Hilton Worldwide Combines Luxury With Technology And Service

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Six Questions for Hilton's John Vanderslice

Luxury is making a comeback and Hilton is working fast to move to the forefront. The company has new luxury hotels or planned openings of them in London, China and Dubai, among many others, under their Waldorf-Astoria and Conrad brands. John Vanderslice, global head of luxury and lifestyle brands for Hilton Worldwide sits down with GlobeSt.com's Ryan Clark to chat about the future of Hilton and the state of luxury hotels.

GlobeSt.com: What has Hilton been doing to push its luxury brands? John Vanderslice: Hilton's worldwide vision is to be the fastest growing, most innovative luxury hotel company in the world. Three years ago we were acquired by Blackstone and at the time, we had five Waldorf-Astoria hotels. Last week, I opened my 23rd Waldorf-Astoria hotel. And we have an additional nine deals lined up globally.

Conrad hotels and resorts, we have 16 current hotels and 17 deals in the pipeline. And these are signed, under construction, real. So we"ôre realizing our first metric of being fastest growing. And the next stage is to really make sure we accelerate on most innovative. Specifically a few hotels of note for Waldorf-Astoria, we recently opened on December 18th, Waldorf-Astoria Shanghai on the Bank, which is really, it's almost a symbol for Waldorf-Astoria in Asia pacific.

Because of the power of the recognition of Waldorf-Astoria and Conrad, even though Conrad is a little bit more globally based here in the Americas, plus the power of Hilton and all of our Hilton performance enhancements"¶our booking force, we are realizing that metric of the fastest growing. If you looked at other luxury hotel companies, such as Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton, at the same time of their evolution, I think we"ôre ahead of them right now.

And the other part of it is the most innovative part. We"ôre working on parts of service that's really going to put the industry on their heels. My vision is"¶service in luxury hotels has always been people enabled, but the fact that w"ôer going to have technology and service together is going to create break-throughs in the next 5 years.

GlobeSt.com: What kinds of technology? Vanderslice: We are going to officially launch it at the end of the year, but we have something called true Waldorf Service and because we know a lot about you and what you do and what you like, we will reach out to you before you arrive, suggesting certain things. We know if you"ôre a Cubs fan or if the Cubs are in town the night you"ôre in New York.

GlobeSt.com: Similar to Amazon recommendations after a purchase.

Vanderslice: Exactly. A blending of customer service and management. And this is all done by the personal concierge that reaches out to you on email. It's not intrusive. You give as much information as you want. And then during your stay, the personal concierge meets you right at the front desk and that personal concierge's cell phone will be there with you, will be available your entire stay. And we"ôre really working on, an important part that is often forgotten is our invitation to return. Sometimes getting out of a hotel is harder than getting in. Even to the levels of having packing services available to you, we can have that available as well.

GlobeSt.com: How is your experience in China? Dealing with the government and being able to operate, etc.? Vanderslice: What's important in China is making sure we get solid partners that are locally based. We"ôre fortunate too because of the awareness, particularly on Waldorf-Astoria, among the right group of people, government officials have gone to the UN and stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria for 50 years. So when we go into a meeting for the Waldorf-Astoria Beijing, which will be opening in 2012, one of the largest agricultural companies is our owner in that hotel and we met and it was love at first sight. It's really important to have the right partners in China. And of course, we manage our hotels so that's been a symbiotic relationship.

GlobeSt.com: Are you doing new construction or acquiring existing sites? Vanderslice: There's no simple rule, and just like the rest of the category in the US and traditional Europe, it's more conversion-based. In the Middle East and Asia Pacific it's more new build. The economics will support themselves for new build there. But there are opportunities where we get lucky. We"ôre building the Waldorf-Astoria in Berlin. Sovereign wealth and money from the middle east, even though it's in Berlin. Because of the notoriety of the brand, and Conrad for that matter, we"ôre finding sources of money in unexpected places.

GlobeSt.com: How do you see 2011 shaping up? Vanderslice: We"ôve got a lot of these projects in the pipeline and our job is making sure we execute them and making them awesome. Everything we add to the brand is at the same level if not higher than the previous hotels to continue that evolution towards leisure. 2011 is very busy.

From a current hotel standpoint, we"ôre a private company, so we don"ôt release any numbers on our brands. But suffice it to say, category-wise, luxury is the fastest growing category, it was in 2010, it is in 2011, it's up 12.2% category wise and we are at or above those numbers for all of our luxury products.

GlobeSt.com: Have you seen some of the tarnish come off the AIG effect? Vanderslice: Yeah, it's rare that people actually talk directly about that any longer. I think what's happened is groups had to go to different places for a period of time, they have returned b/c of the things luxury hotels provide. It's not just me, it's all luxury providers, there is a real benefit to being in a high-service hotel for a large congress of a group meeting. It's effortless. Staff is there to take care of your every need. People went away for a little bit, but said it's worth it to return to luxury hotels. You"ôre seeing category-wise that luxury hotels, both transient and group are the fastest growing in the industry.

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