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Interview with Jürgen Fischer - President Commercial Operations Group - Hilton International: “A new technological Platform takes shape”

In his capacity, Jürgen Fischer supervises sales, marketing, distribution and e-commerce, and the technological tools of Hilton International, now an integral part of Hilton Hotels Corporation. The unification of the Hilton family justified the complete overhaul of the technological platform for commercialization that brings new opportunities to a link between the distribution and CRM.

{{HTR Magazine: What did the marriage between Hilton Corp and Hilton International bring in terms of distribution?J.F.:}} The loyalty programs have two aspects. The entry ticket is the rewards given to members. Everyone knows how to do it with the only major difference being the program’s generosity. The second aspect is how to use these accumulated points? In some programs, there are points millionaires who just sit on their stock that they cannot use when they want to. Moreover, beyond this use of points, the recognition element is gaining more importance. Guests like to feel special. We are thus working on a program called “Flex benefits”, that will allow HHonors members to choose what they personally expect from a loyalty program: this may be free offers, access to the Health Club, extra services through room service or catering, use of the business center… It is up to them. Here again, integrating the reservation system and the system for managing the loyalty program offers us a major competitive advantage.Jürgen Fischer:}} Since the alliance signed in 1997, many techniques have been already implemented. While the reservations platform was developed together, some information could not circulate because legally we were still two different companies that were susceptible to compete on certain markets. Today we can go further, particularly in terms of Internet distribution. We are currently redefining a new system in which we integrate those functions that are useful both internationally and on the immense domestic market in the United States. It is a multi-brand, multi-market and multi-language concept that may evolve with our needs.{{HTR: Why was it necessary?J.F.:}}With the new brands that will be developed internationally on the “limited service” segment, such as Hampton or Garden Inn, domestic clientele will gain more importance and we need sites that address each market. For financial and practical reasons we cannot allow ourselves to have a site for each market the way we did in Germany and Great Britain. Our new technological platform is very flexible and easily and efficiently allows local variations, with translated pages. In this way we are able to treat all Hilton’s clients, whether they are international travelers or local clients. The integration makes it possible to access the entire inventory of Hilton’s rooms worldwide. It is a very big investment, particularly in terms of security, but with this unified system, it is easier to update and promote.{{HTR: What will the major advantages be?J.F.:}} It offers exceptional marketing perspectives. With this system it is now possible to integrate reservations, loyalty and the service provided to the client. The profile of each Hilton client who travels and has made reservations through the system is available at the hotel’s front desk. This makes it possible to personalize the guest’s welcome according to information in our database. We can offer a service so the guests experiences it as personalized care, even though it is actually standardized. Personalization is important, but naturally it is more difficult to implement it in a company that already has 2,500 hotels in the United States, with a pipeline of 800 new ones and an ambition to have 1,000 internationally. Thus, it is vital for information systems to be implemented. And since the system belongs to us we can make it evolve in function of our needs. The size of the group makes it possible to amortize changes with a larger number of hotels. This is an advantage that the Hilton brands will benefit from internationally.{{HTR: What is the justification for such an evolution?J.F.:}} Since the acquisition of Promus in the United States, HHC reached a new level, adding new brands to its portfolio such as Hampton, Double Tree, Homewood Suites and Embassy, much more based on franchise development than management contracts; and progressively transformed itself into a “branding company” backed by management expertise. This was a turning point. This strategy continues today in the international part of the group and, to support this business model, the evolution of systems must be rapid.{{HTR: What are your goals in terms of volume of Internet reservations?J.F.:}} I think that in the near future Internet should represent more than one-third of hotel reservations with a strategic question: which share will transit via third-party partner sites and which share will arrive directly on our brands’ sites. We were reticent about signing with external portals right up until the moment we made commercial agreements that satisfy us as well as our partners. At the beginning of the 2000s, Steve Bollenbach, CEO of Hilton, summarized our position by explaining that these thirdparty sites cost the hotel industry a billion dollars each year in the United States alone. Today, with our partners such Expedia and others, we have a good deal, with turnover that is rising at an impressive rate but without upsetting our own distribution and price structure. The principle of Best Rate Guaranteed incites guests to return to brand sites, thanks to which they are also able to accumulate reward points.{{HTR: Loyalty program pioneer, how can HHonors differentiate itself today?J.F.:}} The loyalty programs have two aspects. The entry ticket is the rewards given to members. Everyone knows how to do it with the only major difference being the program’s generosity. The second aspect is how to use these accumulated points? In some programs, there are points millionaires who just sit on their stock that they cannot use when they want to. Moreover, beyond this use of points, the recognition element is gaining more importance. Guests like to feel special. We are thus working on a program called “Flex benefits”, that will allow HHonors members to choose what they personally expect from a loyalty program: this may be free offers, access to the Health Club, extra services through room service or catering, use of the business center… It is up to them. Here again, integrating the reservation system and the system for managing the loyalty program offers us a major competitive advantage.

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