What Hilton’s CEO Doesn’t Get About The Hotel Business And Guests

Hilton’s CEO wants guests to reuse their towels. He doesn’t think hotels should have to provide things better than what people have at home. He’s playing to owners, chasing fees, but diluting his brand – which will limit the ability to collect fees over time.

About 15 years ago I started having someone clean my then-apartment. They did a better job than I did, and I was always too busy with work to give it its due. Coming home to a clean apartment, first every two weeks and then eventually every week, always felt special. It was exciting and refreshing.

I make my bed every morning at home, because the bed it much more inviting and relaxing to fall into at the end of the day that way. Little touches can go a long way towards happiness where I sleep.

The website The Points Guy offered a roundup on the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference where several hotel CEOs shared comments about the industry.

Hilton’s Christopher Nassetta wants you to re-use your towels. It’s one thing not to have full daily housekeeping. It’s another not to empty trash and refresh towels.

Last year at the conference, Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta posed the question: “When you’re at home, do you change your sheets every day? Do you wash your towels every day? … No.”

This year, he doubled down on the notion that if you use your towels multiple times at home, why wouldn’t you do the same at a hotel?

People stay in hotels for all sorts of reasons beyond just a place to sleep (‘everybody has to be someplace’ or, in Buckaroo Bonzai parlance, ‘no matter where you go there you are’). Vacations and staycations are about escape, and sometime indulgence.

Several years ago Hyatt ran a campaign ‘it’s good not to be home.’ The idea was that staying at a hotel is better. It’s exciting. It’s not just a roof and a bed, it’s an escape where little indulgences feel special.

And this is necessary in order to generate a revenue premium for the product. It’s why so many brands have gone all-in on things like wellness, and why big chains have launched boutique brands. People create narratives about who they are based on where they stay and the companies they do business with. Very few things are more personal than where ew sleep.

As for Nassetta,

  • Yes, I do actually change out my bath towel daily at home. Why should I accept less when I stay at one of his hotels? But that misses the point.

  • Hotels are selling guests more than a (dorm) room, they’re selling an experience.

  • If they cut back on the experience – the feeling of being taken care of, the added services – they walk away from how they are differentiated from Airbnb. There becomes no more reason to stay at hotels over homesharing, and that’s bad for the business.

Nassetta doesn’t think he’s in the business of delivering experiences for guests. Instead he’s in the business of collecting fees from hotel owners who use the Hilton brand. And he doesn’t want to chase away owners who would pay fees to Hilton by imposing mandatory costs on them, and encouraging them to move over to Marriott.

For big hotel chains, guests aren’t the customer they’re the product – which get sold as marketing leads to hotel owners in exchange for fees.

The problem with this is what Nassetta is selling is the Hilton brand so while they may pocket more owner fees in the short run by diluting their standards, in the long run that makes the brand less valuable. And in an ‘asset light’ model where Hilton doesn’t own its hotels, all they have is a bit of experience managing inventory and their brand.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. ahhh the corporate hot air spin to attract hotel investment/owners
    “Drink the Kool Aid” said Jim Jones!!!

  2. Gary – many of us actually do use a towel 2-3 times at home and have absolutely no problem doing that in a hotel. If you want daily housekeeping pick a hotel that offers it and quit bitching. Personally I have ZERO problem w no daily housekeeping (I choose that pre COVID when it was standard since I don’t like people coming in my room when I’m not there) and requesting additional towels if I need them.

    Your quirks are really strange at time (e.g., airport body scanner, wall mounted shower dispensers, etc)

  3. A tempest in a teapot.

    To encourage guests to reuse towels is not a new concept. Many hotel chains have implemented it for years by giving the guests choice: Hang a towel on a hook after using it and that will be taken a sign that you’d like to reuse it to conserve “resources” (like water), and it won’t be replaced. Leave it on the bathroom floor, bathtub or sink and it will be replaced. You’ve seen the sign, haven’t you?

  4. There are people who dry their bare bottom with a towel, hang it up, and then use it again the next day? Gross.

  5. There are people like BobinNH who don’t wash their ass when showering? Gross.

  6. As a writer analyzing the customer experience offered in transportation and travel, I such pathetic attitudes towards customer experience and the public amusing.

    Note the parallels in attitude from Amtrak, American Airlines, and now Hilton. The excuse for Amtrak is simple: selection of Board members with no relevant experience in direct violation of federal regs; a corporate management lacking railroad operations experience. Perhaps this explains why Amtrak does not operate a lounge car between Chicago-San Antonio; offers an inferior meal in bowl on certain Eastern overnight routes; re-directs coach passengers to the cafe car by refusing service in the dining car. AA’s “Oasis” seating is a condemnation of customer experience. Unlike Amtrak, at least the airlines, hotels, and cruise lines are in a competitive marketplace.

