Will poor execution of a great offer become a public relations nightmare for Hilton hotels?

This is an example of how the old world of ‘special offers’ with hidden strings attached clashes with the new world of social media where transparency, honesty and engagement rule. It also shows, once again that a one-size-fits-all brand strategy conceived by well meaning executives in one country can backfire on the brand in other locations.

Hilton January sale
At the beginning of January 2010, Hilton Worldwide announced “a global multi-brand wide January Sale. Guests who book hotel rooms in January can save 50 percent off weekend getaways throughout the year at participating hotels in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific.”

“To take advantage of the January Sale, guests can pre-purchase hotel rooms between January 1, 2010 and January 31, 2010 and receive the discounted rate for Friday, Saturday and Sunday night stays throughout 2010.”

Hilton Hotels is making a really big deal of this January sale And so it should, after all 50% off a Hilton room is a significant amount of money. Especially in a recession. But I suspect executives at the head office in Virginia didn’t think it through enough.

After all, whilst January and February may be slow months in the USA and other western countries, it is the busiest time of the year in countries like China, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam as families get ready for the lunar New Year. In other words, peak time and not really the right time to give away hotel rooms at half price!

But anyway, despite my ‘reservations’, and (plot spoiler) they were the only ones I was going to make, when I read the other benefits

– Lazy breakfast until 11am
– Late checkout until 6pm
– Kids stay and eat for free (Terms & conditions apply)

I knew this would be a great offer for me to take advantage of personally. My family had been suggesting a trip to Singapore but I had managed to put them off the idea because of the costs etc. But with rooms at half price, kids eating for free and the late checkout, even I saw this as an excellent opportunity.

3 hour cocktail hour with free flow
Especially as the Hilton, with its great location and attentive and tolerent staff (very important with my family), is our 2nd favourite hotel in Singapore. Did I mention that the cocktail hour on the executive floor lasts for 3 hours of free flow everything?! Well that helps as well.

So, excitedly I called my wife, to see if we had anything on that weekend. Conincidentally, she was going to be in Singapore earlier that week hosting clients at the Singapore air show and could stay on for the weekend. I thought it odd that Hilton would have such an attractive offer at such a peak period but told her I would drive the kids down to Singapore and meet her at the Hilton for the weekend. She was understandably excited. I also sent a text to my teenage daughter who called back immediately and asked excitedly if we could go shopping!

So the family is pumped, now all I have to do is take advantage of the fantastic Hilton offer. For our preferred weekend of 5th – 8th Feb the offer is not available. Hhhmn, OK, never mind, these things happen, especially with the Singapore air show ending on the Thursday.

So I call my wife and teenage daughter again to check availability for weekend of 12th – 15th Feb. Great, they are both free. Unfortunately the special offer isn’t available that weekend either. Now I’m starting to get irritated because this is taking more time than it should but worse, I’m going to get the cold shoulder at home for 2 weeks. I better check availability for other weekends before calling my family. So I check the weekend of 19th – 22nd Feb. Not available. What about the weekend of 29th Jan – 1st Feb? Nope.

As disappointment sets in and I realise the dream of a very affordable weekend at the Singapore Hilton was just that, a dream, I choose some random dates to see if the offer is available at other times. 5th – 8th March, unavailable. 16th – 19th April, unavailable. One last try, 23rd – 26th July, oops, a 404! This is ridiculous, I can’t spend any more time on this.

Social media
At Hilton facebook page, there is more information on the Hilton sale. But further inspection of the dialogue shows that a vast majority of the comments posted by consumers, both existing customers and new prospects, is related to their frustrations and disappointments because they can’t book on the weekends they want! So I’m not the only one!

It is great to see Hilton using social media, not only to announce such initiatives, but also to engage prospects and customers in real time. But the unfortunate Hilton representative responded to 15 or so complaints, all related to lack of availability and then appears to have given up!

Here are 5 things the Hilton should have done to get the most out of this campaign.

1) Understand that we don’t all march to the beat of the US drum. This is not a political statement, but common sense. Chinese New Year is a very busy time of the year for approximately 1.5 billion people in North and South East Asia. Flights and hotels are full.
2) Check local calendars in the countries you offer special offers. The Singapore Air Show sees hotel rack rates as much as double.
3) If you must black out peak dates, do it in a transparent manner, so that prospects and customers are aware at the outset of restrictions and will not be disappointed. Hiding them in T&C doesn’t count.
4) It is no longer enough to announce a great offer and then assume everone will listen, praise the announcer based on the content of the offer only. As Peter Drucker said, “Communication only works from one member of ‘us’ to another.” If the offer doesn’t stack up, consumers will let others know about it and any good can be undone very quickly.
5) Your existing customers are the key to profitability. Make such offers available to them before new customers.

What started as a great offer from a truly global brand soon became a public relations nightmare and the Hilton credibility has suffered as a result.

What do you think?


9 thoughts on “Will poor execution of a great offer become a public relations nightmare for Hilton hotels?

    1. It’s a good question. I would suggest that, in the short term, a decision was made in the US that didn’t take into account different cultures and their requirements. I also suspect that with a lot of these offers, the real goal is to generate free publicity that creates awareness for the brand.


  1. I’m pretty sure that you have just had some bad luck, as I have managed to book accommodation for myself and my family and friends in 8 different Hiltons throughout the Asia Pacific region with the sale, and for 15 different stays. I only had one problem with a lack of availability, but when you actually look at the room rates online for that weekend, they are astronomically high as there is a big event on that weekend.

