The new Homewood Suites Silao Airport in the Mexican state of Guanajuato is a unique property on several fronts: Not only is it the first Homewood Suites to open in Mexico in 20 years, it is the first to use a new prototype that Hilton will use to guide the brand's rollout across Latin America going forward.
Developed and owned by Edco Turismo Bajío and managed by Hilton, the new property was developed with an eye on what the region needed in an extended-stay product—and what locals would demand in a new hotel.
The Law of Individual Differences
The new prototype was officially unveiled last May in Miami with a model room available for potential owners to explore. Even with the Silao property already in development at the time, the final product included 95 percent of what that model room had, said Juan Corvinos, Hilton’s VP of development for Latin America and the Caribbean. “That model room still exists, and that's where we're finding and tweaking things all the time.”
Adrian Kurre, global head of Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites by Hilton—and also a certified personal trainer—likened the prototypes for the North American and Latin American hotels to the different needs people have when they start exercising. “The first law of personal training is called the law of individual differences,” he said. “You can't just do the same thing for every single person that you're interacting with because they will have different degrees of success.”
When applying that law to business, then, the law of individual differences says no two countries are alike, he continued. “So if we were to take exactly what we had in North America and bring it down here, it would not be successful.”
To create the prototype, Kurre and the Hilton team worked with owners, guests and developers who knew the area better than the North American leaders, learning about what locals need and what visitors to the area want. For example, North American Homewood Suites only have bars if the hotel is in an urban location. But in Latin America, the bar is important at properties in all locations, so all Homewood Suites in Latin America will have bars as part of the building prototype. “If you're in a suburban location [in the U.S.] with 120 rooms and you put a bar in, you're going to lose money. There's no return on that investment whatsoever,” Kurre said. “In Latin America, if you don't put the bar in there, you will not have a return on investment because people make a buying decision not to stay with you.” The Homewood Suites Silao has both a bar (called Lewis after the brand's signature duck) and a full restaurant so that locals and guests can mingle over a drink or snack.
Modern guests, including the lucrative millennial demographic, want to know that the hotel represents the area that they're staying in more than it represents the brand standards. Therefore the Latin America prototype will allow for plenty of freedom in each property’s design, incorporating elements that connect the hotels to their locations—and their heritage. For example, Silao used to be a predominantly agricultural society, but manufacturing plants started rising about 30 years ago. Sebastian Zavala, director general at Zagar Construcciones, based in San Miguel de Allende, partnered with local suppliers to reflect both sides of the region’s heritage, hanging photos of modern industry alongside green farmland throughout the hallways. The two-story lobby was designed to evoke a barn with industrial pillars holding the roof up. In the lobby’s two-story library, local history books from the family of Edco Turismo Bajío head Eduardo Cordero Staufert are available for guests to read. The standard studio guestrooms in the new prototype are slightly smaller than their northern counterparts at 31 square meters.
Elements of the traditional Homewood Suites prototype have also been maintained. Outdoor spaces in North American hotels usually have one fire pit to encourage socializing. The Silao property has three pits, as well as a full-sized grill for barbecues and an artificial "living" wall to bring a bit of nature into the space. "It's about hospitality, not just lodging," Kurre said. "A fire pit and grill help with that."
Now that the first hotel with the new prototype is open, Kurre said that the team will watch carefully to see what works—and what does not—for the next seven Latin American Homewood Suites in the pipeline. “And then we refine the prototype to make sure that going forward, things that we put in are necessary and people are using them.” Anything that guests or staff do not use will be eliminated from future hotel designs, he said. “There are things that we, as brand managers, hold fast to, and we need to get over that and say, ‘What's the right thing for the market? How do we make it as efficient as possible?’ Because it's got to make money for the owner. You can't put something in that doesn't work.”
Hilton has had more than 60 “conversations” about developing more Homewood Suites across Latin America, and now that guests and investors can explore the new prototype in depth, the team expects the development to pick up speed. “From a development standpoint in Latin America, everything takes a little longer than it does in the U.S.,” Corvinos acknowledged, noting that the region is not as “mass-producing” as the U.S. is. “We figured it out with Hampton, we figured it out with the Garden Inn—it takes a little while, but once it gets rolling, it's really going to accelerate. And when we've got the physical products like this to show, I think people will see it, feel it, touch it, and they'd [say], ‘OK, this is what I want to do.’” Best of all, he added, due to the time it takes to travel from the U.S. to South America—particularly Argentina and Chile—travelers will specifically be looking for extended-stay opportunities. “It's a market that is premium and ripe for a Homewood Suites or extended-stay [property],” he said.