Skift Take

Hotel industry to consumers: You should still stop clicking around, (obviously!), but you should also expect a lot more from us when you (1) book direct with us, (2) join our loyalty programs, and (3) stay in our hotels.

Hilton is at it again.

The global hospitality company on Saturday will officially debut its latest global marketing campaign called “Expect Better, Expect Hilton,” featuring actress Anna Kendrick.

TV commercials featuring Kendrick will appear in the U.S. during Ryder Cup coverage this weekend on NBC, emphasizing existing benefits that Hilton Honors loyalty members enjoy when they stay at Hilton hotels, as well as Hilton’s price-match guarantee. The campaign will also roll out in a number of other countries and markets in a variety of different channels, ranging from TV and social media to online and radio.

The newest campaign is just the latest effort from Hilton to better educate consumers not only about the benefits of booking hotels direct instead of using third-party distribution channels like Expedia or, but also the benefits of being a Hilton Honors loyalty member.

While Hilton wasn’t the first hotel company to promote that message, it has arguably been one of the boldest. More than two years ago, in February 2016, Hilton debuted the “Stop Clicking Around” campaign which, at the time, was reported to be the most expensive one in the company’s history.

“Stop Clicking Around” debuted in the U.S. during the Grammy Awards, and its primary message was that consumers would get the lowest rates for their hotels when they booked direct with Hilton, and if they also happened to be a Hilton Honors loyalty members.

That same message was similarly promoted by Hilton’s peers, including Marriott, Hyatt, InterContinental Hotels Group, and others.

And judging by the data we’ve seen since, it does seem like those campaigns from Hilton and others did have some bit of a positive impact in getting more consumers to book hotels direct.

The campaigns also boosted the loyalty membership numbers for the major hotel brands. Hilton’s loyalty membership has grown from 51 million at the end of 2015 to now nearly 78 million Hilton Honors members. Stop Clicking Around, Hilton estimates, drove the addition of nearly 9 million new members to Hilton Honors, and increased consumer conviction, or willingness to go out of their way to stay at Hilton properties, by five points. The Hilton Honors app revenue also rose 112 percent year-over-year following the launch of Stop Clicking Around, and the app was downloaded more than 3.6 million times.

Marriott, which also participated in a direct booking campaign of its own called “It Pays to Book Direct” has also seen its loyalty membership numbers rise since the end of 2015, from 54 million members to more than 110 million, with an assist from its September 2016 acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

An Evolution in How We Think About Direct Booking

Hilton didn’t disclose the cost of its latest campaign, but Hilton Chief Marketing Officer Kellyn Smith Kenny said it was “comparable” to what Hilton paid for “Stop Clicking Around.”

What is different about this new “Expect Better, Expect Hilton” campaign, Kenny emphasized, is that it’s an evolution of Hilton and its peers’ earlier message about the benefits of direct booking and that it was based on direct consumer research and feedback.

“We’re trying to go straighter at the points that matter most to customers,” Kenny said. “We want to speak to customers about things we know they care about, but do it in an engaging way.”

Kenny said that in the process of doing customer research, she and her team often found that people either didn’t know or didn’t understand some of Hilton’s existing policies or loyalty benefits, such as a price-match guarantee, the ability to choose your own room, the ability to use your phone as your hotel room key, or access to free Wi-Fi.

“When we said it to them in plain English, super simple, people’s jaws dropped and they said it was powerful and does make them want to have a direct relationship with us,” Kenny said. “It’s highlighting existing proof points that we’ve always had. We’re just shining a spotlight on them in a new way.”

Moreover, she said, the new campaign reflects a desire among Hilton — and other brands in travel and hospitality — to “be genuinely customer centric.”

“It’s not about competition or putting a message out there for the competition to react to,” Kenny said, referring to other hotel brands or competing online travel agencies. “This is truly and genuinely about getting the right information in the arms of the target customer.”

She also noted, that even internally, Hilton has changed the way it talks about direct booking. “We used to say direct booking, but now we talk about direct relationships. We are in the business of building relationships on an emotional level with our customers. It’s not just about the booking you’re going to get tomorrow. Its’ the relationship. It works both ways. That relationship needs to grow and be nurtured over time.”

For Hilton, at least, the objective of this campaign is no longer limited to highlighting the savings of booking direct with Hilton, but the long-term benefits of having a relationship to Hilton.

And it’s likely that other hotel companies will also be doing the same with their future campaigns as they promote their respective loyalty program benefits and value-driven features for booking direct.

The decision to pick Kendrick, who has starred in the “Pitch Perfect” movie series, as Hilton’s first celebrity spokesperson was driven by Kendrick’s “super accessible but honest” qualities.

“She understands the travel landscape very well from how she herself and her family experiences it,” Kenny added. “She’s a straight shooter but also brings a lot of humor and charm to her work. It’s a perfect parallel to have her as our spokesperson because that’s us—we want to be that honest, direct brand you can trust.”

As for how Hilton plans to measure the success of the new campaign, Kenny said that it’s not something she expects to be able to measure overnight.

“Those goals on trust and building relationships are measured in quarters and years — not days and months,” Kenny said. “We want to change people’s behavior and that emotional connection they have with our brand. It’s not our expectation that it will change overnight. Would we like to see an increase in the number of Hilton Honors members booking with us? Absolutely. Or the percentage of people coming to us directly go up? Absolutely.”

But, she added, “We haven’t put any hard and fast goals or numbers around any business units at this point.”

One of the new ad spots is featured below:

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Tags: direct booking, hilton, hilton honors, hotel direct, hotel marketing, loyalty

Photo credit: A still from one of Hilton's new ad spots featuring actress Anna Kendrick. Hilton

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