    Being a Hilton staff member as well, I have experienced just how many people have been able to book accomodation with these rates. My hotel is ALWAYS very quiet in January, and we spent most of January at record levels of occupancy. The same with all the hotels in my region. The sale was never going to fall at an opportune time for everyone, in every region. But its like a storewide sale, yeah? There are always T&C that apply. Everyone knows that. The T&C quite clearly state that it is up to the discretion on the hotel whether or not they offered the rate on every weekend. You could book rates for the whole of 2010… unless you had a lot of time on your hands, you could not possibly have checked every single weekend to know that they all weren’t available.


    1. Hello anonymous Hilton staff member from anonymous Hilton Hotel. Thanks for taking the time to write a comment.

      I’m pretty sure I had some bad luck as well. If I’m not mistaken, about 6 or 7 bouts of bad luck before giving up. But then it’s not really surprising that I was unable to take advantage of the offer if lucky Hilton staff like you were taking advantage of the sale and making multiple bookings for multiple stays for not only you, but also your family and your friends. I also checked the Hilton facebook page and found a number of complaints from frustrated and disappointed consumers who were also unable to book.

      Of course there are terms and conditions, I accept that. But I don’t accept your comment that ‘the sale was never going to fall at an opportune time for everyone’. First of all, a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing is an outdated approach that needs instand review. Do you think I care that January is a slow month in the West? I’m in Asia and I’m looking for bargains in Asia, as are other consumers in Asia. Be transparent with your terms and conditions. Tell me up front not to waste time trying to book during the Singapore air show or Chinese New Year etc

      I would also suggest making such offers available to 1) existing loyalty card holders (and Hilton should be making personalised offerings to specific customers – ie those who normally book suites, executive floors etc), 2) existing customers who are not loyalty card holders, 3) the general public and then, and only then, Hilton staff and their mates!


  2. brandconsultantasia, you live in a sheltered world and like most cyber bunnies obviously get great joy out of airing your personal grievances on line rather than fronting the company and getting the supported answers you dont want to hear. This offer as I view it is far more accessible and transparent than most TV advertising let alone the wonderful airlines! Like just about every offer in the market today, it has terms and conditions and like airline offers, the hotels would obviously have allotments??

    Your feedback to the Hilton employee further reaffirms your selfish, childish take on “I did not get mine, so I’m going to cry”. Why should the employee get access. They are an consumer. You are complaining about restrictions but suggesting there should be more? Make up your mind.

    For a self proclaimed guru, your not that smart and certainly have tunnel vision.


    1. Hi Anna-Marie
      Thank you very much indeed for taking the time to comment on the article.

      While your passion and enthusiasm for the Hilton Brand is admirable, endearing and certainly respected and appreciated, I don’t really see the point of you attacking me personally, especially as we haven’t, to my knowledge, ever met. So I will ignore all your comments about me personally as they are baseless, malicious, assumptive and irrelevant.

      However, I take umbrage at you suggesting I consider myself a Guru. If you did know me, you would know that I do not consider myself a guru. In fact if you did know me you would know that I consider the concept of a guru as suggesting someone who cannot learn anymore and yet, as an individual and a professional, which I most definately am, I am always learning.

      As for your other comments, here are my thoughts.

      I’m pleased that you view the Hilton offer as ‘far more accessible and transparent than most TV advertising.’ Now we have your viewpoint and mine to add to the viewpoints of others, some who will be supportive of you, and some that will be supportive of me.

      As for your comparisons with airlines, well. personally, I see little value in comparisons.

      Of course there are blackout dates or allotments as you call them. I’d like to draw your attention to my third recommendation where I suggest Hilton doesn’t hide the blackout dates in the Terms and Conditions. We are all very busy and don’t have much time to waste. Many hotels in Asia show black out dates on the pop up calendar at the start of the booking exercise. That way the customer doesn’t waste valuable time going through the booking process only at the last minute to find out the preferred dates are unavailable. This can be disheartening, especially after a number of attempts.

      You go on to suggest that I don’t think there should be terms and conditions. Please read the first line of my second paragraph. To save you the hassle of referring back to the response, I state, “Of course there are terms and conditions, I accept that.”

      As for my response to the Hilton employee, you mention the employee is a consumer, well, yes and no. There would be a customer without the employee but there wouldn’t be an employee without the customer. But anyway, I didn’t say the employee shouldn’t have access to the offer, I said that the employee should have access to the offer after 1) loyalty programme members (these are the people that have built the Hilton Brand and allowed that brand to employ the employee), 2) existing customers, 3) the general public and 4) employees and their friends.

      So I didn’t complain about restrictions and then suggest more, I suggested more effective restrictions that were more obvious and relevant and targetted campaigns that rewarded loyal customers first over others.


    2. Anna-Marie

      I thought you might be interested to read this copy from the Hilton Facebook page, quote:

      “There’s still time for you to enjoy 50% off all your weekend breaks at over 220 destinations across Asia Pacific, UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa. Yes, half price, every weekend, all year long! Visit http://www.hilton.com/asiapacific to find out more.” end quote.

      After reading that statement a couple of times, I believe I and many others would be forgiven for thinking there were no strings attached – “ALL your weekend breaks” “Half price EVERY weekend”.

      Anna-Marie, any thoughts?


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