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Conversation with Armin Molavi

Conversation with Armin Molavi, Interim VP Media, Hilton

Am I paying a fair price? Is it the most convenient flight? Will this accommodation live up to the online reviews? Am I protected if I cancel?Travelling can be a source of intense stress for people, and trust is paramount in this category. Armin Molavi, Interim VP Media, Hilton, shares his views with iProspect around trust in the travel industry, social responsibility and the place of data. 
 
What do you think are the main drivers of consumer trust in the travel industry?

Unfortunately, parts of the travel industry in general is not the most trustworthy, in the sense that when you book a plane ticket, you’re locked in. You can book a ticket now and change the dates tomorrow, and will pay a penalty, even if there are still empty seats. So as soon as people get into that booking cycle, their guard is up. 

On top of that, the industry is riddled with a lot of unscrupulous resellers’ inventory misrepresenting the property, the rates, the rooms. We regularly hear stories from guests who book on a home sharing site, and a week before, the owner of the property cancels, putting their trip at risk. 

People need to have great confidence that when they get to their destination, there’s going to be a great room, with great service, with great people that are going to make their travel as great as possible. That’s our role at Hilton and that’s what trust is all about in our category. 

 

Our 2018 Global Client Survey shows that 98% of marketers believe brands should be socially active. What are your views on this? How important is social responsibility in Hilton’s business strategy? 

Hilton has a long history of innovation: we were the first hotel to have telephones in rooms, to provide air conditioning, to provide room service, etc. When you come into modern day, we have huge areas of innovation in the space of reducing plastic, whether it’s our early adoption of digital keys, our initiative to eliminate straws, or our leading amenity bottled recycling program. And plastics is just one area, earlier this year we committed to cutting our environmental footprint in half and double our investment in social impact by 2030

Hilton’s 2030 Travel with Purpose Goals by Hilton

 

We are regularly at the top of Best Places to Work, have some of the best maternity programs in the category, have supported the LGBTQIA communityfor many years, are a huge supporter of women in the workplace, etc. All of these initiatives are indicative of our commitment to not just being the best hospitality company in the world, but also the most responsible. 

When you have thousands of team members who interact with guests on a daily basis, if you don’t take care of those team members, it is going to come through in the customer service. And it actually improves the bottom line. Take the way Costco overinvests in their employee benefits: they have some of the highest retention and customer service ratings in the category. Customers know it, customers feel it. Social responsibility contributes to your overall mission, brand, and value proposition, but you have to do it sincerely to make it have a positive impact on your bottom line.

 

How does Hilton leverage digital and technology to reinforce their credibility in the eyes of their audience? 

For the travel category, obviously we have to start with property reviews. There is such a huge degree of transparency in our space that we have to embrace that. 

Beyond reviews, ensuring that all of our communications really reflects the sincerity of hospitality is critical for us. That said, conveying hospitality in a digital format is tricky because some of the inherent benefits of digital marketing are about self-service, such as online booking and check- in. Our application lets users book online, pick their hotel room, check into their hotel room, request towels, check out, and that allows our team members to focus on providing personalised service. So how to use digital to convey hospitality is a huge part of our content approach, something we’re always looking to enhance. 

 

 
Choose Your Room with Hilton Honors by Hilton

 



I believe technology should play a role in minimising the discomfort of travel. When you look at trends in homes, they are all about letting people cocoon more in their home. The question becomes how do you use data and technology to replicate that to the best of your abilities in a hotel? Every hotel room has products in it. Can you set it up so that a guest’s favourite brands are in the mini fridge? We should be able to do, but we’re not there yet, and I think that is essentially the way to go. Innovation is about creating value for our guests: physical value, monetary value and emotional value. 

Talking about data and technology, do you think it enables deeper relationships or conversely that it can be a factor of mistrust? 

Unfortunately, social platforms have struggled with data management, and it clearly impacted how consumers view data usage by companies. Consumers may say they don't want companies to have their data, but on the flip side they would complain if there's no customisation when they visit Amazon, or if a product is more expensive. 

The reality is that if Facebook didn't create a business model on the usage of data, and Mark Zuckerberg showed up to college campuses saying, "Give $5 a month so you can check out all of your friends on Facebook", no one would have signed up! Look at the choice between iOS and Android. Apple is not making as much money on data as Google is, and that partially explains why an iPhone is more expensive than an Android phone. 

In 2019, regulations similar to GDPR will spread to the United States, starting with California. Many global companies, Hilton included, have already been asking consumers about how they want their data used, and we will continue to ask if they want this company to use their data. Everyone is going to default to no. As a result, personalisation is going to fall off the cliff, and parents of 10 year olds will get ads for potties. I think there’s going to be this period of time where consumers are going to say, “I don’t like my data being used”. This will impact both consumer experience and product cost, and consumers will realise, “Oh, this is why everything is now becoming more expensive”. 


So, the question becomes, how do I gain control of my data? Some platforms give consumers control of their data, giving them the ability to say, “Yes, I’m willing to let this company use my data, either for free for a better experience, or for money”. 

 

“Consumers are looking for organisations to place their trust in.”

 

83% of our respondents don’t believe brands will dominate over convenient experiences in the future. Do you think that convenience will prevail over brands in the travel industry? Or that brands will still play an important role? 

Brands and convenience should not be opposed. You're not going to be interacting with a company that hasn't impacted you with their brand. No one is going to download an app from a company they don't have a brand relationship with. The key question is how to make convenience a pillar within your brand. Why are people walking into Amazon's brick-and-mortar stores? Because of the inherent nature of convenience embedded within that brand. 

It is thus critical to understand what standards of convenience are being set in society at large. When an online retailer tells me delivery will take ten days, my initial response is “why does it take you so long?”, because Amazon is setting a two-day delivery standard. At Hilton, we are always looking at the brands that our guests interact with, both inside and outside of the space. We look towards who is really the best at delivering convenience as a part of their value proposition, and then we use those learnings when setting the standards for our guests in our properties.

This article is excerpted from Future Focus 2019: Searching for Trust.Download Future Focus 2019 for key insights and success stories on navigating truth and authenticity in 2019.