our guests get a great cup of coffee, our hotel teams save time and money because the new coffee system is more efficient and easier to manage, and owners have another way to boost loyalty.

Another example of Flourish: our research tells us that 98 percent of guests sleep on the mattresses. While that's obvious, the point is that this is something nearly everyone who visits an HGI uses. So it needs to be the best and we need to continually evaluate the environment we offer. We're testing new options, and will seek our team and guest feedback in the coming months.

Of course, service matters, too. The best amenities don't mean much if the humanity is lacking. We've invested heavily in developing and energizing our entire team, rallying them around the Flourish mission, and we're seeing the payoff in more engaged team members and increased guest loyalty scores.

One way we've done that is through the Hilton Garden Inn Promise. We decided to more explicitly declare to our guests that that they could count on us to make their stay exceptional, and if we fall short, we'd make it right. And further, it's also a promise we make to each other to help each other succeed in our work.

But delivering on that promise requires much more than words on paper. It requires the buy-in of every team member. When we launched it, there was extensive training to ensure all employees understood the underlying goals and objectives of the platform, and generated excitement for the program rollout, and drove home the notion of how heavily we depend on them.

The Business Case

At the center of our evolution is the need to help our owners get results. That's why, throughout the process, we've considered profitability a 'trust point' - a non-negotiable aspect of our focus around Flourish. If it can't grow our brand - either through revenue, guest loyalty, or team engagement - it isn't worth doing. For example, our hotels that have implemented Project Grow are seeing significant gains in both food and beverage sales and guest loyalty scores.

Our owners need to believe we are good stewards of the brand; that we are strong partners, and that we strive to prove it every day. With a relentless focus on a great, differentiated experience, we believe we can improve on guest loyalty. With that focus, we can build trust with our owners that allow us to constantly innovate and experiment.

Listening to our team, too, has been so critical. Let me share a small but illustrative example. In talking with our night auditors in the wee hours of the morning, we heard suggestions for making the audit process more efficient and cost-effective. We took the suggestions, tested them, and found better check-in and check-out processes that our guests like better and save our hotels approximately $6,000 a year. Cumulatively, as we continue to find ways to work better and smarter, the savings and opportunities add up quickly.

But quantifying certain results is hard, and we're putting in place the right mechanisms to do it. Monetizing loyalty is a more challenging proposition, and we're working with our GMs and owners to do just that. What's the financial implication of a 7 or 8 in loyalty scores? What, specifically, helped us tick

What's Next

Much is on the horizon in 2014 and for the next several years. From rolling out enhancements that appeal to all the senses, to creating new looks and feels for our properties that will delight our guests, to finding the right tools and processes that make it easier for our team to deliver on our promise, we have big goals mapped out for the future.

We'll keep listening. Our team and our guests are telling us what we need to understand. Our job will to be take what we learn, and act on it. We will continue to surprise them by going the extra step above their expectations. In doing so, we can build loyalty with them, engage our team, and show our owners the results they're after.

Of course, it won't be easy, and there are any number of worthy competitors all vying for consideration and preference.

To really stand out, to really earn the loyalty we're after, we have to make every interaction the best it can be, whether it's on a smartphone or on the property, from before check-in to after check-out.

That's how Hilton Garden Inn will succeed and flourish for years to come.

Adrian Kurre serves as the global head for Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton; the award-winning brands that are part of Hilton Worldwide’s “All Suites” category. Mr. Kurre is responsible for the overall strategy for both brands with his primary objectives to diversify and increase revenue, drive brand growth and development, increase consumer loyalty, as well as maintain collaborative relationships with hotel owners and management company representatives to position both Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites as innovators in the All-Suites category. He also continues to build on the commitment of the brands award winning customer satisfaction culture. Mr. Kurre can be contacted at 703-883-1000 or adrian.kurre@hilton.com Please visit http://www.hilton.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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