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2022 Hotel Visionary Award Winner: Hilton Hotels & Resorts

After two years of hard work, Hilton replaced its 30-year-old CRS with a completely new, cloud-based system in just two weekends.
hotel guest making a reservation online
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For more than thirty years, Hilton Hotels & Resorts relied heavily on its original customer reservation system (CRS). The technology, which dated back to the late 20th century, had served the brand well as its core shopping and booking system. However, as the brand’s shopping traffic began to grow exponentially, Hilton realized that its CRS had begun to severely limit its ability to meet the demand for inventory distribution. The CRS had also begun to consume quite a bit of support resources and required a prodigious budget to maintain. So, the brand challenged itself to develop a modern CRS system that would reduce operating costs while also providing a seamless transition for properties.

An Inside Job

For this particular project, Hilton decided to rely on its internal team to develop the new CRS system, instead of partnering with a third-party solution. Doing so allowed the brand to maintain internal control of the technology and empowered its employees -- who had much more knowledge and experience with its systems and business processes -- to push boundaries, develop innovative solutions and grow professionally.

As an added bonus, this also gave its employees the opportunity to mentor new employees to seed the next generation of innovators at the brand.

“Investing in our Hilton team members and providing mentorship opportunities is important to us as an organization,” said Michael Leidinger, Chief Information Officer. “When development started on the new CRS system, we were able to pair team members from the application team, who understood the application and business domain, with the Cloud Engineering and DevOps teams, who are well-versed in cloud technologies. This allowed team members from both areas to learn a great deal from each other and foster relationships that continue to this day, providing Hilton with a true DevOps capability.”

Having an internal team also allowed Hilton to have a clear understanding of the project’s objectives: reduce operational costs, enable innovation, dramatically decrease downtime and provide virtually limitless capacity for compute-intensive shopping and near real-time revenue management. By the end of the project, Hilton can proudly say that all of the development work to architect, engineer, automate and operate the solution was developed in-house.

The Future-Proofing Process

Hilton knew that to create a modernized CRS, it would need to operate within the cloud. Hilton had a pre-existing relationship with Amazon Web Services (AWS), so it selected AWS as the infrastructure. The selection of AWS was due to its maturity, continued investment in the platform, and ability to provide enterprise-class compute and database environments. The solution is a cloud-native, auto-scaling application based on AWS’s EKS, leveraging Apache’s high-speed, transactional engine and AWS’s enterprise-class Aurora database technology.

Requirements management and DevOps capabilities are provided by the Atlassian stack primarily (JIRA, Confluence, Bamboo). Infrastructure as code was developed by Hilton using Terraform. Instrumentation and infrastructure reporting are provided by DataDog, logging and auditing by Splunk, and configured by Hilton.

“The transformation was designed to address pain points within our legacy environment," said Lee Graham, Vice President, Platform Architecture. “To replace our previous processes, we chose partners and tools that we felt would stand the test of time and best help us achieve our objectives. With a clear end goal in mind, Hilton had the opportunity to design our transformation to address all facets of our technical delivery, including changing the way we worked as a team, how we deployed infrastructure and code, and how we monitored and supported our systems. As a result, we are now able to develop and deploy code faster to meet business demands, infrastructure and code deployments are fully automated, and centralized monitoring and log aggregation has given us deeper insights into the health of our systems.”

Hilton representatives accepting the 2022 hotel visionary award on stage at ht-next
Lee Graham and Joe Knack of Hilton accept the 2022 Hotel Visionary Award on stage at HT-NEXT 2022

A Worthwhile Investment

The development of the newly modernized CRS System allowed Hilton to become one of the first major hotel companies to run its entire reservation system in the cloud. (Read about the first major hotel brand -- Choice Hotels -- to go all-in on AWS for a new CRS System in 2018.Some of the project’s innovative achievements include the streamlining of processes which dramatically reduced the development time from concept to implementation, service-based architecture which reduced the need for extensive regression testing, and autoscaling, which supports the dynamic nature of the CRS System. Additionally, infrastructure and deployment automation allowed for a seamless transition for properties with zero downtime. In fact, the production rollout was managed over 2 weekends with all of the brand’s Focus Service hotels shifting to the new system on one weekend and all of its Full-Service hotels cutting over the following weekend.  

“The original plan was to bring the core leaders from involved teams to a central war room for the cutover; however, COVID made that virtually impossible,” said Furqan Huda, Vice President, Capabilities and Customer Platforms. “Instead, the cutover consisted of around 20 different teams, including Hilton Team Members, partners and contractors worldwide. The representatives were split into two shifts, one for cutover and one for post-cutover, to ensure there was always support that was refreshed and available.”

While the modernized CRS system enabled Hilton to maintain ownership, it also allowed it to continuously deliver new solutions. The platform enabled innovations including Confirmed Connecting Room, property controlled bookable add-ons, customized child pricing, near real-time revenue management and the rollout of a cloud-based PMS to almost 10 percent of the estate. Operationally, the CRS system delivered a 95% reduction in the scheduled maintenance downtime and the ability to cost-effectively scale. There has been a 3.5x increase in volume while costs have been reduced by 50 percent, in addition to the cost savings due to the move to AWS.

The new CRS also removed many constraints that hotels face daily. The updated CRS allows highly complex properties to create more room types. And offer restrictions have been removed which allows properties the opportunity to distribute more offers to the website. These enhancements have improved the booking experience for customers.

It has also introduced new Revenue Management capabilities which include improved efficacy, precision, frequency of pricing decisions and minimized manual effort required to manage the system. But the system had the greatest impact on Hilton’s internal Revenue Management team by improving business processes for them.

First, its Continuous Pricing (CP) feature helped tremendously though COVID recovery by allowing the brand to test price elasticity. Prior to CP, it took close to four hours to complete a full rate change for a property, but with CP properties now have the ability to easily push up ceiling rates and maximize ADR capture more frequently. Second, the price settings are much more user-friendly and time efficient. Hilton is able to add minimum price differentials between specific room classes as opposed to adding in a specific override. And the MLOS by room type has improved dramatically through CP. As a result of this rollout, Hilton is selling its entry room type over multiple dates at a record high. Third, rate changes and fluidity within a set of dates has never been easier, saving Hilton employees several hours of time over the course of the last month as demand remains unpredictable. Historically, rate structure changes would take up the bulk of non-call time in 2019 for this very reason. In the same vein of thinking, increasing offsets for peak demand versus having to recode an entire structure has been critical for drive market hotels that require evolving adjustments.

“This was one of the most challenging and rewarding projects of my entire career,” said Lee Graham, Vice President, Platform Architecture. “The dedication of Hilton team members who made this a reality was nothing short of amazing and our new CRS has enabled us to innovate faster, while continuing to meet the needs of our guests and owners.”

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