In the middle of a public health crisis, wedding season has effectively been put on hold. Children aren’t rushing to hug their grandparents, and family vacations have downsized dramatically. The emotional milestones of the travel experience have nearly disappeared.
Hilton is trying to rekindle that spark.
In the brand’s new global campaign titled “To New Memories,” the spots, softly shot and deeply uncontroversial, walk the thin tightrope all travel brands have had to walk during the pandemic, encouraging booking, but only when the traveler is ready. It’s similar to the U.S. Travel Association’s “Let’s Go There” campaign that ran in September. Not too pushy, but heavy on the heartstrings.
“It’s time for the emotional to come back in, it’s time for the heart, and reconnecting with why we travel,” said Mark Weinstein, who was promoted in July to become Hilton’s svp and global head of marketing and loyalty, replacing former CMO Kellyn Smith Kenny, who left in June.“We have a year’s worth of [being] cooped up, postponed weddings, [not] seeing grandchildren—the campaign is built on that.”
To be clear, the campaign is built on the idea of those emotional milestones, not encouraging nuptials or an immediate flight to visit grandma.
The pandemic’s been brutal to the hotel industry, as Hilton lost $432 million in Q2. Then occupancy hovered around 40% with RevPAR [revenue per available room] down 81% year over year. This week, U.S. occupancy sat at a little less than 48%, still down roughly 29% compared to 2019. “Week by week, we’re trending in the right direction; each week is progressively stronger than the previous one,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein emphasized that, for the time being, this is more of a new brand platform than a campaign. Instead of going after the low-hanging fruit (emphasizing lower prices, regionally tailored creative), Hilton’s going the more esoteric route, emphasizing the brand, the sappy family moments missed while sheltered, and a feature spot for the brand’s contactless digital key.
Last year, Hilton’s “Expect Better” campaign featuring Pitch Perfect star Anna Kendrick ran almost up until the pandemic’s first outbreak. It’s still unclear if Hilton will invest as heavily in this campaign as it did with Kendrick’s, which emphasized the benefits of the brand’s loyalty program and why travelers should book direct. “Any marketer would be lying if they told you they could pick the channel plan for the rest of the year,” said Weinstein.
So far, the campaign is set to run on Today, Good Morning America, TNT, FX, and appear globally in China, the U.K., Germany and Saudi Arabia.
A 10-year veteran of the brand, Weinstein previously served as Hilton’s global head of customer engagement, loyalty and partnerships. Now, Hilton said it won’t be looking for another CMO, as both marketing and loyalty come under Weinstein’s purview. He said he doesn’t expect a whole lot to change, as both teams were already closely aligned. For those loyalty members, Hilton has extended tier status until 2022 and won’t expire unused points. Those who don’t book directly with Hilton still have access to the brand’s digital key, if they download the Honors app.
“Travel at the moment is a deeply personal moment; we’re looking for those that are raising their hand,” Weinstein said. “The passion is there—if you’re ready to travel, so are we.”