    BTW-to save 10¢ the executive director (an RN) of a Columbia HCA hospital in Chicago recommended to just turnover the sheets instead of changing daily. Idiotic concepts like that forced out Columbia HCA from that entire market area.

  7. I think this is why Chris is a CEO and you’re not Gary!

    The heat off of this take is something else.

  8. In Donald Trumps book ” The Art of The Deal” He discusses a joint venture he had with Hyatt in a Manhattan hotel where he thought the staff uniforms looked sloppy, Hyatt’s ceo at the time didn’t think it was a big deal. Trump said if were going to maintain our image and our rates, the uniforms had to be immaculate. The decor, the service had to be top notch.

    Mr. Nasetta would be that Hyatt CEO.

  9. I’m in agreement with you, Gary.

    Going to a hotel, as opposed to being home, is all about being taken care of. If I’m traveling on business, that caretaking is all about giving me a strong base for me to do my job (I have the same approach to my customers/guests…my job is to take care of their needs. Doing that well is the reason I get paid, and what I get satisfaction from doing). If I’m at a hotel on vacation, the stay is largely about getting a respite from the responsibilities of my daily world. In either case, I’ll go where I get my needs met. With the deletion of the value of loyalty programs, hotels make it easier and easier for me to stay where my immediate needs are better met.

  10. My husband and I have been loyal to Hilton for years. That loyalty started to crack and break when Hilton started capitalizing on the Covid 19 lesser cleaning phase because of Covid. They still want to offer fewer services and that makes me feel nasty.
    We recently stayed at a Marriott owned hotel in DC and it was so much nicer and better service, too.
    I pay not to have to beg for extra towels and beg for service. I think we are done with Hilton Honors. The hotel doesn’t honor us for our loyalty anymore!

  11. @Gary – While your points about Hilton are valid, it’s not like Marriott isn’t moving in the same direction.

  12. Many of us think that washing towels and bedding every day is just a horrible waste of resources. I wish everyone thought that way, but any hotel guest should expect and receive what he wants. If you want fresh towels and bedding every day, you should have it. Comparing a hotel night to one at home is asinine. But the corporate big guys are paid bonuses on the stock value. The more money the corporation makes, the higher the value. The bigger the bonus. Simple stuff.

  13. Such a laughable post. As someone who’s spent his entire career working in the hospitality industry, this is just an ignorant and entitled post.

  14. “Vacations and staycations are about escape, and sometime indulgence.” – But that doesn’t mean you can be wasteful which you are advocating and is downright shameful. If you consider what is happening in California, there is a big problem with water supply. If I stayed in a hotel in California regardless of how luxurious it is, I would prefer they NOT do room service daily.

  15. Jerry: you mean the book trump DIDN’T write?
    It’s been documented the “small Mario kart hands man can barely read…..

  16. @AC: I can’t agree with you more and to be honest my immediate thoughts were You were actually very nice in your comments. Mine would have been much more sarcastic.

    @BobinNH: I can only hope that was sarcasm. I am sure they have invented soap in NH.

    @ChurnieEls: exactly, big jump from travel blog to CEO of Hilton.

  17. I meant to add, though, that I do think replacing towels and sheets every day is terrible for the environment, and not what I want. What I expect from a “full service” is proper servicing of the room: bed made, towels neat, trash removed, carpet vacuumed; room service; a bell staff; etc.

  18. As I write this I’m currently in a Hilton resort in Hawaii. Last week I was in Kauai and stayed at a Marriott. The conversation my wife and I had at breakfast today was a comparison of the two chains. Marriott was immaculate! Fresh interiors with a washer and dryer IN the room as well as stovetop, microwave, full fridge etc. The Hilton here is little better than a 1970’s Holiday Inn somewhere in the Midwest and certainly not worth the price. Meldew smells from the A/C, cheap KMart replacement fixtures in the bath, cracked tiles, peeling wallpaper etc. While the resort is beautiful, the rooms aren’t.

  19. @Patti, I spend about $115 in pseudo interest and taxes per day. I could spend more if I wanted to wash my sheets and towels daily. I don’t change my sheets daily, not do I change my towels daily. If I can get a credit from the hotel for not going so, I will

  20. @JorgeGeorgePaez 99% of all books are written by ghost writers. Why is that important ?

