New York City – Hilton Worldwide executives have been hinting about new brand announcements since before the company’s IPO last December, and finally the first of those cats has been let out of the bag. Following the company’s June launch of its new Curio – A Collection by Hilton soft brand, Hotel Management sat down with Jim Holthouser, EVP of global brands for Hilton Worldwide, to get the inside scoop.
With five hotels already signed up at press time, Hilton’s Curio soft brand is starting out strong, and Holthouser said the company has high hopes for its growing footprint, particularly in Europe and the United States, reaching anywhere from 150 to 300 hotels.
The SBE-owned-and-operated SLS Las Vegas, set to open over the Labor Day weekend, is the most high-profile asset set to join the Curio collection. The 1,600-guestroom mixed-use resort-casino development (located on the site of the former Sahara Hotel & Resort) has been undergoing a $415-million renovation over the past three years. SBE CEO Sam Nazarian, who has other SLS-branded hotels in Beverly Hills and South Beach, said the deal “marks the beginning of an important relationship between SBE and Hilton Worldwide.”
The other properties on Curio’s charter roster include Houston’s Sam Houston Hotel, managed by American Liberty Hospitality; the Hotel Alex Johnson in Rapid City, S.D., owned by Cortez LLC and operated by Isis Hospitality; The Franklin Hotel in downtown Chapel Hill, N.C., owned and operated by Wintergreen Hospitality; and a yet-unnamed new-construction hotel by The Widewaters Group in downtown Portland, Ore.
The purpose behind Curio, Holthouser said, is to give current Hilton customers more options while creating a new revenue stream. “These independents are true locals,” he said. “Now that we can get them into the Hilton HHonors program, they’ll start consolidating more business into our portfolio and creating more business for Hilton in general.” He said he anticipates most will be franchise-managed.
He’s quick to point out that Curio-affiliated hotels sit firmly in the upper-upscale segment. “These are four- to four-and-a-half-star assets—not luxury but not upscale either,” he said. Independent originality is the common theme, though that can manifest itself in many ways, he said. Case in point: The SLS Las Vegas will showcase the hallmarks of new-build Las Vegas style, while The Sam Houston Hotel and Hotel Alex Johnson are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Market-wise, he said Curio will target urban and resort locations in the U.S., which gives the company “a chance to get into more high-barrier markets,” he said.
Holthouser said Curio’s diversity will help it appeal to a wide range of customers. “You can’t segment people by price point,” he said. “There are so many guests out there who want unique experiences—they want to experience the local neighborhood and find something authentic to that place. But we also know enough about our customers to know the vast majority of them do stay in more than two Hilton brands.”
That guest and developer demand is what drove Curio’s creation, Holthouser said. “Many of our owners have asked us to do a brand like this, he said. “Marriott started it with Autograph Collection, but we have owners who like to do business with us.”
Then in addition to satisfying guest demand for non-cookie-cutter hotel experiences, Holthouser said the collection will provide “great aspirational places for loyalty program guests to use points.” And in a nod to the company’s new public status, he pointed out that “for shareholders, this is another way of growing the company in a nontraditional way that doesn’t overlap with our core brands.”
Globally, Hilton has 4,073 hotels in 91 countries and territories.
NEXT UP: LIFESTYLE
Holthouser also shared some information about what he called Hilton’s “accessible lifestyle brand,” which has a planned fall debut. He took a 30,000-foot view on the topic, considering Hilton’s total portfolio through the lens of these two new brand offerings.
“I’m excited to develop both Curio and our new lifestyle brand side by side,” he said. In particular, he said, the company is considering where certain hotels really fit best now—and that might not necessarily be where they sit today. “Hilton has played the role of affiliating independent hotels before to some extent,” he said, citing Chicago’s TheWit and Denver’s The Curtis, both DoubleTree hotels.
“Some DoubleTrees may be better suited as Curio hotels now. That might give them more freedom while allowing us to tighten up the DoubleTree and Hilton brands and make them more consistent,” he said. “We’re not asking anyone to leave, but if owners wanted to talk to us about moving over, they certainly could.”