Powered by Purpose: Emma Banks Is Driven By Hilton’s Founding Promise

8 minutes
Image: Business Mavericks Leading Transformation in 2024 - Hilton

“My experience at the coal face’ ignited my passion for the industry,” shares Emma Banks, Vice President of F&B Strategy & Development at Hilton across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. 

From summer jobs grafting in rural Wales to pulling pints to pay her way through college, Emma’s lifelong love affair with hospitality was sparked early on. 

Emma and her role at Hilton

A seasoned hospitality expert, Emma Banks joins us from the Middle East, where she held prominent F&B positions before joining Hilton in 2019 with a mission to elevate their dining experiences across EMEA.

As VP of F&B Strategy & Development, Emma assembled a top-notch team to realize her vision to make Hilton the food and drink leader in the hotel industry.

Emma’s Hospitality Journey

Emma’s globe-trotting upbringing foreshadowed a life steeped in hospitality.

Born in Malacca and raised in Malaysia, Emma attended boarding school in Penang from just six years old. She recalls a childhood as a spirited “all-rounder,” excelling at sports, especially tennis and swimming.

Upbringing & Early Inspiration

Multi-cultural childhood spent across Asia and Europe

During summer breaks visiting rural Wales, teenage Emma got her first taste of hospitality working a series of front-of-house jobs. The experience taught her the value of a hard-earned wage.  

“I recall my excitement when I could eventually afford to buy myself an Arthur Ashe aluminum tennis racket,” she shares.

Summer jobs in Wales sparked a passion for hospitality

Those early summer jobs ignited Emma’s lifelong passion for the hospitality industry. She reflects, “Suffice it to say that my experience at the coal face’ lit the spark which still burns bright today.”

Professional Path

Worked through college with various hospitality jobs

Emma eagerly dove into hospitality, supporting herself through college with an array of jobs like cocktail bartending and waitressing.

After graduating from Leeds University, Emma cut her teeth managing distressed pubs and nightclubs across the UK.

Her early career in pubs and nightlife in the UK

Helping to transform these establishments through strategic acquisition and targeted improvements, Emma recalls this formative period, “I spent a lot of my early career in the pub and nightlife sectors in the UK, across distressed businesses that were acquired to improve performance, create value, and sell.”

Recent roles in the Middle East before Hilton

In recent years leading up to her position at Hilton, Emma broadened her hospitality horizons internationally, securing leadership roles based out of the flourishing Middle East region. These opportunities prepared her for the global stage.

Current Role & Mission at Hilton

Overseeing F&B strategy and development

As Vice President of F&B Strategy & Development, Emma oversees food and beverage innovation and future pipeline across the Europe, Middle East & Africa regions for Hilton.

The quest to make Hilton an undisputed F&B leader

Since joining Hilton’s ranks in 2019, Emma has been steadfastly “on a mission to make the company the clear leader in food and drink.” After assembling an all-star regional team, Emma has spent the last five years bringing her F&B vision to reality.

The Person Behind the Leader

While professionally driven, Emma prioritizes family and wellness as her anchors amidst a demanding career.

Work-Life Balance

Family time with husband and daughter

Emma cherishes downtime with her beloved daughter Lily and husband Jon, along with their expanding brood of adopted rescue cats and dogs. 

“I am at my happiest when I am with my daughter Lily and my husband Jon – and our ever-growing menagerie of rescue cats and dogs.”

Emma Banks, Vice President of F&B Strategy & Development at Hilton

Spin classes for stress relief

Yet this hospitality dynamo also needs outlets to burn off her inexhaustible energy stores.

Emma’s personal panacea? Going full throttle on the spin bike, which helps her “find [her] inner ‘chi.’” 

She laughs, “Anyone who knows me knows that I find my inner ‘chi’ on a spin bike at 6 am going at a hundred miles an hour. Thankfully I can rely on Hilton’s peloton partnership to keep me on the straight and narrow when traveling – and our hotel teams have often been known to place one in my room!”

Dream Vacation

When time allows Emma to sneak away, she sets her sights Down Under for a trip exploring Australia and New Zealand’s natural splendors by land and sea. 

Having spent their childhood years in Asia and most of her adulthood trotting the globe for work, Emma names these Pacific adventures as her ultimate dream vacations. 

“I most look forward to taking the time to properly travel the length and breadth of Australia and New Zealand with my husband Jon in the not-too-dim and distant future!”

Driving Hilton’s Success

Since its founding in 1919, Hilton has been steadfastly guided by founder Conrad Hilton’s aspirational vision of using hospitality to positively impact the world.

This stalwart sense of purpose has powered the company through over a century of evolution at the forefront of the industry.

Company Vision & Philosophy

As Emma observes, “For 105 years Hilton has been driven by Conrad Hilton’s vision that hospitality can be a force for good.”

