Meetings Today's Tyler Davidson spoke with Hilton's Daniella Foster, senior director of corporate responsibility, and Carole Munroe, director of portfolio, loyalty and content, about the chain's many charitable efforts as it celebrates its centennial.
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View a transcript of the conversation below.
Tyler Davidson: Hello, and welcome to this Meetings Today podcast. I’m Tyler Davidson, vice president and chief content director for Meetings Today.
And today, we have Daniella Foster, senior director of corporate responsibility at Hilton and Carole Munroe, director of portfolio, loyalty and content at Hilton. Thanks for joining us.
Carole Munroe: Thanks, it’s great to be here.
Daniella Foster: Hi. Thanks, Tyler.
Tyler: There’s lots of big news with Hilton this year. It’s the 100th anniversary of the brand and lots to talk about regarding that. But what I think we’re going to focus on is a lot of the charitable contributions that Hilton has done throughout their history, including their “Random Acts of Hospitality.” So, maybe you can explain to our listeners what that is?
Carole: Happy to, and Tyler, this is Carole. So, happy to jump in on Random Acts of Hospitality.
First of all, I’d like to say that this has been a momentous year for Hilton as we’ve celebrated our 100th anniversary. As we started out thinking about how we wanted to mark this milestone, we gave ourselves three goals to talk about: purpose, growth and innovation.
And clearly, Random Acts of Hospitality helps us meet our purpose goal because it underscores Hilton’s connections to the communities that it serves all over the world.
As you know, we’re in plenty of communities, so let’s think about the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of team members around the world who support our 5,700 properties, and every single one of those communities means something to us.
So, as we thought about our 100th anniversary and a way to make our purpose speak to the heart of Hilton, you think about when Conrad Hilton founded us 100 years ago. It was under the very simple premise of filling the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.
We do that through our team members, and Random Acts of Hospitality, as the title says, is about surprising people with that Hilton hospitality in unexpected ways outside of the doors of our hotels around the world.
Our team members embraced the idea, took it to heart, and they made some magical things happen all around the world, and we could not be more proud. That’s an example I will share with you as the conversation goes on.
Tyler: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think one of Conrad Hilton’s bigger-picture ideas—when he even got into this business—is that traveling helps bring the world together, and that always kind of resonates with me.
I guess those of us in the hospitality industry almost live our lives by that principal. Do share what some of these Random Acts of Hospitality are.
Carole: Well, here are a couple of examples.
In Houston, for example, our team members at the Hilton America’s-Houston treated volunteers from the disaster relief organization Team Rubicon, which you may be familiar with—because many of Team Rubicon’s members are military veterans who are helping to do things in their community and help others in their spare time, and this one was all about Team Rubicon rebuilding homes that were damaged by Hurricane Harvey.
Imagine these folks who get together—on the weekends, whenever they have the time—and they’re doing backbreaking work rebuilding homes of people they don’t even know, and we decided, what can we do to make their day?
So, our head chef at the hotel and all of our team members there got together, and they transformed the volunteers’ meal site—which is typically probably just standing up outdoors somewhere in a field— into an elegant dinner experience, complete with tables dressed in linens and adorned with floral arrangements.
The looks on their faces when they walked into the room to see that was just amazing, and it gave us the inspiration to do even more.
Tyler: And you’re doing this all over the world, right?
Carole: All over the world. Think about Guatemala City, for example. There is a Hilton Garden Inn there that welcomes guests arriving at the airport with a surprise of Guatemalan coffee, cupcakes and water—who gets that when they step off a plane?
And [there’s] many more examples all around the world. We could not be more inspired more about how that idea caught on, so much so that we think Random Acts of Hospitality are things that you’re going to see Hilton doing from time to time moving forward.
When the notion and the opportunity hits our team members, they are empowered to do those sorts of things wherever they choose, and that speaks to the innovation that’s also at the heart of our company.
Tyler: Excellent. And it is called Random Acts of Hospitality, but another aspect of all this is this new foundation you’ve created, the Hilton Effect Foundation.
So, on one hand, you have the random acts, and then you have the solid foundation. I guess I’m trying to make a connection there, but maybe you can do a better job by explaining what the Hilton Effect Foundation does?
Daniella: Absolutely. Well, hi there, this is Daniella. We’ve had, like Carole mentioned, an incredibly exciting year; it’s been our most dynamic year yet, and we recently launched, on our 100th anniversary, the Hilton Effect Foundation. The Foundation really has a simple goal, and that is to create a better world to travel [in].
And getting back to what we were talking about before, Hilton’s founder truly believed that travel and tourism could be a tool for building mutual understanding. It could be a tool, by extension, for world peace.
Throughout our history, Hilton has continuously gone into markets where maybe there were no formal economies, or where travel and tourism didn’t exist. So, in the spirit of that kind of pioneering mentality, we wanted to launch the Hilton Effect Foundation.
The simple goal is to create a better world to travel, and when we launched the Foundation on our 100th anniversary, we launched with it 15 Hilton Effect grants. Those are grants that are very much focused on having a positive impact in our communities around the world.
It’s everything from partnering with the Youth Career Initiative and the International Tourism Partnership in Vietnam to providing economic opportunities and skills-development training to young people from rural communities in Vietnam, so they could succeed in careers in travel and tourism.
It’s everything from partnering with the World Wildlife Fund in local water stewardship communities to protect water-scarce areas in places like Mexico, where we know they’re at risk of running out of water.
We also have some very cool grants that are focused on veterans. Carole mentioned Team Rubicon. One of the grants is actually going to Team Rubicon to help the rebuilding of places that have been hit with natural disasters, like in Florida.