  21. Bingo. I’m not staying in hotels that don’t make my bed and change my towels every day. Might as well stay at Airbnb

  22. I actually think that the way forward should be housekeeping upon request . I have stayed at a couple of hotels recently where that was the policy . If I am on a short FRIDAY to SUNDAY stay , I don’t care about housekeeping but I , like others here , want fresh towels . So , upon check-in I request extra towels and have never had an issue with them accommodating that request .

    For longer stays , I do want housekeeping every couple days . Again , I request extra towels and am fine with housekeeping after every 2 or 3 nights . I enjoy a nice “refresh” every couple of days – especially to remove the trash .

  23. I think everyone has different thoughts on Hilton versus the individual brands. At the lower end Hampton inns can pull this off on the upper end a waldorf or conrad i would ask for a refund. The challenge is the middle and where do you draw the line. 500 a night for a Hilton iwant full service.

  24. I am a diamond member from hilton. A bonvoy member from marriott and diamond from ihg. I have been traveling extensively this year 129 nights. I dont feel like a valued customer at hiltons anymore. It’s all about the bottom line.many of nassettas ideas don’t work for business travelers. They want people who stay 1 weekend and trash the room. As long as the rooms are booked it’s fine for them. Not for me. I want clean and peaceful stays. Lately I have none.

  25. I’ve been a Hilton Diamond member for over 10 years and I finally quit on Hilton.
    No more breakfast, Executive Lounges in shambles, Award stays at extreme high costs, Hilton is surely making a great effort to send their faithful clients away for good.

  26. Linen reuse has been a win-win for the hotel industry since it was introduced. Save labor costs and help the environment with less water and laundry chemical usage. Picking on Hilton? NEARLY EVERY MAJOR CHAIN has linen reuse policies. Don’t want to participate? Just ask the hotel to change your linen every day.

  27. For years we have taken vacations through timeshares, most do not change sheets for the week that we are there however some certainly do provide fresh towels but many do have laundry facilities in our rooms for us to wash the towels and dry them. When I am on business for shortest days I certainly do insist on fresh towels daily, as well as the carpets being vacuumed and the trash being picked up. That’s not my job and certainly the hotels should understand that for the rates they are getting. Especially when you have a better hotel brand and you expect three four or even five star rating. After all is if cheap hotel can give me breakfast than you certainly can provide fresh towels. Points and bonuses are irrelevant if you can’t provide decent service

  28. I only use a towel once at home. Hotel management is nuts. You can’t charge 300+ bucks a night, add on resort and destination fees and cut benefits. I pick hotels for their beauty and benefits. Love old hotels like The Brown in Denver, the Palace in San Francisco and many European hotels like King George in Athens.

    You want to be transported back in time and be pampered. I expect amazing FREE breakfasts as an elite member of Marriott. I expect lounges in foreign countries as a Diamond member of Hilton. I expect a clean, comfortable room with fresh towels and nice toiletries

    Don’t get me started on beachfront resorts charging CRAZY prices and fees and crying poor because of the pandemic. NEWS TO THE WORLD. THE PANDEMIC IS OVER

    Companies are back to work in offices. People are traveling again. Stop accepting a watered down product and hotel management will adjust their strategy.

  29. @DCS

    I was very supportive of Green Choice where Marriott gave customers the option of points instead of housekeeping. That is a customers choice to opt out. The hotel taking away housekeeping to save money not the environment isn’t fair to paying customers

  30. My hope is that those making excuses for bad service, high prices, poor amenities and an overall poor value stay at hotels that offer such experiences. For the rest of us, when we pay top dollar, we would like a top dollar experience.

    I recently stayed on points at a Hilton hotel where the room’s refrigerator had not been cleaned out, had old food left in it, and had food bits throughout. I called Hilton and asked for half my points back. If more people did this, we would begin to see hotel owners tighten it up.

  31. He’s the very model of a modern CEO: maximize short-term profits and who cares what that does to the company. “Hilton” used to mean ‘luxury hotel”, but has long since joined the race to the bottom.

  32. Dude, global warming and lower cost to customers is also part of the equation …
    Changing towels daily is un necessary and wasteful at home or at hotels.

  33. Gary it’s obvious that trolls love giving their negative commentary when they disagree with a story you write. Unfortunately trolls aren’t going anywhere but your post was spot on. Not surprising that the trolls lambasting you dislike/don’t want want daily housekeeping. What ever happened to choice and preferences? If I’m paying for a room, I expect daily housekeeping. It should be a CHOICE you make at check-in (and no additional fee). Corporate greed has ruined the travel experience in the US.

