The Caterer

The Caterer interview: Steve Cassidy

03 July 2019 by

Steve Cassidy is senior vice-president and managing director of Hilton UK & Ireland. He talks to Katherine Price about Hilton's 100th anniversary and how the group plans to halve its environmental footprint by 2030

Happy 100 years! How are you celebrating Hilton's centenary?

If you look at the UK business now, we're operating 155 properties with another 45 in the pipeline. The important thing about the Hilton effect and the impact we have on wider communities is that the company is creating 4,000 new jobs.

Is it still important for hotels to connect with communities when everything is online and people are less face-to-face?

It's at the heart of what we do - it's critically important. We've estimated that we've added about a trillion dollars of economic value in the last 100 years, which is primarily driven by job creation.

Our social impact is something we don't underestimate. We've set some ambitious goals for halving our environmental footprint and doubling the social impact we have within our communities. We're in the hospitality industry and at the heart of that is a business of people.

How are you looking at your environmental footprint in the UK?

At each of the hotels we have something quite cool called LightStay, which measures our electricity and gas usage. There are very strict targets around the hotels for reducing consumption. Water is included within that as well. Food waste is an important target.

We overlay that with a number of area-wide initiatives on things like plastic reduction, which is obviously a focus for the environmental lobby, and rightly so.

In terms of food waste we've got a group looking at all the best practices we have across the UK and adopting the best ones. We're also working with suppliers around new technology to try and address that.

100 Queen's Gate Hotel London, Curio Collection by Hilton
100 Queen's Gate Hotel London, Curio Collection by Hilton

And how are you ensuring employee buy-in for it all?

Getting employee buy-in into these initiatives is not that difficult, particularly when you look at the age profile of our workforce. The millennial generation is a critical part of that, but increasingly, Generation Z are coming into the workforce. Before they choose to work with you, they want to understand what your environmental credentials are. The important thing is that we stand by those principles and that we put meaningful actions in place and I'm proud to say that's exactly what we are doing.

Do you feel Hilton's doing enough?

You can never do enough. There's always more we can do, and we participate in industry-wide forums to ensure that we're adopting the best practices that are available. Do you think hospitality as a sector is trailblazing or trailing behind in terms of sustainability?

We can never underestimate our responsibility. We employ a lot of people - hospitality is the third-largest employer in the UK - so it's somewhat irrelevant where we sit. We have to continue to explore new and meaningful ideas to improve the overall welfare of our planet, and we're strongly committed to that and our specific, ambitious goals around 2030 are testament to that.

How are you ensuring Hilton is meeting guests' expectations when it comes to environmental credentials?

Customers need to experience those actions in play and they often want to participate in those actions, such as not turning round the bedroom every night during a long stay and replacing all the sheets, or not replacing the towels, or switching all electrical items off or having centralised power that allows you to simply switch off all electrical appliances.

One very specific initiative is the digital key so you don't need a plastic key. It has an important customer benefit, but many also see an environmental benefit in reducing plastic.

Steve Cassidy2
Steve Cassidy2

Are there any other initiatives you're excited about?

The app is, for me, one of the most exciting developments of the past few years. The connected room initiative, which is due to roll out shortly, is where I can virtually walk into a room and it will immediately be configured for my own personalised needs. And then rather than having to visit a desk to checkout, I check-out automatically.

How do you find the balance between personalising the guest experience while also ensuring a property is recognisably 'Hilton'?

You want that reassurance of the Hilton name, the consistency that brings. But you are equally travelling in different modes - leisure or business, family or independently, stressed or time on your hands. Being able to overlay that personalisation on those pillars of consistency is the perfect balance.

The other thing we talk about in our business is the blending of the physical and digital worlds. The physical side of things is still critically important. We're not replacing people through this digital experience - far from it - we're enhancing the customer experience, and people are a critical element of that. We are a business of people serving people, so the physical and digital need to work hand in glove to provide the best levels of experience.

What is Hilton doing to ensure it's attracting top talent?

We invest hugely in our people. The backdrop in the UK in particular is a challenging one, with low levels of unemployment and the immigration debate. We have to be the best employer, and that's about giving our team members an amazing experience when they're working with us, because if they're having an amazing experience, that will translate into the levels of hospitality that we provide.

The holistic team member experience is important to us - it's not just about a job and pay: it's about giving them the opportunity to develop and thrive within their roles; the opportunity to have variety in their employment experience with us - whether that's in role or moving to new roles around the business; it's about ensuring they have great leaders in the business who are empathetic to their individual needs; and their working environment being a great working environment.

