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“Long-Term Prospects for Our Business Are Spectacular”

Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of hotel chain Hilton, shared his thoughts on travel, the economic recovery, and new hygiene measures.

This week, Hilton’s Chris Nassetta spoke with The Washington Post’s Michael Duffy on Facebook Live, sounding upbeat even as he discussed furloughs and hotel closures. Nassetta, who joined Hilton in 2007, says the chain has now reopened all 225 hotels in China, including four in Wuhan. While Hilton properties with kitchens, such as Hilton Homewood Suites, have been open mainly for first responders, other brands in beach destinations are now in demand for this Memorial Day Weekend.

On closing hotels: I've been doing this for 37 years and Hilton has been in business 100 years. Other than closing a hotel for the purpose of tearing it down to rebuild it, we don't ever close hotels—it doesn't happen. So it's been extraordinary that we actually did it but we had to, in the sense that there was literally zero mobility. Pretty much everywhere in the world, there was there was no demand.

On the recovery timeframe: As funny as it sounds, I'm no less optimistic about our business today than I was 90 days ago. I think for us to get back to the levels of demand that we had in our centennial year [2019] it will take three or four years. The long-term prospects for our business are spectacular; everything that was true when we celebrated our centennial is true today.

On furloughs: In [Hilton’s] whole ecosystem we there are about 430,000 people in 119 countries. We have had to furlough probably a bit more than 60 percent of our workforce at this point. Obviously as we recover we are hopeful that we will be able to bring the bulk of those people back and I am highly confident that we will.

On the travel segment’s recovery: Typically the cadence is leisure will come back first, then business travelers, then groups, and I think that's what we’re going to see now.

On safety measures: We've been dealing with cleaning rooms and public spaces and kitchens for 100 years but the level of necessity in today's world is much higher. We want hospital-grade hygiene and cleanliness protocols, so we have partnerships with Lysol and the Mayo Clinic.

With employees, we will likely start doing temperature checks and provide personal protective equipment. We will require masks in certain parts of the hotel as well as gloves.

For guests, the Hilton honors app means you can pick your room on a map, you can check in online, and you get a digital key; I think contactless entry is going to be a huge thing everywhere. The hotel will have a PPE station with hand sanitizers and masks, and you will see a lot of signage about distancing in public spaces. Furniture, including in restaurants, will have a different setup. Buffets may have more single servings. In the short to intermediate term, when you go to your room and open the door you'll break a seal that means this room has been cleaned to the highest standards. Room clutter will be gone. If you want to use the TV or change the temperature change lighting, you will be able to run all of that from your device, even using the app to order room service for knock-and-drop service.

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