AWS for Industries

Executive Conversations: Building Resiliency with Chris Nassetta, President and CEO, Hilton

Chris Nassetta, President and CEO of Hilton joins David Peller, AWS’ Head of Worldwide Accommodations and Lodging, for a broad-ranging discussion about the recent disruption faced by travel and hospitality companies – and his company’s response to that disruption. Hilton is a leading global hospitality company with a portfolio of 18 world-class brands comprising more than 6,200 properties with more than 983,000 rooms, in 118 countries and territories. Dedicated to fulfilling its mission to be the world’s most hospitable company, Hilton welcomed more than 3 billion guests in its 100-year history, earned a top spot on the 2019 World’s Best Workplaces list, and was named the 2019 Global Industry Leader on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices.

This Executive Conversation is one of a series of discussions held with industry leaders, where we seek to learn more about their resiliency, tenacity and capacity for innovation. The series follows the publication of the AWS Travel & Hospitality E-book: Building Resilience For The Long Run. Filled with strategic observations, hints and tips, the E-book provides guidance for building a more resilient organization, potentially serving as a useful resource as travel and hospitality companies address both current challenges and those yet to come.

David Peller: While your business is recognized publicly by many, what’s one unique characteristic or feature that is either lesser known or understood about your company?

Chris Nassetta: Hilton has been around for more than 100 years, and while we’re a globally recognized brand, what people might not realize is how central our hotels have been to economic development throughout our history. We actually did the math, and during our first century of hospitality, we welcomed three billion guests, employed 10 million Team Members and generated $1 trillion in total economic impact for our communities. There are so many cities and destinations around the world that were literally built around Hilton hotels, because we were the first company to invest in their futures. When you think about the lives that investment impacted and the progress created, it’s quite remarkable.

DP: Many companies across travel and hospitality have been managing through a period of unprecedented disruption. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced during this recent period and how have you managed through them?

CN: Our business relies on people being able to move freely across borders, so we’ve of course felt the impact of the unprecedented standstill in global travel. From the outset, our top priority was the health and safety of our guests and Team Members, and we were in constant contact with our hotel teams to make sure they had the guidance and supplies they needed to keep everyone on property safe. As we came to understand the full scope of the crisis, we made a few decisions to protect the core of our business by securing our liquidity position, supporting our owners, and advocating for our owners and Team Members with governments around the world. From there, our leadership team developed a strategy to ensure we would be best positioned to emerge from the depths of the crisis and fight for a meaningful recovery.

While we feel we are through the worst of the crisis, we know there is a long road ahead before our world and our industry return to full strength.

DP: As we all prepare for the next phase of traveler or guest demand, what are some of the changes your company has taken (or plans on taking) to adjust to the current operating environment?

CN: Understandably, health and safety are top of mind for everyone right now. That’s why we’ve pioneered a new standard of hotel cleanliness: Hilton CleanStay™ with Lysol protection. This initiative – created in collaboration with RB, maker of Lysol and Dettol, and in consultation with Mayo Clinic – builds on our already rigorous on-property hygiene standards and cleaning protocols to ensure our guests and Team Members feel safe and protected at any of our 6,200 hotels worldwide. In addition to focusing on high-touch areas in public spaces and guest rooms, we’re providing an extra level of protection by literally sealing guest rooms after they’ve been cleaned before your arrival – you break the seal and walk into your room.





Meetings and events have always been an important part of our business, and we knew our customers were eager to understand how they could plan and attend events safely in the current environment and beyond. That’s where EventReady by Hilton CleanStay comes in – it’s an extension of our CleanStay program designed specifically to support meetings and events professionals. We’ve designed a playbook drawing on their feedback to be a resource as they design hybrid or in-person events that are safe, flexible, and socially responsible.

DP: In the face of the current disruption to the travel and hospitality industry, we’ve observed incredible innovations coming from across the industry. How has your company innovated through these challenging times and what are you most proud of?

