Innovation in Fairfax County: Hilton

Innovation has its own showcase and think tank at Hilton's global headquarters in Tysons Corner.

As senior director for strategic innovation at Hilton, Caitlin McKenna doesn't just think innovation. She drives it every day.

The efforts of McKenna and her team are on display in Tysons Corner, home to Hilton's world headquarters and to its Innovation Gallery, a 4,300-square foot display showcase, think tank and incubator for ideas to stay ahead of the competition and better serve customers in the world of hospitality.

"At Hilton, innovation is in our DNA," McKenna says. "We're a nearly 100-year-old company with a startup mentality.

That approach has been on display in Tysons Corner for a while now. Hilton debuted Innovation Gallery in November 2017, next to the live laboratory it created at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner several years ago.

In addition to team members, Hilton invites hotel owners and technology partners to the gallery to meet with design experts, hospitality professionals and other thought leaders to evaluate and discuss new products and potential solutions.

Some of the new products have been developed though Hilton's partnerships with industry leaders including Amazon, IBM, LG and Tesla. But anyone can be a source for the next great idea.

"At Hilton, all our team members are encouraged to be the most innovative thinkers they can be," McKenna says. "So everyone is always thinking about ways to serve our industry and the guests who come to our hotels every day.

"One of the great things about soliciting the Power of Ideas is bringing in people from outside the hospitality industry. We're looking at small startups (as well as) big enterprises - letting them come into our space, pitch us their grand ideas or products, and letting us decide whether or not they're a fit for hospitality."

Some of those concepts that have already become common or are soon to be in use include: 

  • Connected Room -- Permits guests more choices and greater personalization when they use their personal mobile device to do things like control the lighting or air conditioning or stream favorite TV shows.
  • Digital Key -- Hilton Honors app now allows guests at more than 2,700 properties to open any door they'd normally access with a room key, including elevators, fitness center or parking garage. It also enables guests to choose their prefered room and to check in. 
  • Nightingale by Cambridge Sound -- a smart sound system that masks common indoor and outdoor sounds that might normally disrupt sleep.
  • Amazon Locker -- a self-service parcel delivery service that enables guests to receive or send packages. Hilton already has several hundred in use around the U.S.
  • Meural -- a customizable digital art display.
  • Pilot from Waverly Labs -- a real-time translation solution to break down communications barriers and serve guests in international markets.

The Innovation Gallery theater serves as a test space for new room features, configurations, fabrics, sounds and lighting.

One new concept room, Five Feet to Fitness, available at the Hilton McLean and in other select markets, offers 11 or more fitness devices including a high-intensity bike and fitness kiosk for cardio, strength, stretching and yoga routines.

A kitchen area highlights new food and beverage concepts such as Somabar for personalized mixed drinks. Hilton tests new food and beverage concepts each year.

"We never lose sight of the fact that this is a human-centered business," McKenna says "Even if we bring technology into our world, it's always as a supplement to how we offer service to our guests."

And working through that technology in Fairfax County has its advantages.

"We love being positioned here and being able to draw on a really talented global workforce that resides in the D.C. Metro area," McKenna says.

In 2017, Great Places to Work ranked Hilton as one of the world's best for a second consecutive year. Just recently, Reader's Digest named Hilton "America's Most Trusted National Hotel/Resort Chain."

"We know that our people are our greatest asset, and we are committed to showing them this same hospitality by creating an environment where they can thrive and be at their best every day," said Chris Nassetta, Hilton's president and CEO. "From back-of-house, to front desk, to our corporate offices, our team members are the heart of our success, and I'm incredibly proud of each and every one of them."