Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and in the years that followed, corporate teams were largely isolated from one another. For many, this reduced their organization’s ability to meet and connect with fellow colleagues. Now, people around the world are eager to return to in-person events and business travel. In fact, nearly two-thirds of meetings and events professionals increased their budgets for 2023, with an average of 50% of meetings throughout the year expected to take place in person.
The pandemic reinforced that there is no true replacement for in-person meetings and events. To mark the importance of connecting face-to-face, Global Meetings Industry Day recognizes the unique value of meetings and events and how they bring teams together to collaborate, build camaraderie and enhance their organization’s bottom line.
As we embrace this renewed excitement for meetings and events, it’s also important that organizations and travel planners acknowledge that the road warriors – as well as the companies they work for – are returning to travel, changed.
First, people are taking a closer look at their schedules and budgets available to build and strengthen relationships with co-workers or customers while traveling or attending events. To make the most of their time on the road, travelers are planning fewer, but longer trips, with an increased stay length of 1.5 days. Additionally, travel planners are exploring how they can reduce the environmental footprint of their travel programs and are seeking out environmental, social and governance (ESG) data and reporting tools from partners to quantify the impact their company’s business travel is having on the environment and surrounding community. Finally, travelers not only want to travel responsibly, but they are also looking to engage with seamless innovations that reduce the friction points around the travel experience.
Fostering Connection at Meetings and Events
A recent report from Hilton, “The 2023 Traveler: Emerging Trends that are Innovating the Travel Experience,” found that travelers – including business travelers – are yearning for deeper, more engaging human experiences and connections. In-person meetings and events provide these travelers the time and space to foster deeper connections, engage new customers, build relationships with colleagues and even form lifelong friendships.
“In-person meetings and events are essential, because they help build company culture on the road and provide the deeper connections that people crave, especially as many people continue to work hybrid or remote,” said Gerilyn Horan, vice president, group sales and strategic accounts, Hilton. “Understanding the benefits that in-person networking provides, Hilton is excited to welcome customers back to hotels and offer world-class, inspiring spaces where people can build meaningful bonds.”
To celebrate the value of in-person meetings and events in time for Global Meetings Industry Day, Hilton Worldwide Sales held a contest offering their meeting customers the chance to win 1 million Hilton Honors Points. For a chance to win, customers were asked to submit testimonials about how in-person meetings and events have impacted them personally and professionally.
Among these testimonials was the profound story of Heather Reid, an independent meeting planner of 30 years. In 2011, her business had the opportunity to plan the inaugural All Our Sisters National Forum, a Canadian conference focused on addressing security of housing, homelessness and safe communities for women living in Canada. Through her role, Heather invited 100 women living in homeless shelters to attend the conference—free of charge—and serve as advisors and active participants throughout the event program. Heather observed how after being treated as conference VIPs, this gave many women a restored confidence in themselves, with one woman going on to publish a poetry book, and another later reuniting with her adult children.
“My job as a meeting planner has shown me how by doing my best, I can help change lives,” said Heather. “More than a decade later, it was my own life that has probably changed the most. I came away a different, richer, much better person.”
Innovative Approaches for Tracking Environmental Impact
With an urgent call to act and mitigate climate change risks, the travel industry acknowledges that meeting the demand for sustainable hospitality innovations is not only a nice to have, but a need to have. As a result, more and more corporate travel planners are seeking ESG data and reporting tools to quantify the impact their company’s business travel is having on the environment.
In a recent report, “Stay Green: The Central Role of the Hotel in Sustainable Business Travel, Meetings & Events,” from Global Business Consulting, developed in collaboration with Hilton on hotel sustainability practices, research among travel management and procurement professionals across 50 organizations worldwide reveals that while almost 90% say sustainability is a priority for their company – with many willing to allocate budget for more sustainable meetings and events – 86% have little to zero awareness of hotel chain sustainability programs. And with most of the organizations surveyed (57%) at the earliest stage of their sustainability journey, many are looking for guidance on how to reduce the environmental footprint of their travel programs.
