Dave Horton began his career with Hilton Hotels & Resorts as a busboy. Today, he is the global head of the Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand, spearheading an interdisciplinary global team and leading a portfolio of more than 540 hotels and resorts. Horton’s portfolio is continuing to grow — both this year and into 2011 — as the brand is adding 70 new locations. TravelAge West recently spoke to Horton to discuss the expansion and brand of Hilton Worldwide.
Why did Hilton choose to expand into so many new locations in the next few years and what is strategically important about these destinations?
Hilton is the global leader in hospitality. Our portfolio currently includes more than 540 hotels and resorts in 76 countries — more countries than any other full-service hotel brand. We currently have the largest development pipeline in our brand’s history with 107 properties in 41 countries and this growth speaks to our incredible global brand power.
Several recent summer openings include our second hotel in Poland, Hilton Gdansk; Hilton The Hague; Hilton Beijing Capital Airport; Hilton Rosemont/Chicago O’Hare; and Hilton Fukuoka Sea Hawk, our largest property in Japan. This is a particularly exciting time for us because our global growth continues to bring us to new countries such as Jordan, Namibia and Qatar. Earlier this year, we returned to India and our second property is scheduled to open in the months ahead. At the same time, we continue to grow our portfolio in the U.S. and across the Americas. Just this month, we announced the signing of our first Hilton hotel in Peru.
Are there any ways in which the Hilton brand has changed to cater to its new locations, especially in new territories such as Jordan, Qatar and Equatorial Guinea?
We choose to lead with a global mind and local heart and provide consistent standards while also recognizing that each property is unique and should provide an experience that reflects local culture and regional influences. Our guests count on us to provide consistent quality and service wherever the hotel is located but we obviously must take into account the local cuisine, design and other factors as we construct hotels and as we determine amenities and services. It is important that we give our owners flexibility by creating successful concepts — from restaurants to meeting services — which can be adopted to fit the demands of any particular market. We also focus heavily on source markets for our hotels so that we understand not only the needs of the local community, but also the expectations of guests coming from around the world.
What does this expansion mean for the Hilton brand? Why expand in this economic climate?
The recent global alignment of our company brought Hilton Hotels Corporation and Hilton International together to form Hilton Worldwide. This transformation means that our brand, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, can truly tap resources around the world and lead a global development strategy for the first time in decades. We have unleashed incredible potential for our brand and though the economic climate has been challenging for our industry, we are finding new opportunities and outpacing the competition. Our founder, Conrad Hilton, always said that successful people keep moving and our brand is moving ahead both in new international markets and with projects across the US. We continue to redefine elements in the hotel space.
What are the new upgrades or enhancements visitors can look forward to when staying in a Hilton property? What do the two new luxury resorts in China and Thailand offer?
We strive to provide a refreshing experience for our guests worldwide and to deliver authentic Hilton hospitality. Guests staying at new Hilton properties can look forward to fresh and contemporary room design, a variety of restaurants with exceptional local cuisine and an enhanced spa experience.
Hilton Beijing Capital Airport is China’s first luxury airport hotel and is located at one of the world’s busiest airports. Guests will find multiple restaurants offering local cuisine, a premium spa, an indoor pool overlooking the airport’s new Terminal 3, two large ballrooms and more than 20 meeting spaces. The hotel boasts floor-to-ceiling windows soundproofed for comfort.
Hilton was the first international hotel brand to enter Shanghai and our second property in the city, the Hilton Shanghai Hongqiao, will open in phases beginning this year. The hotel features some of the largest guestrooms and meeting facilities in the area and will offer 682 guestrooms across its three towers. The hotel has an 82-foot indoor pool, a sauna, two rooftop tennis courts and an expansive fitness center with work-out rooms in addition to six spa treatment rooms. Golf enthusiasts can find a nine-hole course just across the road.
Hilton Pattaya in Thailand is a great addition to our resorts portfolio. It is located on the eastern coastline of the Gulf of Thailand and is one of Thailand’s most popular family resort destinations, offering extensive watersports and golfing fairways, as well as music festivals and beach entertainment and a bounty of local cultural attractions. Guests will have direct access from Hilton Pattaya to Central Festival Pattaya Beach mall via an exclusive ground floor entrance. All hotel rooms, restaurants, pool areas, and meeting spaces have ocean views and private balconies. The brand’s presence in Thailand is growing, and this is our third hotel in the country.
In Hilton’s efforts to improve its airport hotels, how has its target clientele changed? What improvements have been made? What are the benefits for business professionals?
We have re-imagined our business travel offerings with a new wave of airport hotels that blend business and leisure. They offer leisure-oriented interior spaces, amenities and service at airport-adjacent properties that are popular with business guests. The “blended travel” trend has become popular among business travelers who decide to extend a visit for some leisure time or bring a family member along during trips. Our new airport hotels are offering more style, extra amenities, packages and leisure amenities such as spas and fine dining. It’s quite an evolution since the brand opened the world’s very first airport hotel in 1959 in San Francisco.
How does Hilton plan to market these changes?
We have begun to aggressively market our brand and tell the Hilton story with consumers around the world across a variety of public relations, online, advertising and marketing channels. This approach includes “Stay Hilton. Go Everywhere,” our first global advertising campaign in several years, our first Hilton iPhone app and a strong presence in social media. In fact, Hilton is the most-liked hotel brand on Facebook, and earlier this year, became the first major hotelier to reach 50,000 Facebook fans. Travel agents and consumers may notice the recent evolution of our logo, which features a more sophisticated look and changes our identity to Hilton. This is the first step in our efforts to strategically market our incredible leisure and resort offerings around the world.
What should motivate travelers to stay in one of the 70 new Hilton Hotels & Resorts?
With people of all nationalities trusting Hilton to be a consistent and familiar brand, we feel that travelers will be excited to experience the newest hotels around the world. Properties in our pipeline feature incredible designs, premium guestrooms and exceptional amenities and services. Beyond the physical product that shapes a hotel stay, we believe that Hilton offers something more. We embrace a service-oriented culture in which our team members care for, value and respect our guests. We believe this is the foundation of any guest experience.
How will Hilton continue to work with travel agents?
We value our partnership with travel agents and the work agents do to assist our guests around the world. That’s why we created a website specifically for agents, HiltonTravelAgents.com. Beyond researching and booking rooms for clients, we also provide direct support and information specific to agents. Agents can sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, The Queue at HiltonTravelAgents.com so that they receive the latest news about our brand and hotels. This site is particularly beneficial to international agents who might not have access to a GDS. In fact, approximately 30 percent of the visitors to this site are located outside the US.
We also recently launched an online training tool for agents, the Hilton Travel Professionals Program, HiltonTravelAgents.com/AgentTraining, which contains information about the entire Hilton Worldwide portfolio.