Hospitality Trailblazers: Talking Hotel Trends With Hilton VP, Group Sales & Strategic Accounts Gerilyn Horan

March 22, 2024

Gerilyn Horan’s journey into the hospitality industry began unintentionally when the insurance company she was working for part-time while in college phased out its entire department. However, the unfortunate experience turned out to be a serendipitous one for the young student.

“Fortunately, a new Hilton had just opened nearby, and through a friend, I secured a role as a cashier in the coffee shop,” Horan explained. “I fell in love with the business, and out of a desire to create impactful experiences, I evolved through a series of front-of-the-house, commercial and leadership roles.”

Thirty years later, Horan now serves as Hilton Worldwide’s vice president of group sales and strategic accounts, a role in which she oversees U.S. corporate, association, intermediary and regional account teams who are deployed to support the leading hotel company’s most valued customers.

“As a working mother, I’ve learned the value of building a personal support system (it does take a village!) and a winning team, and the same values apply to my career in hospitality, where team members serve as collaborative partners and advisors for their customers,” Horan added.

Corporate Event News had a chance to sit down with Horan to hear her thoughts about the hotel and meetings industries’ latest trends and challenges, what event planners are asking for when hosting events at Hilton properties and what’s new for meetings groups at Hilton.

What are the biggest trends you’re seeing right now in the hotel and meetings industries?

How we travel for work has transformed over the last few years, with the industry responding to accommodate new business travel “norms” that are not fleeting trends but long-term shifts. Additionally, why, how and where we do business has changed. Small meetings continue to increase, new locations are springing up based on remote workers’ locations and the length of stays has ticked up due to the increased blending of business and leisure travel.

Those planning to travel for business, especially remote workers, are committed to maximizing their time on the road by incorporating opportunities for personal leisure. As highlighted in Hilton’s recent 2024 Trends Report, more than one-third of Gen Z and Millennial business travelers indicated they plan to extend a business trip in 2024 to enjoy leisure time before or after work obligations. Nearly one quarter of global business travelers plan to take a friend or family member with them on a business trip this year.

To help their customers and meet corporate targets, travel planners are looking for partners who will help them create meaningful change in their travelers’ overall experience while driving a positive impact on the environment and in the communities they visit. While on the road, 74% of travelers agree that it’s important to minimize their environmental footprint. Backed by Travel with Purpose, Hilton’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy, the company offers planner customers a proprietary and award-winning tool, LightStay, which enables the company to track its environmental and social impact across its global portfolio and deliver insights-rich reports. LightStay’s Meeting Impact Calculator gives planners the opportunity to see an estimated carbon footprint for their event using each hotel’s specific utility and emissions data, and through the Meet With Purpose checklist, [they] can also make informed decisions that reduce the impact of their meetings.

What are the industries’ biggest challenges, and how is Hilton addressing them?

While more than 70% of event attendees note they prefer in-person meetings and events to virtual ones, there are often challenges associated with coordinating in-person gatherings. According to a Hilton survey, about one-third of event planners (27%) are frustrated with the complicated and time-consuming booking process. Specifically, four in 10 say they are frustrated with finding a space that meets their requirements (39%) and 40% with juggling the event details at once.

Hilton’s expanded online events booking functionality, which accommodates both professional and personal planners, addresses these challenges by allowing the small meetings and events customer segment the ability to book their event space entirely online, bundled with guest rooms, audio-visual needs and food and beverage orders. This feature allows planners to focus less on contracts and more on personalizing the packages and experiences that are tailored to their attendees’ unique needs.

Hilton data uncovered 75% of small- and medium-sized business customers book their own business trips and manage their own travel in-house, without outsourcing, and our 2024 Trends Report highlighted that 80% of global travelers agree that it is important to be able to book their entire trip online. To answer this growing need, Hilton launched Hilton for Business, a new, digital-forward travel program that empowers professionals running small- and medium-sized businesses to simplify travel management while enhancing rewards and discounts for their loyalty. The program offers a comprehensive set of tools to enhance the business travel booking and management experience and provide Hilton Honors benefits to business customers and their employees around the world.

What’s trending this year when it comes to corporate and citywide events? What are the biggest “asks” you’re hearing from event groups?

This year, corporate and citywide events are on the rise, surpassing 2019 levels as the need for more meeting, exhibit space and guest rooms continues to grow. These events are traveling to new locations, after the destination of many large conferences and events shifted from large, urban city centers into secondary markets in 2023. In the Americas, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Albuquerque, New Mexico and Fort Myers, Fla. topped demand growth among one-year-out bookings.

Hilton has seen demand in Columbus, Ohio, and the recent expansion of Hilton Columbus Downtown has boosted group booking by almost two-thirds year-over-year, perfectly timed to meet the growing demand for meetings in secondary markets. Other key meetings and events-focused hotels in secondary cities include DoubleTree by Hilton Abilene Downtown Convention Center in Texas and Embassy Suites by Hilton Panama City Beach Resort in Florida.

Incentive travel has come roaring back, and there is an increased interest in resort and all-inclusive locations, as many planners gravitate toward an all-in-one approach to maximize the attendee experience and ease of planning. In the first half of 2023, group bookings at Hilton all-inclusive resorts increased by double digits year-over-year, led by Hilton La Romana, an All-Inclusive Family Resort in the Dominican Republic. Resort offerings in appealing destinations, like Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort and Hilton Cancun, an All-Inclusive Resort, allow groups to enjoy all the property has to offer while maximizing their downtime to interact with other guests and attendees.

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