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. @Mets Fan in NC – No travel in 2020. Started traveling again in August 2021. Since then I’ve stayed almost exclusively at Hilton hotels and, without exception, including my most recent stay last month at DT London ExCel, housekeeping was offered, either outright or “on request”. One must, however, not lose sight of the fact that the last two years have been anything but “normal”, with a tight labor market that remains depressed in the service and hospitality industries forcing companies to make adjustments or perish.

    In short, now is not the time to bitch about what hotels are or are not providing, because most — if they did not go under — are still recovering…

  2. If they want to save money then let us choose. Charge us more for a room with the full experience and less for the room without. Or make it an al la cart experience. But truly if I’m on vacation and spending more than a single night I’d want the total experience.

  3. Born and raised in Hawaii, I’ve spent majority of my Staycations at Our Beautiful Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki. I Love the perks that I receive being a Hilton Honors member. PLEASE!! Everyone who wishes to Vacation/ Staycation at your near by Hilton or abroad, sign on and become a Hilton Honors member. The rewards and perks are truly rewarding and Awesome
    Please come and enjoy the BEST vacation ever, here in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. Book online at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki ( Rainbow Tower). Trust Me…. it will Definitely be a dream come true vacation that will make you wanna STAY!!!
    Mahalo to You All and hopefully we will see you soon

  4. I do not mind a re-use of a towel at my choice. I notice that Hilton is charging top dollar (2019) + rates, and as part of that $400 per night, i would like the option of: May i bring you some fresh towels, sir? At which time i can say yay or nay.

  5. The author has never worked in a hotel. And after all thats happened, this should be the least of your worries. Chris Nessetta is not pandering to owners and just collecting fee’s. He knows more about hotels than you ever will. I have been in this industry for almost 40 years. And I’ve never experienced anything like this. We’re short staffed in every department. Our housekeepers can barely keep up with what they’re doing now. Doing a refresh. You sound so high maintenance. Few people change their towels daily.

  6. I travel a lot for work and stay exclusively in Hilton hotels. I actually prefer not to have room service daily. I reuse my towels and such as long as they are not dirty and any time I have needed them replenished, I have never had a problem getting it. I feel like the Hilton brand is always above and beyond.

  7. I reuse my towel for 5 days before leaving it on the floor to indicate that I’d like a new one (if I’m staying any longer). I do this because if everyone conserved a bit more, maybe this planet wouldn’t be in the world of hurt that it is. So maybe consider it from that angle?

  8. You are very entitled. In a world that is rapidly in decline, complaining about reusing a towel is very selfish. Be thankful you are afforded the opportunity of having a “fresh” towel everyday. Grow up and prepare yourself for the hard times ahead when you might have to use the same towel twice.

  9. if you are changing towels daily then you are entitled prick.

    there is absolutely no need for that. Also, how about the big trend of people feeling the need not to contribute to the climate change. That’s what such towel policy is trying to meet.

    I agree on paying for the experience, but talking about towels replaced daily is so 80’s

  10. Interesting to read the comments, which equates to everyone has different presences and expectations. As someone who had worked in hospitality for 20 years, sadly hotels are no longer about being hospitable; they are about the bottom line. Labor is the highest cost in almost any hotel; companies use it to yield overall expense. The revenue by yielding labor though goes directly to owners or management companies.

    Mr. Nassetta has remained CEO, like the other 3 major flags because hotel companies are in a game of monopoly. These companies with 5,000+ hotels, which does 100% dilute a brand; actually make their money off of franchise fees and loyalty rewards. If you didn’t know, it’s actually hotels which pay the cost of your loyalty reward points, not the Hotel Brand. Loyalty rewards is a billion dollar annual business and brands change terms and decrease members amenities often to increase their profit.

  11. Does indulgence include jumping on the bed like it is a trampoline? That’s what quite a few guests do? How about using towels to clean up spilled coffee? Once again happens more often than you think. Or using the towels to clean shoes? Hotels have costs beyond exorbitant and often unobtainable labor.

  12. Hilton turned to a garbage chain. They made record money from profiting on slave like labor and poor treatment of their employees and ripping off customers. There is no incentive to be loyal to Hilton. I hope the company bankruptcy soon. They deserve it. I wish nothing but the worst to the CEO and board members.

  13. As a longtime Diamond member, I do agree that Hilton is at risk by cheapening the brand. Their latest venture of just offering a dollar amount towards breakfast is a great example of this. Their push to profit by increasing price and at the same time increasing reward points needed for rooms belittles their value.