When they're in the front of house, they're experiencing a wonderful environment, but they should also experience a wonderful environment when they're back of house - in the team member restaurant or the changing rooms or as they arrive into work. We've invested a lot of time and effort in this.

Despite the fundamentals we have more applicants now for positions at Hilton than we've ever had and people are staying with us longer than they've ever stayed.

Hilton Garden Inn Doncaster Racecourse
Hilton Garden Inn Doncaster Racecourse

You've said in the past you'd love to see careers advisors recommending hospitality; is it up to the industry to change those attitudes?

Yes, I think so. We're going to have to tell our story a lot better. As an industry we have a responsibility to get into schools, to partner with careers advisors, and once a year we have the Hospitality Works initiative, where we partner up with the rest of the industry to talk to careers advisors about the benefits.

The footprint of the hospitality industry across the UK is phenomenal and it employs a huge number of people, so our ability to work locally with schools, colleges, government, MPs, local government, to tell the story of what an incredibly industry this is - that is within our gift.

When it comes to future growth, is your pipeline managed or franchise?

The majority of new hotels will be franchised; the split's about 70-30. There's been huge growth in the relevance and importance of the franchise model and we have some amazing franchise partners that have helped spur that growth, but equally our management value proposition is incredibly important to many owners.

We have hotels in the pipeline under management across all categories. We're just about to open a new branded property in London's Mayfair under the LXR collection called the Biltmore, which is a managed luxury property.

Which brands are you planning to bring to the UK?

We have a very broad-brush ambition to have the right brands everywhere people want us to be. When you look at the growth story in the UK, it's testament to that: 155 operating hotels now across seven different brands, with LXR, Motto and Canopy coming.

Will Hilton be launching any more brands any time soon?

Never say never, as consumers develop and evolve their interests. We're not into just knocking out a huge number of brands. Operating clear brands with clear personalities is important, so we'll be very thoughtful in the development of our brands and which markets we put them into at which time.

Would you look at homeshare-style brands?

That's not something we're looking at. People are at the heart of what we do as a business - those models don't quite fit in that mould.

Does the UK need a tri-branded hotel?

No plans at the moment. We'll assess how the tri-branded hotel goes in the US. Having multiple brand propositions in one location makes sense, so never say never.

Will Hilton be around in 100 years' time?

It will definitely be around in 100 years' time, and we're looking forward to that. You've got to constantly innovate, whether it's launching new brands or new technology and digital capabilities - it's all about future-proofing the Hilton business for the next 100 years.

Steve Cassidy's CV

2015-present Senior vice-president and managing director, UK and Ireland, Hilton

2011-2015 Area vice-president, operations, UK and Ireland, Hilton

2009-2011 Vice-president, revenue management, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Hilton

2006-2008 General manager, long-haul revenue management, British Airways

2003-2006 Commercial director, British Airways CitiExpress

1999-2003 Vice-president, Asia Pacific and Middle East, British Airways World Cargo

Hilton UK & Ireland statsHotels 155

Rooms 32,751

Hotel pipeline 48

Room pipeline 9,519

Employees 18,000

Brands 17, seven in the UK: Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Curio Collection, Conrad, DoubleTree by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton by Hilton. The Biltmore in London's Mayfair is set to open as Hilton's first LXR in the UK in September; Canopy London City is due to open in autumn 2020; and the first Motto in the UK, opening in London's Marylebone, in 2020)

Steve Cassidy on… football

In my spare time I manage a kids' football team and I am passionate about football - sport generally - but I'm particularly passionate about developing young people. You can take a whole cross-section of personalities, from overconfident to completely lacking in confidence, perhaps with particular development challenges, and turn all of those boys into a team that go out on a football pitch and come off having really enjoyed themselves, whether they win or lose, and that is really important to me.

I still play football. My boss told me about a year ago to stop playing - he says he doesn't want me off work with a broken leg for six weeks, but I'm still playing.

Hilton's 2030 sustainability goals

Hilton announced last year its intention to cut its environmental footprint in half by 2030. These targets include:

•Reduce water consumption and waste by 50%

•Reduce carbon emissions by 61%, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative

•Sustainably source meat, poultry, produce, seafood and cotton

•Expand its existing soap recycling programme to all hotels and send zero soap to landfill.

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