As part of the Americas Lodging Investment Summit’s Patron sponsorship program, ALIS organizers asked Hilton’s Matt Schuyler eight timely questions as we prepare for the 21st annual event January 24-26, 2022, at the JW Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles L.A. LIVE. Following are his responses.

You’ve been at Hilton for more than a dozen years, including the last seven months in your current role. Given the current state of the hotel industry, how important is it to have a clear brand identity—whether it’s a collection of properties worldwide or a single asset?

Having a clear brand identity is more critical than ever. The last 18 months have introduced so much uncertainty into our lives, that as people travel, they are looking for the reliability and reassurance of a brand they know and trust. For more than 100 years, Hilton has been the leader in global hospitality dedicated to delivering friendly and reliable experiences – every hotel, every guest, every time – across a portfolio of 18 strong brands. Whether introducing product innovations or new services to meet guests’ evolving needs, our brands deliver on our commitment to being the most hospitable company in the world.

We’re always looking to expand our portfolio to ensure we have the right hotels in the right places at the right time and want to be the premier hospitality company that welcomes all guests – for business or fun, large events or smaller gatherings – through a variety of distinctive brands that meet the needs of all types of travelers.

What challenges and opportunities will emerge on the hotel branding front related to development and investment during the next 12 months?

Delivering friendly and reliable service will always be our highest calling at Hilton. The labor shortage is a major challenge for our industry right now and in the face of this, we must double down on the guest experience over the next 12 months.

Regardless of the climate, we will bring our century-long legacy of industry expertise to continue to deliver the world-renowned hospitality that comes with the Hilton name. That remains our greatest priority and across our brands, and we will stay focused on delivering the unparalleled service that keeps guests coming back to our hotels.

What’s the biggest operational obstacle hotels face today from a branding perspective, and how do they overcome it?

Brands are the lifeblood of our organization. As we grow globally, particularly following the last nearly two years, we have been challenged to evolve and think about our brands in new ways. We must deliver a consistent guest experience, while flexing to meet the rapidly evolving needs of travelers and owners and maintaining the momentum of brand growth in emerging markets. We can achieve this through clearly defined products and positioning for all of our brands.

While maintaining core brand fundamentals and commitment to service and quality globally, we have to adapt elements of our brand experiences to meet the needs of our guests, our owners, and the market. For us that means launching regional prototypes for brands including Hilton Garden Inn and Tru by Hilton to deliver more authentic local experiences. Here in the Americas, this adaptability led us to integrating three premium brands each with unique accommodations and amenities at Resorts World Las Vegas; and expanding our all-inclusive portfolio with Hilton Cancun, an All-Inclusive Resort while offering the trusted standard of quality and reassurance that comes with the Hilton name.

What emerging consumer trend(s) could play a major role in future hotel development?

Travel is the ultimate manifestation of the desire for human experiences. Throughout the pandemic, people leaned on travel memories and virtual trips. Consumers are eager to get back to travel and nearly 80% of Americans plan to take a “wish list” trip in the coming months, according to a recent survey we conducted. Hilton is poised to make those dream vacations a reality as we continued opening new properties in coveted destinations throughout the pandemic -- 414 new properties, more than a hotel a day, in 2020.

As travelers hit the road and take to the skies again, we are focused on delivering the memorable experiences they seek. That includes everything from work-cations blending work and family life, to bespoke food and beverage adventures such as culinary trips, hands-on food tutorials and private chef lessons.

Wellness is another key trend, moving beyond the spa and gym into multiple aspects of the travel experience, including calming design features, menus with fresh, healthy, and local ingredients, and meetings that incorporate wellness breaks.

How can hotel owners/investors/franchisees address the fine lines between finding and keeping a labor force, maintaining brand standards, and being profitable?

We continue to work more closely with our owner community to find innovative solutions for today’s unprecedented challenges – quickly and nimbly. Flexibility is key.

The availability of labor is the biggest challenge for our industry right now. Hotels are actively hiring. At Hilton, we believe our strong workplace culture helps attract top talent. Even during the pandemic year of 2020, we were ranked the No. 3 World’s Best Workplace by FORTUNE and Great Place to Work. This kind of acclaim is always nice to have – but it’s even more important as we help our owners compete for Team Members who can thrive in hospitality.

During the pandemic, we supported our hotels’ need to adapt, relaxing certain brand standards while staying within local safety guidelines and restrictions, as well as easing capital expenditures and adjusting marketing spend. As we move through recovery, we continue to work with our ownership community to manage the cost of running a hotel while delivering an exceptional guest experience.

What should the global hotel industry do to achieve a diversified leadership platform that is inclusive of gender, racial and culture differences?

Our founder, Conrad Hilton, believed we could achieve world peace through travel, which at its core, is about respecting and celebrating the experiences of others. Built on that foundation of inclusivity and as a business of people serving people, Hilton has always been committed to developing a workforce that is diverse and inclusive. As such, Hilton has been named #1 on DiversityInc’s 2021 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.

We can start to effect change most rapidly and dramatically through talent recruitment and retention. To that end, we have announced new commitments to further advance gender and ethnic representation at leadership levels by 2027 and publicly release U.S.-specific data.

As an industry, we can diversify the hospitality leaders of tomorrow through education. This includes focusing on diversity and inclusion within internships, scholarship funds, involvement with job fairs and partnering to develop hospitality programs at colleges and universities.

What’s the most relevant bit of business advice that you would give to hotel developers and investors as they look to continue along the path to recovery?

The hotel industry has undoubtedly experienced unprecedented hardships over the last two years, but as we see a release in pent-up travel demand, we are optimistic that these trends will continue as vaccine distribution leads to the easing of travel restrictions. My advice is to partner with a trusted brand, which offers owners and investors opportunities for their hotels to benefit from the strength of a network effect.

With the power of the Hilton name behind 18 world-class brands comes nearly 123 million Hilton Honors members and a high-performing commercial engine, allowing us to serve as a trusted partner to help navigate uncertain times. Our game-changing technologies and offerings enhance the experience for our guests, who are at the provide the reliable and friendly experiences guests expect as we progress on our recovery journey.

What’s the one takeaway people should know about Matt Schuyler?

As I transitioned from more than a decade as Chief Human Resources Officer to Chief Brand Officer, I brought with me a continued commitment to our Team Members. Team Members truly are the heart of all we do. We can create the best brands in the world, but it is our people who bring those brands to life. We take incredible pride in working with our teams globally to deliver the most memorable experiences to our guests day in and day out at every brand, at every hotel.

* Posted on November 22, 2021