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3/29/2004
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SPRING CONFERENCE: Hilton Seeks To Set Standards

CIO Tim Harvey told the InformationWeek Spring Conference that he's concerned about a growing split in IT standards between Hilton and Hilton International, which owns the brand name outside the United States.

Having gotten its $50 million OnQ hotel-management system off the ground last year, Hilton Hotels Corp. is broadening its quest for technology standardization. Hilton's primary partner in this venture is Hilton International, which owns the rights to the Hilton brand outside the United States.

Hilton International hotels use the same Internet site, reservation system, and Honors guest-reward-program technology as those in North America, but they differ in the technology they use for hotel management. Whereas most of OnQ is customized to meet North American licensees' needs, most of the 400 Hilton hotels in the United Kingdom and Europe operate on Micros-Fidelio management software from Micros Systems Inc.

"We have an alliance relationship with [Hilton International] to create a consistent Hilton experience," Hilton CIO Tim Harvey said Monday at InformationWeek's Spring Conference. Harvey added that he's concerned about a growing divergence developing in technology standards deployed by the two companies.

Harvey and Tim Davis, Hilton International's senior VP of distribution and E-commerce, have participated in several meetings during the past year to work out technology standards that can be deployed at the hotel level across both companies.

Harvey's contention is that consistent hotel-management standards will protect Hilton's brand worldwide at a time when discount hotel-room services offered by companies such as Expedia Inc. and Hotels.com threaten to turn even high-end hotel rooms into a commodity.

Services such as those offered by Expedia and Hotels.com emerged at the worst possible time for the travel industry, which has been particularly hard hit by the slow economy and travel fears resulting from the Sept. 11, 2001,attacks, Tom Keltner, Hilton's executive VP of brand performance and franchise development, said Monday at the conference. "They attacked the hotel industry."

The key to Hilton's overcoming the influence that discount hotel-room finder services have had on its brand is getting Hilton licensees to post information about their vacancies to Hilton itself. This is critical, given that licensees own 2,100 of Hilton's 2,150 Conrad, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton, Hilton, and Homewood Suites hotel properties in North America.

Although third-party services help Hilton brands fill rooms, they also undermine the company's efforts to develop a premium brand, Harvey said. "Our licensees load availabilities and rates through third-party services, but Hilton offers the same service."

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