Covid-hit Hilton Worldwide retrenches Asia Pacific sustainability head

Hilton says the ‘dire’ business environment has affected the company in all areas, including sustainability, but job losses would not affect the hotel chain’s sustainability commitments.

Hilton Hotels.
A Hilton hotel. The hospitality brand says that every corporate team at every level of the company has been affected by the Covid-induced downturn, including the corporate responsibility team. Image: Hilton

Hilton Worldwide, one of the world’s biggest hotel chains, has parted ways with its Asia Pacific head of sustainability as the company responds to the brutal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the hospitality industry.

Jeannie Kwok was appointed by Hilton just over a year and a half ago as regional director of corporate responsibility, and is among many in the sector to lose their jobs. The pandemic, which has brought international travel to a virtual standstill, is projected to claim 63 million jobs in the travel and tourism industry in Asia Pacific this year.

Hilton told Eco-Business that the company was in “dire situation” as a result of the “outsized impact” of the coronavirus outbreak on the sector, and every corporate team at every level of the company has been affected, including the corporate responsibility team. 

Hilton announced in March that CEO Christopher Nassetta would forgo his salary for the rest of the year, and many executives would be furloughed or take pay cuts as the company acts to protect the core of its business amid “unprecedented challenges” for the sector.

Kwok was recognised as one of the region’s most effective sustainability leaders of 2019 when she was named in the Eco-Business A-List last November. In her first year at Hilton, she helped to reduce the hotel’s single-use plastic footprint, and was working on food waste reduction this year, among other initiatives. Hilton aims to cut food waste to landfill by half by 2030.

The company said Kwok’s departure would not affect its commitment to meeting sustainability goals. “While it was very difficult to say goodbye to Jeannie, we intend to build on the great work she was doing,” said Hazel Quek, Hilton’s Asia Pacific manager of corporate responsibility.

“Even in these difficult times, our corporate responsibility commitment and our Travel with Purpose 2030 goals remain unchanged. We are still committed to cutting our environmental foot print in half and doubling our social impact investment [by 2030],” she said.

Quek also noted that Hilton had published its 2019 sustainability report this year, and had appointed Kate Mikesell, the company’s long-serving head of global corporate affairs, as vice president for global corporate responsibility. 

Before joining Hilton, Jeannie Kwok had spent seven years at global medical device company Medtronic. She has also worked at consumer goods giant Danone in China as resource development manager, and executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates in New York. 

In an interview with Eco-Business at the end of 2019, Kwok said that while banning some single-use plastic items had been a major focus of Hilton’s sustainability efforts in 2019, “our biggest concern now is hygiene and safety. We are continuing to look at that and ensure we make progress before we move forward with our initiatives that target waste.”

Waste is expected to be a concern for Hilton as it welcomes guests back on the condition they wear face coverings. “We hope this policy will bring peace of mind to travelers and Hilton team members across the globe, whose safety has and always will be our number one priority,” the company said last week.

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