  14. @DCS

    If they go under and shareholders or owners get wiped out SO WHAT. New investors will come in buy the properties and provide the right level of benefits and services

    Why should customer pay too dollar for lesser product so the owner (who is likely a millionaire or a corporation that is a billionaire) recoup lost profits

    Also keep in mind hotel properties were hurt by the pandemic equally. Beachfront Iin Florida and North/South Carolina made money hand over fist charging 400-500 a night knowing guests had fewer options

  15. Hotel service has certainly diminished since the pandemic, but it was already on the decline. For awhile now, lotion is something you have to request at many hotels. Likewise, liquid body wash has been replaced with waxy bars of soap. Housekeeping during a 2-3 night hotel stay is almost obsolete. Hotel food services/offerings are not what they were. These are all trends which started before the pandemic, but like many businesses, hotels blame their shortcomings on the pandemic. I’m a water conservationist so I always opted to reuse my towels, long before the practice was forced on guests. Yet hotels steadily raise their prices (pre- and post-pandemic). If reduced services and amenities equate to lower operating costs, then why are guests still charged for services/amenities they no longer receive? Hotel owners definitely need a reality check on that.

  16. DNH give me a break. I worked in the hospitality field for 20 years the last 5 as a GM. If the property cannot meet guest needs than it shouldn’t be open! Guests are now paying full rack rate at many properties. It is not the guests problem if you cannot provide the promised services which include daily housekeeping for full service properties. Stop making excuses for corporate. If you can’t meet guest expectations close your doors or limit the amount of available rooms. We are no longer in a pandemic, stop making excuses.

  17. It’s funny that the first comment om here talked about still being in recovery. My hotel is a self managed single luxury hilton property. During covid my hotel alone (again, owner only owns one hotel) lost $10 million. We’ve had a little bit of help but do you really think 2 years has remade $10 million? Plus with costs increasing and labor increasing, certain changes have to be made. And im sure other owners etc are going through thr same thing. Hence nassettas way of giving franchisees some relief. Of course guests aren’t happy about it, but im realizing more and more guests are getting harder and harder to please. And their expectations are that things are the same as pre covid. And they just aren’t.

  18. Some markets are still devastated. Each hotel including Marriott does what it can to survive. I certainly expect a clean room when I arrive and a smile from the staff. And I will tip regardless.

  19. If they go under and shareholders or owners get wiped out SO WHAT. New investors will come in buy the properties and provide the right level of benefits and services

    Your posts are difficult to address because they are full of suppositions, conjectures and opinions regarding policies that have not yet been implemented. How do you know properties that go under and are acquired would fare any better under a new ownership?

    And, SO WHAT? I’ll submit to you that the better a company does financially, the harder it might try to make things worthwhile for its customers, especially the loyal ones. You really want the company whose loyalty program you patronize to do well because that puts it in a better position to beef up what it offers its loyal customers…

    G’day

  20. I’ve been in hospitality for over 24 years. At my current property we provide housekeeping once a week for guests staying over 8 days. If it’s less than that then the guest can ca the front desk for garage pickup and to have towels swapped out. In order to provide the when housekeeping experience you need employees. Most hotels don’t have the employees to fulfill that need. And it’s unfortunate that these are the times of the hotels.

  21. Allen – GYFS. You’re providing less service and charging more money. That’s not “recovery”, that’s theft. Bet you took the PPP didn’t you?

  22. I soak up all the dripped water on the floor, after a shower, with the towels. I want fresh towels every day.

  23. Former Diamond member who now shops for lodging on booking.com or airbnb affording in the price or ameneties needed each trip. While I always hung my towels for reuse I resent that so many other things about the hotel experience like daily cleaning now seem like a nuisance to the hotel instead of part of the product I’m paying for even as prices rise. Since my loyalty means nothing to Hilton anymore they’ve lost it along with the revenue it used to bring them.

  24. Just to put it out there, I’ve never had the slightest problem at a hix stopping at the front desk to get a fresh towel before going up to my room. The issue is paying the price for a (name the higher-end brand) and having to do this. Short-term, they can get away with it, but long-term customers will vote with their feet.

  25. To those in hotel management posting here yes Covid is over and we as customers want and expect the pre-Covid experience back. We understood during the height of the pandemic why certain things changed. Yes many of you lost money you’ve yet to recoup. But if you want me in your hotel your going to have to provide the expected level of service.

    When it comes to personal stays I’ve been loyal to Hilton for years. Held their credit cards and accumulated their points. I’m starting to wonder why?

    Executive lounges are still closed which eliminates on of the major perks of being Diamond. The Breakfast credit is all but useless so their goes that Gold/Diamond perk. We all know Hilton rarely upgrades people so that perk isn’t worth much.

    Tell me again why I should continue to hold Hilton Amex cards and be loyal to Hilton? If their are no or meaningless perks and the brand is happy delivering a watered down experience what is their to attract me?

    If their is nothing to attract me I don’t stay in the Hotels so owners don’t get paid. I don’t spend on the Hilton Amex so Amex isn’t buying points from Hilton. If the brand is worthless why would an owner stay in the program and pay fees? Without customers no one gets paid.

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