Skift Take

Market considerations give hotels a unique opportunity to lead the charge when it comes to meeting consumer needs — and efficacy.

Despite record-breaking highs in summer travel demand, fuel prices are cramping the style of adventure-seekers game to either fly or drive. But those woes are revving up a whole world of possibilities for hoteliers.

Hilton rolled out a consumer-facing electric vehicle site search function earlier this month, enabling potential guests to filter and find properties that offer charging stations. It’s the first major hotel company to do so. And while offering the charging stations isn’t the norm yet, Hilton supports individual hotel owners in their efforts to find qualified, affordable contractors to install the stations as part of its “Travel With Purpose” environmental, social and governance strategy.

Hilton Chief Brand Officer Matt Schuyler said its recent global trends report found that travelers are prioritizing brands that they consider to be environmentally conscious. 

“At Hilton, we are continuously tracking trends and consumer habits so that we can innovate and anticipate the evolving needs of our guests. The new EV search function on Hilton.com was a result of knowing that interest in EVs is increasing and the need for charging stations is apparent,” Schuyler said.

Although the company only recently launched the search function, Schuyler said many Hilton.com visitors are coming to the site to specifically use the EV filter and make a reservation directly. Initial data show that the conversion from search to booking is “significant,” he said.

In a competitive hospitality market, such innovations offer brands a way to stand out in a sea of monotony while offering customers value. 

In San Francisco, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins partnered up with Porsche last fall for a co-branding boost. The hotel is among the first 15 Porsche Destination Charging locations across the country — including New Mexico’s Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi and Florida’s Naples Bay Resort — to allow consumers to charge for free the Taycan EV that debuted in fall 2019. It’s still easiest for those who driving that luxury car to find charging stations through the Charging by Porsche.

However, awareness about sustainability isn’t as much of an uphill battle in California, says environmental activist Michael Pace, general manager of the Nob Hill property. He sees one silver lining to rising prices at the pump — it’s sent green awareness into overdrive. 

“Electric vehicles are becoming the norm, and we see a lot more people driving smaller cars in the Bay Area,” said Pace, whose hotel launched an electric bicycle rental program on June 3.

“There used to be this ‘I drive a truck, I’m macho’ sort of mentality, and it’s not like that anymore. You don’t see as many rumbling trucks as even just a couple of years ago.”

IHG has a history of driving that change in the region. InterContinental San Francisco’s prescient partnership with Zipcar in 2011 gave guests a chance to rent the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle a year before it was commercially available. The hotel also installed a smart charging station in the porte cochère.

Such measures pay off environmentally and in guest sentiment. Blogger Jenna Francisco, who writes about sustainable travel, gives the InterContinental San Francisco an energetic thumbs up for its partnership with Zipcar to offer discounts on electric vehicles. Such rentals can often be a test-drive ground, Pace said, and offer potential EV owners an idea of what driving such a vehicle is like. 

A charger at the Hilton Garden Inn in Brampton

Meanwhile, Hilton is taking a deliberate approach, and Schuyler says the most interest in EV chargers aligns with top booking destinations, such as coastal U.S. states like California and Florida, as well as popular metropolitan areas like New York City, London and Vegas. But Schuyler added despite what’s anticipated to be a record-breaking travel season, Hilton hasn’t seen an increased demand for a shuttle service from guests who may be trying to avoid pricey fill-ups for a car rental. He also was unable to provide details about whether Hilton has plans to invest in electric shuttles.

It’s a delicate equation to consider, as the return on investment is a bit of a long haul, according to Pacific Gas and Electric. It costs 240 percent more to purchase an electric shuttle bus comparable in passenger capacity to a diesel-fueled bus although the former provides reduced operating and fuel costs. There’s also investment in installing charging infrastructure. 

As for now, the better deal may be for hotel guests — it’s free to charge vehicles at most properties offering such services. There’s no way to reserve a charging spot at the Mark Hopkins in advance, but Pace said that the valets haven’t been taxed by the efforts to switch out the EVs that are on-site.

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Tags: electric cars, hilton, ihg

Photo credit: Hilton's new consumer-facing electric vehicle site search function earlier this month enables guests to filter and find properties that offer charging stations Hilton