The good news is, Hilton has a tool for that. LightStay is a proprietary and award-winning tool that tracks, analyzes and reports on environmental and social impact across the entire Hilton global portfolio of more than 7,000 hotels. Since its launch in 2009, LightStay has helped Hilton’s managed portfolio of properties achieve a 49% reduction in carbon emissions intensity, a 39% reduction in water use intensity and a 70% reduction in landfilled waste intensity. LightStay also features a Meeting Impact Calculator, which communicates metrics such as energy use, water use and waste diversion to meeting attendees. As one of the many industry-leading initiatives Hilton has to offer, LightStay makes it easier for corporate travel planners to measure their organization’s environmental footprint and provide them confidence that they will leave the destination a better place for having been there.
As one of the largest hotel companies in the world, Hilton recognizes its responsibility to protect the planet and the communities it serves around the world. That’s why Hilton launched its 2030 goals four years ago as part of its ambitious ESG strategy “Travel with Purpose.” Among these goals is Hilton’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, making it easier for customers to travel sustainably and responsibly, and helping the destinations where it operates will remain vibrant and resilient for generations of travelers to come.
As climate science continues to evolve, so does Hilton. After a strategic review of its 2030 strategy, Hilton recently announced enhanced environmental goals, which include cutting the emissions intensity of Hilton-managed hotels by 75%, and Hilton-franchised hotels by 56%, by 2030. This reduction target is aligned with a trajectory to hold global temperature rise 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, validated in June 2022 by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Hilton’s franchised properties will also follow in close suit, having committed to a carbon reduction goal of below 2°C.
These innovative approaches and environmental commitments build on Hilton’s long history of leading the hospitality industry in setting specific, measurable environmental goals that drive sustainable operations, minimize carbon emissions and create business efficiencies.
Creating a Seamless and Sustainable Stay
Understanding the important role that hotels play in the entire travel experience, especially for today’s business travelers, Hilton has dedicated its mission to providing reliable and friendly service—at every hotel, for every guest, for every stay. And, making sure that the experience meets individual guest needs.
Even before the pandemic, travelers had varying levels of comfort with the level of interaction expected of hotel staff. While some seek frequent engagement and hands-on attention, others prefer more limited personal interaction. To accommodate those seeking more frictionless travel, Hilton has expanded the contactless functions in the Hilton Honors app, including Digital Key, another aspect of making the guest stay friendly, reliable and now also seamless. Digital Key allows guests to access the property and their room via their smartphones, which has not only offered guests greater flexibility but also helped to divert over 125 tons of plastic waste from landfills since its launch in 2015. Additionally, a new feature lets Hilton Honors members share their Digital Key with family members and friends. Since its launch in October 2021, over 1 million keys have been shared and in 2022 alone, nearly 18 million Digital Keys were downloaded globally.
Hilton is continuously innovating to provide as many options as possible to guests for a seamless stay. For instance, Hilton offers the ability for guests to easily and instantly confirm at least two connecting rooms at the time of booking – a first in the hospitality industry. This offering saw an impressive number of reservations in 2022, with travelers booking a total of 1.5 million room nights. Within the last year, Hilton also announced an enhancement to its highly valued Hilton Honors benefit: early confirmation (as early as 72 hours prior) of complimentary room upgrades, when available, for Gold and Diamond members. Eligible members receive an email and a Hilton Honors app push notification alerting them of their complimentary, upgraded room. And for properties offering Digital Check-In, the member can easily choose the location of their upgraded room through the Hilton Honors app 36 hours prior to arrival.
At Hilton, wellness is another key aspect of providing a friendly and reliable stay. As the wellness sector continues to grow, guests want to find balance in their travel routines and are looking for hotels that are addressing holistic wellness, whether it be through design elements, fitness offerings, spas or healthier-for-you food and beverage offerings. This means that the days of business travelers worrying about disruptions to their daily wellness routine are long gone, adding to a relaxing and enjoyable stay.
Hilton is committed to improving the guest experience for travelers and innovating to meet guests’ evolving and diverse needs with the right products, services and offerings. As a testament to that success, Hilton Honors officially enrolled its 150 millionth member in December 2022, representing a 50% increase in total Hilton Honors enrollments over a three-year period and making it the fastest-growing hotel loyalty program in the world.
Customers and guests have many choices available to them when choosing where to meet and stay, and they are now looking at business travel more holistically to encourage a great, but responsible visit. Focusing on customer needs that include a seamless, but also sustainable, experience will continue to be a driving force for the travel industry as business travel continues to make its long-awaited comeback.