Reinventing Business at The Hilton

Hospitality has been hard hit by the current downturn. But the host must go on, and the hotels that are rethinking their customers and the communities they serve are finding a way forward.

Darla Sinnard, Catering Sales and Convention Services Manager at the Hilton Lisle/Naperville has done just that.

She began more than 18 months ago with an attitude of: how can I re-think revenue streams when overnight guest stays are down? As with many hotels, she has focused on events and event planning services. But she's gone further. She has reached out to the community, hosting fundraisers for charities and showcasing vendors in her community. The revenue is modest, but that's not her only measure of success. The nonprofits appreciate raising even a thousand dollars, and her vendors and suppliers appreciate the exposure during slow times. Of course this all occurs in the upper tiers of society where Hilton naturally moves.

In addition, Hilton Lisle has rolled out a Signature Toffee, announced this Thanksgiving and offered during a wine pairing dinner event. This Chocolate Pecan delight is the handiwork of Nick Landeweer, Executive Chef at Allgauer's Restaurant.

As Darla takes stock of the Hilton Lisle/Naperville's performance over the past two years, she notes that many other hotels are not doing as well (neither top-line nor bottom-line). She attributes this to having been engaged with the surrounding community, with local organizations and of course with her vendors. As the economy turns around, she expects the relationships that she has been careful to maintain and nurture, to flower into new volumes of traditional guests and overnight customers.

Darla has focused on the Hilton brand promise and the customer tribes in their habitat around her hotel. She has held the long view, a patient approach to building relationships and business in a time when more direct or aggressive sales may have been off-putting. The result is strong relationships and a business that keeps moving forward despite difficult times.

It is our view that the virtues and practices of tribal customer relationship development and brand building, which depend on long-term exchanges of value and consistency, will deliver the greatest business returns over time. Companies and brands that focus too closely on sales transactions and operations will be left vulnerable in challenging times when the marketplace becomes extremely choosy about how it spends money.

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