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Hilton Hotels & Resorts

Scientific study of business travelers shows significant gap between perception and reality

In the first-ever study of its kind, Hilton Hotels & Resorts commissioned a scientific study with a volunteer…

In the first-ever study of its kind, Hilton Hotels & Resorts commissioned a scientific study with a volunteer group of travelers to determine how travel impacts performance. Based on the results of the thought-provoking research, the Hilton team is currently developing a strategic series of new programs and services that will enable travelers to enhance their productivity. The first of these initiatives is anticipated to be introduced in January 2004.

If Hilton Hotels & Resorts can identify ways to help guests perform or feel better when away from home, then we want to be able to provide these travelers with the means to do so, said Robert E. Dirks, senior vice president – brand management & marketing for Hilton. As a hospitality industry leader, Hilton is committed to providing the most ideal environment to travelers so they can pursue their day`s activities with refreshed minds and bodies and ultimately perform at their very best.

Hilton fielded the two-month study, along with an extensive online survey, in cooperation with Dr. Mark Rosekind, a former director of NASA`s Fatigue Countermeasures Program and current president of Alertness Solutions, a California-based scientific consulting firm.

This is the first time any company has used this unique technological and scientific approach to objectively compare what actually happens during a business trip with the kind of subjective information we have seen from our past surveys, said Dirks. According to Dr. Rosekind, this research is similar to the studies NASA still does with astronauts.

As part of the research, participants wore wrist actigraphs that measured daytime activity levels and sleep quality and quantity. In addition, they carried special PDAs that measured performance and served as a log for capturing details about their productivity, moods and other daily rituals.

The actigraphy results of this study truly confirm how business travelers perceive themselves as performing at a higher level than they actually do. This simply shows just how much the difference can be between perception and reality when it comes to personal performance, said Rosekind.

The study suggests one of the primary reasons performance wanes is sleep loss. For example, study participants slept only five hours the night before a trip, the lowest of the entire seven-day monitoring period.

Any sleep-period less than six hours a night begins to significantly diminish performance, said Rosekind. Essentially, travelers are at a decreased productivity level before they even walk out their door.

One of the most interesting findings included the fact that travelers perform best during mid-day, not early morning, often considered the most productive part of the workday.

It`s no wonder travelers take a while to warm up; they get one hour less sleep a day than they think they do. But don`t blame hoteliers; surprisingly the best night of sleep occurs on the first night at a hotel. The worse night of sleep occurs in the most unlikely place … home.

In all, study participants registered a total sleep loss of almost eight hours by the time they returned home, the equivalent of one full night`s sleep. That`s a finding scientists say has broader implications than just performance.

Performance Enhancer

The study also zeroed in on what could be the most effective means to increasing performance – exercise. While some surveys have shown many business travelers turn to caffeine, alcohol or even over-the-counter medication to increase alertness and energy, for the first time this field study quantifies the important role exercise plays as a primary performance enhancer. Rosekind said travelers who exercised during their trip performed an incredible 61 percent better than non-exercisers on reaction and alertness tests.

Although the value of exercise is not new to hotels, there are opportunities to make it easier for travelers to start or maintain a fitness regimen. Scientists agree that this could result in an elevated level of performance. Dirks alluded to even broader applications of the study`s findings, especially in light of America`s interest in health and fitness.

There continues to be a growing amount of evidence about the value of exercise. As a leading hotel company, it is imperative to provide our guests with the services they need and want to stay fit while away on business and we look forward to delivering it, said Dirks.

The majority of travelers are already tuned into exercise, with two-thirds of those responding to the survey claiming to use it as a strategy to boost their alertness, energy and performance while on a trip. While many lean toward more commonly used methods to increase productivity, some of those can actually make performance and sleep worse.

Alcohol still maintains its erroneous position as a sleep enhancer, with travelers increasing their consumption 30 percent during trips, compared to home amounts. Wine was the most commonly reported selection (58 percent), followed by beer (24 percent). Participants also turned to caffeine as a performance-booster; consuming 14 percent more while on a trip than at home. Sodas were the most often-selected caffeinated product (54 percent), followed by coffee (36 percent).


The Hilton Personal Performance Study was developed by Hilton Hotels & Resorts in conjunction with Alertness Solutions, a scientific consulting firm based in Cupertino, Calif.

The study, which was conducted from June through September, was a two-part research project designed to explore, understand, and enhance services and an environment that support the optimal productivity of today`s travelers. Research from the study included examining and comparing business travelers` actual and perceived performance when traveling; including comparisons to performance and sleep at home, travel factors that affect these parameters, and strategies used by business travelers to optimize performance and alertness while traveling.

The first part of the study included a 58-question Web-based survey that involved 3,500 respondents across the U.S. and Canada.

The second part of the study involved a select group of 25 frequent travelers who voluntarily collected behavioral and physiological data during actual business trips. These trips were two to five days in length, crossed two or more time zones, and were within the continental United States. Data for this real-time research component was collected from July 9, 2003 through Sept. 3, 2003.

Participants used two data collection devices — a specially-programmed PDA and a wrist actigraph — to provide information about their performance, sleep/wake patterns, and activities before, during, and after their trips. Statistical significance was determined at alpha = 0.05 (95 percent confidence level) for appropriate analyses.

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