All of these things are just initial examples of how we’re going to be leveraging the Hilton Effect Foundation.
The Foundation is very much underpinned by what we call “travel with purpose,” our global corporate responsibility strategy. And in 2018, we launched our global Travel With Purpose 2030 goals. What underpins that is our focus of cutting our environmental footprint in half and doubling our social impact investment by 2030.
So, there’s a lot of things under that, from reducing our water consumption and waste by 50%, and committing to remove all plastic straws, stir sticks and cocktail picks by the end of this summer  from all of our properties.
We’ve gotten laser-focused on creating economic opportunities for the communities that we operate in, so we committed to doubling our spend on local sourcing.
With local entrepreneurs in our communities, we have a number of programs that we invest in to reach harder-to-reach young people, so they can tap into opportunities in travel and tourism and have a fulfilling career.
We do a lot with military veterans, and then we also have a commitment to sustainably source all of our top categories, so our produce, our seafood, our poultry.
There’s a lot of things that underpin this, and I say that because we really are on a mission to redefine sustainable travel and truly believe that the future of travel and tourism has to be sustainable. So, we’ve been doing our part to make sure that’s the case for Hilton.
Tyler: Wow. We could almost do a series of podcasts on all this stuff that you’re up to. Just from a corporate branding level, why is this important? I know that you guys have walked the walk for 100 years, so it’s not something you just embarked on this year.
Why is this important looking to the next 100 years, and maybe to today’s new hotel and hospitality consumer, and even the ones worldwide that will be considering your brand for their hospitality needs?
Daniella: Yeah. So, I can speak to that. When we launched our Travel With Purpose 2030 goals, we reached out to our guests. We wanted to understand—we think, of course, this is important for Hilton, but is it important for our guests?
And we wanted to understand that, so we surveyed 73,000 of our guests and we asked them a series of questions: Is a hotel’s social and environmental efforts important to you? Over 80% of them said, “Yes.”
And then we asked things like, “In the next 12 months, will a property’s environmental and social measures influence your booking decision?” And over 60% of those guests said, “Yes, indeed it will.”
We followed that up with another survey because we wanted to understand what were some of the behaviors some of our guests were undertaking. We found out that a third of our guests were actually researching a hotel’s social and environmental efforts before they booked, which was really fascinating—higher than I thought it would be.
But I think it gave us pretty good insights into the fact that this is the wave of the future. Not only is it something that we truly believe in and have lived and breathed for a long time, but the tides are now changing, and this is something that our guests want and that they expect.
And then the other piece of this I would say is it’s also something our team members truly believe in. So, what Carole was talking about before is that if we think about Random Acts of Hospitality, in so many ways our team members are on the front lines doing these things every day.
I think it’s part of what makes Hilton, Hilton. When we launched the Foundation, we’ve had an influx of emails in support and properties that reached out and said, “This is great. We want to bring this to our community, and we have some recommendations in terms of nonprofits we want to support, and great ideas.”
And we’re working through a number of ways to harness and challenge that.
We have 400,000 team members around the world. They care about this. They are the heartbeat of our business. We are in the business of people serving people, so for us, it’s kind of ingrained in our DNA and it’s a natural fit.
Tyler: Are there any elements of this that relate directly to meetings and conventions?
Carole: On the meetings end and conventions front, Daniella made the point that corporate responsibility is important to our guests; it’s also important to our team members.
Our meetings and events attendees are our guests, and what we are finding is that when people come together for meetings, they are looking for more ways to connect than usual—things that take them outside, to help them explore the communities that they’re in for their meetings.
And oftentimes you will see service projects become that uniting force. I think we have an opportunity to think about the future of meetings and events from an innovative standpoint, and thinking about how we can partner with meetings and events attendees to also make the world a better place.
You know, as I think about some of things we’ve been able to achieve through Random Acts of Hospitality, and granted, the word “random”—it’s not random to Hilton because you have to do a lot of planning to make these happen—but the random piece is just a nod to the surprise that we share with our guests.
It’s not surprising to see folks who are attending meetings and events, in that they want to do more experiential things with their meetings attendees. And corporate responsibility is part of the options that they have as well, and we’re here to support that.
Daniella: And Carole, just to build on that, because I think that will be something that is very relevant for this audience, is we do have a “Meet With Purpose” program. And the Meet With Purpose program is all about doing just that, right? It is providing more mindful and more sustainable, and in a way more experiential, meetings to our guests.
So, it’s everything from lower-carbon menus to bringing in locally sourced products to having that local flare and culture be part of the meeting. [This goes] on through to partnering with a local nonprofit organization to do a kit-build-and-pack that maybe goes to a local homeless shelter or a local military and veterans organization.
There is a lot of this that we have built in through Meet With a Purpose, and we’re continuing to hone it and continuing to innovate around it. And that is one of the trends that I think we’ll see grow, and we’re excited to have that offering. And a lot of times we’re co-creating along with our meetings and events clients.
Tyler: Well, great. Wow, you guys have your hands full with all of these good works you’re doing. Thanks for doing what you do.
Where can people find out more information about what you’re up to?
Tyler: Excellent. Well, Daniella and Carole, thanks for joining us today.
Carole: Well, thanks for having us.
Tyler: And thank you all of you out there in "listener land" for joining us for this Meetings Today podcast. Make sure to check out our podcast section on the Meetings Today Website, which is full of interesting interviews with thought leaders in the meetings and conventions industry.
Thank you for joining us and have a great rest of the day.
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