HM on location: As centennial approaches, Hilton finds new ways to grow

NEW YORK—It's just over 40 days until Hilton officially turns 100 years old, and the company is ready to celebrate its accomplishments. Over a breakfast in New York City April 18, chain executives looked back over the last century in hospitality and discussed what Hilton has in store for the next hundred years ... or at least the next five.

Keep Growing

Having already launched the Curio Collection soft brand and the midscale Tru brand, the company is still finding new niches to fill up and down the chain scale. Tripp McLaughlin, who oversaw the rollout of Motto by Hilton this past fall, is now the brand’s global head and spoke about what sets it apart, specifically its ability to give guests a more intimate experience with the destination.

The brand’s focus, he said, allows owners “to partner with the local mixologists and baristas and restaurateurs to really capture the essence of that neighborhood in a way that’s authentic, that’s more like a handshake to the people.” In February, Hilton announced its 17th brand: Signia will be focused on high-end meetings and events, and be positioned between the luxury-level Conrad brand and its flagship Hilton properties.

Hilton not only is growing in terms of brands, but in markets. The company is taking steps to expand to more than 20 additional countries by 2020, with more than 2,300 hotels in its construction pipeline. One of every five hotel openings in the world is a Hilton, according to the company. 

Industry veteran Ian Carter, president of global development, architecture, design and construction, shared the story of how Hilton split into two companies 60 years ago, with Hilton Hotels Corp. in the United States and Hilton International based in London. Carter was CEO of the International division for a time, he noted, and during those years of separation, the U.S. division launched many of its most popular brands, including Hampton and DoubleTree. “None of those, 12 years ago, existed outside of the U.S.,” Carter told attendees. 

Since the split companies reunited in 2006, Hilton has been making up for lost time in bringing brands to new markets. “From our perspective, there’s an enormous runway of growth outside of the U.S. for brands that have become [well known] over here,” he said. On average, the company opened a hotel per day last year for about 400 openings and has another 2,400 properties in its pipeline. More than half of those hotels are outside of the U.S., he added, and more than half already are under construction. 

Carter noted several markets are seeing increased development, including in the Middle East and North Africa regions. The company had four hotels in Dubai 12 years ago and will have 25 next year, with a full 100 slated for the region in the next three years. “We have a very long history in Africa,” Carter said, noting Hilton was one of the first internationally branded hotels to open in Abuja, Nigeria. In 2017, the company announced that it would invest a total of $50 million by 2022 towards the Hilton Africa Growth Initiative to support the continued expansion of its Sub-Saharan African portfolio. These funds are intended to support the conversion of around 100 hotels with approximately 20,000 guestrooms in multiple African markets into Hilton branded properties—primarily the flagship Hilton brand, DoubleTree by Hilton and the Curio Collection soft brand. “We see a lot of opportunity there,” Carter said of the African market.

China has moved beyond upper-upscale and luxury development, Carter told the crowd, and the new concentration is on focused-service. “We had five hotels there 12 years ago,” he said. “We have 150 trading now, and [more than] 300 in the pipeline.” Many of these properties will fly the Hampton flag, he added. The brand currently has 60 hotels open, but is poised to add 25,000 guestrooms to “cities that you and I have probably never heard of,” said Carter. “We’re now developing our business for the Chinese traveler within China. It’s a massive opportunity.”  

Conrad Hilton
The reception celebrated numerous firsts in Hilton's history.
Photo credit: Jena Tesse Fox

Connected Customers

Mark Weinstein, SVP/global head of customer engagement, loyalty and partnerships, told attendees Hilton Honors, the company’s loyalty program, added 14 million new members last year, bringing its total to 85 million. Some features he highlighted included the company’s growing digital key program, the ability for members to pool their points and the company’s partnerships, whether it’s with American Express, Live Nation or Amazon. “It comes back to something Conrad [Hilton] started a long time ago, which is: understand your customers, understand what’s important to them, anticipate and deliver,” he said.

Noelle Eder, EVP/chief information and digital officer at Hilton, talked about the latest in technology at the company. Specifically, she highlighted its Connected Room service, which allows guests to control HVAC, lights, check-in and even streaming content on their television, all on their phone. Looking ahead, she said Hilton plans to add the service to 200 more properties this year. Eder also mentioned another new community-based service, Explore the Neighborhood, which allows guests to see recommendations from local team members about the best ways to experience the area around the hotel.

Corporate Concerns

Gretchen Stroud, VP/talent, learning and engagement, noted some steps the company has taken to improve employee morale. Hilton’s benefits now include free GED assistance, fully paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers and discounted room rates for the company's 400,000 employees. But she indicated she's most proud of the fact every team member receives the same benefits, regardless of whether they work for corporate or at the property level. And the efforts have been recognized beyond the company: Last year Hilton was 33rd on  Fortune [magazine's] Best Companies to Work For in the U.S. This year it took first place.

Hilton Sewing Kit
Sewing kits have come a long way since this mended guests' clothes.
Photo credit: Chuck Dobrosielski

Hilton’s global head of corporate affairs, Katie Fallon, discussed Hilton’s corporate responsibility efforts. Increasingly large numbers of consumers, she said, expect corporations to have a societal impact. After talking with its guests last year, Hilton found 86 percent of its guests look at a brand’s environmental and social impact, and 44 percent of those under 25 actively research a brand and what they’re doing before they book a stay. She highlighted Hilton's partnership with Clean the World. The effort, begun by a frequent Hilton guest, has recycled seven million bars of soap and diverted two million pounds of waste from landfills and provided soap [and instructions on how to use it] to areas of the world to combat disease.

On the long-term side of its efforts, Hilton has set itself the goal of reducing its carbon emissions by 61 percent by 2030. “We don’t need an international climate treaty to do the right thing vis-à-vis the climate; we need to look out for our travel destinations around the world,” she said.