  34. Just back from a five-night stay in a different brand hotel that has permanently adopted daily housekeeping only on request, I find it completely fine. It is just changing the default. People who want new towels should be able to ask for them – this makes far more sense than having to change behavior just to not have them.

    Waste is waste. There is no such things as a free lunch. Every towel washed unnecessarily is paid for by everyone else.

  35. Can we just call this what it it? A way for hotels to cut costs while hiding behind the excuse of COVID or the Environment…

  36. The timing on this article is amazing as I just stayed at a Hilton hotel in Myrtle Beach for 5 nights and was only given 4 sets of towels and washcloths. I don’t expect my sheets to be changed out unless I would be staying somewhere for 7 days or more, but to be asked to reuse my towels at a 4 or 5 star resort is ridiculous. If I wasn’t an owner, I looked and would have had to fork over $2200, which is $440 a day. For that kind of cash, I wouldn’t expect that level of “experience.” I, by no means grew up rich or even well off, but I never used a towel more than once before it hit the wash and even with a family of 4 don’t do it now. It’s part of the cost of doing business. Hilton should be better.

  37. If the daily rate is the same each day, guests should have the right to the same level.of service each day. I can take not having my sheets changed for two or three dsys, but I want fresh towels. I suspect that using the environment and Covid as excuses for limiting services is more about hotel owners not having to hire as many people and pay for as many hours. But, apparently, it works. We stayed at a Hilton in SC two years ago for $231 per night. This July, it’s $500+, not including the resort fee. And, as someone else said, most are charging resort fees to pay for what used to be free. Long story short: If you’re limiting service after the first night, I want a discounted rate for those nights.

  38. So, using the CEO logic, when going out to a restaurant, you should be expected to clear your own table? Because that’s what you do at home. Oh, clean dishes?

  39. The hotel taking away housekeeping to save money not the environment isn’t fair to paying customers.

    — Mets Fan in NC

    That is your own extrapolation because the last time I checked nothing like what you claim has been implemented. My prediction is that it won’t be implemented any time soon.

  40. Interesting comments. Wonder if there is also a generational gap here in preferences? I keep a clean home (and clean body), but also have no issues with re-using hotels or expecting new sheets everyday when there really is no need and don’t feel my friends/family have any issues with this either (group of early 30s/late 20s travelers).

    Having worked at a hotel in the past, I do see the huge amount of waste and energy expended at many hotels and it has haunted me (everything from recycling claims/bins that are added into the trash), to food waste, etc. That said, I support the changes knowing there are particular chains that cater to every expectation or hotels that will cater to every guest- a Hilton or Hyatt is pretty much a mainstream brand like a Toyota or Honda, so feel like you get what you pay for. Turnover, new towels daily all have a cost and seem like really premium elements, so would expect this to be the “standard” at chains like a St. Regis, Waldorf, or Four Seasons/Ritz), OR take it on as an optional incremental daily fee to the big chains for those who prefer it – just give me a clean room, comfy bed good water pressure and free water. LOL.

  41. Oh and also $200-$300 a night is the old $100-150 a night, right? So maybe for hotels like $400 + a night I’d expect a more frequent replenishment/replacement schedule as the standard.

  42. @DCS

    I wonder where you stayed for past 2 plus years. I stayed at a lot of Marriott properties that either didn’t offer housekeeping or offered “housekeeping on request”. Problem was when you requested they said not unless you ask by 6pm, not unless you stay more than 3 days. A significant number of properties stopped offering elite benefits

  43. Mr. Nassetta when I am paying $200 USD or more a night I expect DAILY service which includes the OPTION of having my towels replaced and my trash emptied. No I do not do this on a daily basis at home, but guess what, my expectations are higher when staying at a hotel, as I am paying more. If you don’t get it I can switch my loyalty to another brand! This is not rocket science it is common sense.

  44. Compared to a few years ago quality of service has fallen off in most areas of the food and hospitality industry. Any location that is the same as a few years ago is sticking out as cream of the crop

  45. I stay in a small apartment hotel in Mexico City about 3 blocks from the Hilton Reforma. There is housekeeping 6 days a week (the cleaners have sat or sun off).They wash the floors, empty the waste baskets, etc. I pay for a week for what Hilton charges for a night. They replace towels as needed, and change sheets twice a week. I do not have to ask.

    That is the least Hilton can do. There is always the Do not Disturb sign if you do not want it.

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