CN: Hilton has a century-long legacy of positive change in the communities we serve, and when this pandemic hit, it was clear that we needed to be part of the solution. As travel dropped off in the early days of the pandemic, we had rooms available that we knew could be put to good use – so we partnered with our owners and American Express to offer one million rooms free of charge to frontline medical professionals in some of the hardest hit areas of the U.S. And elsewhere around the world, our teams mobilized quickly to leverage our existing resources, from kitchens to storage space, to support their communities – like in London, where our hotels are storing donated food before it’s distributed. It was incredible to see our hospitality truly be a bright light during such a difficult time, thanks to our incredible Team Members who have risen above the challenges we’ve faced over the last few months.

DP: The travel and hospitality industry is incredibly resilient. As you look toward recovery, what role does technology play for your company moving forward? How do you see technology enhancing the customer experience and improving operational efficiency?

CN: Technology has always been hugely important for us – we know that it makes our guests’ experiences smoother and more memorable, and it lets our Team Members focus on making the personal connections that are so important to our signature hospitality. In the years leading up to this crisis, we invested in our award-winning Hilton Honors app and Digital Key, which enable guests to check in, select their room, and open their door all with the app. This has been incredibly helpful as we adjusted to our new reality – we already had the infrastructure in place to support contactless experiences and our guests were familiar with using it.

Going forward, we’ll continue investing in this technology and other innovations designed to support the experiences our guests are looking for – while enabling our Team Members to focus on what they do best: delivering exceptional hospitality.

DP: There’s much talk at the moment about how the travel and hospitality experience has changed and there will be a “new normal” going forward. What does this “new normal” look like to you and how do you think the travel experience will look 3 years from now?

CN: We’re already seeing some of the “new normal” in our travel experiences now, with our industry and our guests alike prioritizing health and safety with new cleanliness and hygiene protocols, enhanced contactless technology options and virtual or hybrid events. Some of these trends – like contactless technology and hybrid meetings – were already underway and the pandemic accelerated their uptake. Some new norms will gradually fade away as we mitigate the impacts of the health crisis. While I expect those trends to continue globally, I also think that we’ll gradually see a return to how things were before the pandemic set in.

As much as the world changes, some things remain constant – people will still want to travel and experience new cultures, and making those connections is at the heart of what we do. I know I speak for all our Team Members when I say we’re eager to welcome our guests back once it’s safe to travel again.

DP: What makes you excited for the future of travel and hospitality? As a traveler or guest, where are you looking forward to visiting next? 

CN: I still believe very strongly in hospitality’s ability to be an unstoppable force for good in our world – now and decades into the future. As we make our way down the road to recovery, there are huge opportunities to better serve our customers, owners, Team Members and communities, and our teams are hard at work on bringing those opportunities to life. And when I look ahead to when it’s safe to travel again, I can’t wait to get on the road and visit our teams who have navigated through this crisis with such commitment and compassion.

Learn more about the new Travel and Hospitality E-book: Building Resilience For The Long Run.”

See more Executive Conversations and industry insights on the AWS Travel and Hospitality Blog

Christopher Nassetta is President and CEO for Hilton. He joined the company in 2007. Previously, Mr. Nassetta was President and CEO of Host Hotels & Resorts, Inc., a position he held since 2000. He joined Host in 1995 as Executive Vice President and was elected Chief Operating Officer in 1997. Before joining Host, Mr. Nassetta co-founded Bailey Capital Corporation, where he was responsible for the operations of the real estate investment and advisory firm. Prior to founding Bailey Capital Corporation, he spent seven years at The Oliver Carr Company, ultimately serving as Chief Development Officer.

David Peller

David Peller

David Peller serves as Managing Director, Travel and Hospitality for AWS, the global industry practice with a charter to support customers as they accelerate cloud adoption. Before joining AWS, David held various leadership roles in Singapore, Australia, the Netherlands, the United States and the United Kingdom, in travel and hospitality technology businesses. He has been both an entrepreneur and founder, as well as being part of the launch team of a restaurant business in the UK. He is a qualified Solicitor in the UK, holds a Bachelor in Legal Studies from King’s College, University of London, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Studies from the London College of Law.