Photo by Margaret Mulligan

In its 100th year, with brands offering 923,000 rooms in close to 6,000 hotels in 113 countries and territories, Hilton is meeting the challenge of disruption in the hospitality industry by diversifying its brand offerings to meet the requirements of a new generation. Currently, one of every five hotel rooms under construction around the world is a Hilton and the company, which Conrad Hilton founded in 1919, plans to expand to nearly 20 additional countries by 2020.

Hilton bought his first hotel, the Mobley in Cisco, Texas, in 1919. It didn’t take long for him to acquire other properties in his home state and, in 1939, he built his first property outside Texas — Albuquerque’s Hilton Hotel (now the Hotel Andaluz). Since then, the Hilton empire has exported his blend of Texas hospitality and dynamic creativity around the world.

“It’s rare that any company gets to be 100 years old,” says Danny Hughes, Hilton’s executive vice-president and president, Americas. “Our 100th anniversary is one of innovation — very much a look forward rather than a look back.”

There is, however, a lot to look back on — in particular during the postwar period when affordable jet travel opened the world up to people of ordinary means. In those days, Hilton was modernizing his hotels with televisions, air conditioning and an early version of today’s Centralized Reservation System. The company opened its first European hotel, the Castellana Hilton in Madrid, in 1953. Other iconic properties quickly followed, such as the Hilton Istanbul and the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort (1955), the Nile Hilton in Cairo (1958) and the Cavalieri Hilton in Rome (1963).

Portfolio Growth
With the new millennium, the travelling public has evolved and Hilton has responded by diversifying into numerous new brands that answer particular niche demands. In 2009, Hilton Worldwide launched its first new brand in 20 years — the affordable extended-stay offering Home2 Suites.

The past five years have brought a cascade of new brands: the premium Curio Collection by Hilton, which offers one-of-a-kind experiences, and the boutique Canopy by Hilton brand (both in 2014); the affordable, youth-oriented Tru by Hilton (2016); the unique upscale Tapestry Collection by Hilton (2017); the innovative, affordable micro-hotel concept Motto by Hilton (2018); and, most recently, Signia Hilton — a premium brand targeting meeting-and-event planners.

Hilton’s Canadian portfolio grew to 137 properties in 2018 (up from 113 the year before) and recorded gross sales of $900 million — up from $844 million in 2017.

“[In 2019], we have 170 hotels throughout Canada. It’s an area we feel very committed to; we see tremendous growth opportunities,” says Hughes.

The first Canadian Tru opened in Edmonton in 2018 and five more are scheduled to open in 2020.

“We’re actively looking to expand our Curio and Tapestry brands in Canada,” adds Vito Curalli, executive director of Sales, Canada, Latin America & International for Hilton Worldwide. “We open 10 to 15 hotels a year in Canada under various flags.”

This year, Hilton opened its first hotel in downtown Ottawa, a dual-branded Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites, as well as the Hilton Garden Inn Toronto/Brampton. And, another “very important” addition, says Curalli, will be the first Canopy property, opening near Bloor and Parliament Streets in Toronto in 2020.

“We know there’s a new wave of travellers looking for something unique and more local in nature,” he explains. “Hotels like Canopy will be reflective of the local neighbourhood. It will have a local coffee shop, locally sourced food-and-beverage [offerings]; and the artwork will be Toronto-centric. The Tru brand also speaks to that demographic of traveller, although it’s a little more whimsical — there are ping-pong and pool tables in the lobby. It’s more of a social environment. [Guests] don’t want to be in their guestrooms all the time — they want a social experience.”

Innovative Thinking
Hilton has also pioneered technology solutions such as Digital Key, which allows guests to use their own mobile devices to choose their room, check in and open the door, and Connected Room, which allows them to not only control all the room settings with a single interface, but connect seamlessly with their own content platforms (including their personal Netflix account or Spotify playlists) from their room.

“We’re carrying on that tradition of being able to personalize everyone’s stay,” says Hughes. “Our loyalty and recognition program, Hilton Honors, is about earning rewards, but we’re also able to preload everybody’s preferences. We never want to lose the personal touch.”

The company has embraced a broader focus than guest comfort. Hilton now works to make sure it’s supporting local residents, businesses and the environment in all its locations.

“Conrad Hilton genuinely believed he could make a better world through travel,” says Hughes. To this end, in 2010, the company unveiled LightStay, a proprietary system developed to calculate and analyze environmental impact. The following year, it inaugurated Travel With Purpose — the company’s global corporate-responsibility strategy.

“We’ve launched our 2030 goals,” says Hughes. “We’re going to reduce our environmental impact in all our hotels by half — partly from seemingly small things. We’ve committed for all of our hotels globally to remove plastic straws by July 2019 and we’re actively working towards this goal with our properties around the world.”

Hilton is also working with meeting planners to help them understand their impact on the environment and to demonstrate ways to reduce their energy consumption, such as outdoor dining. “We’re finding more ways to use renewable materials, partnering with renewable-energy companies, moving to more environmentally friendly products in the guestroom and experimenting with bulk amenities,” Hughes explains. “We believe, as an individual traveller or a large group, people want to know they’re working with a company that’s conscientious.”

Through a program called Soap for Hope, “we’re recycling every single bar of soap,” Hughes says, adding “we’re cleaning them and sending them to countries in the world where a single bar of soap can save people’s lives.” Among other, larger targets are the commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 61 per cent, reduce water consumption and produced waste by 50 per cent and double the amount spent with local, small and minority-owned suppliers.

“Conrad Hilton said ‘Our mission is to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality’,” Hughes continues. Therefore, Hilton is celebrating its 100th anniversary by giving back to its many communities through “random acts of hospitality.” In Mississauga, Ont., this meant delivering surprises to nurses at the local hospital. Hilton Americas-Houston treated volunteers from the disaster-relief organization Team Rubicon during their work rebuilding hurricane-damaged homes.

“We feel very fortunate to have reached this milestone,” says Hughes. “But we’re at the top of our game. We’re very much reclaiming our position as leaders in innovation, but we’re also committed to being great partners in every place we operate. And we’re looking forward to our next century.”

Written by Sarah B. Hood

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