Doubletree by HiltonHilton is stepping up plans to double its portfolio of hotels in the UK and Ireland over the next five years, with the announcement of the first Doubletree by Hilton property in the UK.

Hilton takes over management of the 122-room Cambridge Garden House today (Friday, February 1), with the hotel due to officially open as a Doubletree by Hilton property in April following conversion.

So what can we expect from Doubletree? Business Traveller spoke to Nick Smart, Hilton’s vice-president of development for the UK and Ireland, about the brand and plans for its roll-out across the UK. Smart describes the Doubletree offering as being “full-service, upscale and on a level with the Hilton core brand”, with the key difference being that Hilton will identify conversion opportunities rather than new-build projects for the Doubletree roll-out.

Smart says: “This way we’re able to get into markets that have high barriers to entry. Think of towns such as Oxford and Cambridge where planners are fairly demanding and alternative use is pretty competitive.”

Hilton is looking to have at least 20 Doubletree properties in the UK within the next five to ten years. While specific locations have yet to be revealed beyond the Cambridge launch, Smart says announcements are “imminent” and that priorities will be for key cities and airports.

Smart says: “To build a brand in its own right we’ve definitely got to crack the major conurbations, so of course we’ve got to be in cities like London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester, but we’ve also got to be at airports, and after that we’ll look to fill in the gaps to be where Hilton isn’t.”

While Doubletree by Hilton will have the features you would expect from an upscale hotel, such as wifi internet access and a signature “Sweet Dreams” bed, Smart says the real selling-point for the brand will be “warm, friendly, personalised service”. Rooms will be more “homely” than the smart, corporate feel of Hilton’s recent openings, and the famous “Doubletree cookie” (guests are offered cookies on arrival at Doubletree properties in the US) will make an appearance over here.

Smart says: “I’m sure we’ll have the cookies in the UK hotels. I just don’t think we’ll necessarily major on it in the way they do in America. It’s an icon for the service and if staff relate to it then I’m sure customers will benefit from that.”

In the US, Doubletree hotels average 285 rooms, with 1,200 sqm of meeting space, and Smart expects the brand to appeal to both the “business transient and conference and incentive market”, as well as having a strong leisure appeal.

Smart says: “In America there are over 20 resort locations, so it’s a brand which has strong feeders into the leisure market. There’s nothing conceptually ruling us out of, say, golf resorts [in the UK], but it’s not something we’re prioritising.”

The Doubletree launch is part of a busy period for Hilton in the UK, with the Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton by Hilton brands also making an appearance in the next 12 months or so. The first Garden Inn property is due to open in Luton North in May this year, with the Hampton by Hilton Corby slated for 2009.

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