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Hilton CEO predicts ‘blockbuster travel season’ this summer — but with a catch

May 21, 2021
5 min read
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Hilton president and CEO Chris Nassetta can’t wait for the summer.

Americans are ready to take vacations again, hotel rooms are being booked at levels that could surpass the summers of 2018 and 2019 and Nassetta predicts it will be nothing short of a “blockbuster travel season.”

“People want to get out. They're feeling safe. They've been vaccinated,” Nassetta said during a wide-ranging interview Thursday in his McLean, Virginia office. “They want to get out. They've been locked in their basements and their closets, and they want to travel.”

But the experience will be different, and hotels are going to be short on staff, Nassetta warns.

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With extremely low occupancy rates during the pandemic, hotels shortened restaurant hours and limited menu items. Pools, gyms and spas were closed. Elite members missed out on hot breakfasts and couldn’t access closed lounges.

Now, Hilton is transitioning to “a more normal existence” with hot breakfasts soon returning at its premier brands. But guests should still expect reduced restaurant hours, fewer menus and longer wait times. Hotels can’t get enough staff, with many folks staying home because of ongoing health concerns and a lack of childcare.

“The summer is going to be difficult, and I want to be honest with customers, there's a limit to what we can do,” Nassetta warned.

Bullish on business travel

By the fall, most services should be fully operational, Nassetta said. That’s just in time for offices to reopen, kids to go back to school and business travel to boom. As for group bookings and conventions, Nassetta says those will trickle in during the fall but not return in force until 2022.

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And it’s those big events that really matter to Hilton’s bottom line.

In a normal year, only 25 to 30% of Hilton’s revenue comes from vacationers. The rest is a result of business trips and events. But he’s confident those trips will return.

“If you think about the history of technology, like when the telegraph was invented, the telephone, the computer, cell phones — every single time there was a debate about, well, people don't need to travel as much. But that's not what happened."

In each of those cases, Nassetta said, people were better connected, and the world sped up. Sure, more routine actions no longer required a trip, but people instead found “higher value” reasons to travel.

So, in-person conferences will still happen, but they'll also have a remote component. The room will still be packed, but now thousands of others can also attend a lower-cost option.

Companies might shift more training sessions online but still need to bring teams together to map out strategies. There's a real fatigue of video conferencing with people now saying “get me off this thing.”

“Alignment, collaboration, innovation, you know, team building. It just can't be done in a virtual context,” Nassetta said.

And though you shouldn't expect to wear sweatpants or leggings to work when offices reopen, the days of suits and ties are probably gone too, except for important customer or political meetings.

“I will definitely have to wear a tie again, but I will wear it a lot less,” he said. “I will wear a tie if I go to the Capitol Hill, if I go to the White House. I'm not wearing ties on live TV and I don't think I ever will again. I mean, half the people are wearing, like T-shirts.”

Hilton Honors extensions

"The message I'd say to all of the road warriors, of which I am one, is we're going to continue to be very flexible,” Nassetta said. “We realize they haven't been staying with us, not by choice, but because of the COVID crisis. And so we're going to continue to be very flexible. We want them to remain loyal to our system and to us.”

Nassetta wouldn’t elaborate more but said his team is constantly evaluating the expiration of free-night certificates, status and points.

“Within reasonable boundaries, we're going to try and be very flexible,” he added.

Summer vacations will be domestic

While European borders are reopening, Nassetta expects most people to stay closer to home. “It's natural to sort of restrict your radius a little bit more,” he said.

The last thing families want to do is have a European vacation planned, only to see the borders close again and then scramble to find a last-second domestic trip.

So, most will probably just plan some in the United States for added certainty.

Bottom line

Like so many other travelers, Nassetta is eager to hit the road again this summer. He’s taken work trips periodically throughout the pandemic but nothing like his old habits. The CEO of the world’s second-largest hotel company says he gets his energy from being out in the field and seeing what employees are doing at hotels.

“What I'm most looking forward to is just getting back on the road,” he said. “I chose the career I chose because I love people and I love traveling places and I love cultural exchange and I have been starved for it for the last year and a half.”

Featured image by Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton in his office in McLean, Virginia on May 20, 2021. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
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  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
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  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
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Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more