Everything stems from this seminal belief that hotel experiences can truly transform people’s lives for the better.

This empowers Hilton’s secret sauce – an unwavering purpose platform consisting of a clear vision, mission, and core values that ground all decisions and innovations.

Emma explains, “It ensures we are known as one, unified global brand, and gives our brand meaning. 

This creates consistent emotional impact throughout the company and for all our audiences: Guests, Team Members, Owners, Shareholders, and Communities.”

Innovations Enhancing Guest Experiences

Hilton stays ahead of guest demands by leveraging data and insight from its exclusive Hilton Trends Reports.

Recent findings indicate that travelers seek more convenient, contactless experiences.

In response, Hilton has implemented digital check-in/out via their app and integrated mobile ordering and QR code menus across dining.

Guests also increasingly demand healthy, sustainable fare focused on local ingredients. Emma details, “Across the EMEA region we have ruthlessly prioritized plant-forward innovation and local sourcing.” 

For example, a new breakfast program expanded across Hilton and DoubleTree properties after success highlighting regional morning flavors.

Navigating Challenges, Achieving Greatness

With over 100 years of operation, Hilton has confronted endless obstacles from wars to recessions, adapting smoothly thanks to the company’s steadfast foundational purpose and leadership ethos passed down through generations.

Withstanding Tests of Time

Hilton stays resilient by clinging to founder Conrad Hilton’s original purpose platform as its “clear north star” guiding business decisions amidst chaos.

Emma explains that with this embedded roadmap, “the company proves far more adept at weathering any storm.”


This year Hilton clinched the coveted #1 spot on Fortune’s Best Global Workplaces list — a testament to its unparalleled company culture fueled by attracting and retaining top talent over the past century. 

Another guest-centric achievement is the rapidly expanding Waitographer initiative, with 12,000 servers across EMEA now trained in impromptu tableside photography to enhance dining experiences.

The Hilton Effect

With 7,400 properties globally, Hilton wields immense power to transform hospitality experiences and steer the broader industry toward more sustainable, purpose-driven operations.

Influencing Guest Experiences

Hilton continues to innovate ways to nudge consumers towards eco-friendly fare. For example, implementing carbon menu labeling across the UK to spotlight climate-smart dishes. 

“These labels positively impact the behaviors of team members in menu development, as well as allowing guests to make climate-conscious decisions when ordering,” Emma explains.

Digital conveniences like mobile ordering for contactless in-room dining also provide desired flexibility reducing friction points. Streamlining through technology ultimately allows staff to focus on meaningful personal interactions.

Hospitality Industry Impact

Green Ramadan reduced waste by 61% across 3 hotels in 2022, while Green Breakfast targeted 50% less waste in 13 UAE properties through food-saving measures.

Beyond operational waste reduction, these awareness campaigns spotlight sustainable best practices for other hospitality players. 

The success also powered Hilton’s leadership in climate-conscious culinary innovation now prioritizing carbon-labeling, upcycled ingredients, and plant-based menus to align dining with ecological responsibility.

The Road Ahead

Emma steers Hilton into the future guided by an empowering, empathetic leadership approach while keeping a sharp eye on budding industry trends from upcycled cuisine to eco-conscious expansions.

Emma’s Leadership Approach

When asked about her methods as VP, Emma summarizes, “Leadership is the capacity to turn vision into reality. You cannot do that without surrounding yourself with top talent and letting them flourish.” 

Once the right teams are built, leaders must walk the walk – from ethical governance to supportive discipline.

Upholding Hilton’s hospitality-focused values, Emma adds that effective leadership in this industry also “requires empathy and the desire to do the right thing, with some fun thrown in for good measure!”

Emerging Industry Trends

Emma predicts the continuation of current sustainable food trends like upcycled ingredients and plant-forward menus but accelerated.

“I am delighted to see food waste being reimagined by leading chefs in an exciting epicurean upcycling trend – at Hilton, we have a continued focus on zero waste practices.”

Far more than a trend, Veganism has moved on a pace to see a vegan replacement approach being taken by noteworthy chefs – these menus now sit front and center as part of the core offer.”

Exciting Upcoming Hilton Projects

2024 will see multiple high-profile Hilton openings and events, like Waldorf Astoria Platte Island led by acclaimed Chef Jane-Therese Mulry.

Emma also highlights a “hugely exciting partnership with Sushi Samba”, with outposts launching in the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi properties.

On the eco-conscious end, Emma shares plans to dramatically expand the successful Green Ramadan initiative to reduce food waste.

“The pioneering Green Ramadan project – which launched last year with 3 properties – has now rolled out  to over 30 hotels this year across both EMEA and APAC supported by UNEP.”

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