Hilton: The way forward

13 Mar 2008 by Mark Caswell

For regular travellers, the news coming out of Hilton is encouraging. It was the fastest-growing international hotel company in 2007, with over 32,000 rooms opened, an average of five new hotels per week, and a further 900 in the pipeline. Across all of Hilton’s brands, this brings the current total number of hotels globally to more than 3,000, with 500,000 rooms.

Wolfgang Neumann, Hilton Hotels president for Europe, spoke to Business Traveller about forthcoming plans for the region, where the roll-out has been slower than elsewhere but no less significant. “In Europe [outside the UK and Ireland] we opened 11 hotels and in the UK and Ireland we had Hilton Dublin Kilmainham and Hilton Limerick.”

The introduction of new brands (or new to the UK at least) will also give travellers more choice of Hilton properties, and perhaps a more predictable experience when they arrive. In recent years, Hilton had become renowned for the unevenness of its hotels in the UK and this is something Neumann was quick to point out that the company has addressed.

“As a result of a strategic review we sold 11 properties and we are also introducing new brands such as Doubletree and Garden Inn,” he said. “Previously we only had Hilton and Conrad, but with the Hampton Hotels brand, which has some 1,490 properties worldwide, and which makes a up almost half the number of our total hotels inventory, we are taking over an engine.”

Neumann promised that the Garden Inn hotels, the first of which will open in Luton this summer (see online news  May 24, 2007), would be adapted to each European market, but that travellers would soon have a clear idea of what each brand offered – whether it be Doubletree, Hampton or Garden Inn.

Further development in the UK and Ireland will result from agreements with Somerston and Shiva Hotels, which will see more than 40 hotels delivered into the Hilton family over the next five years. Among these are a franchise agreement with Shiva Hotels for a new Hilton property near Heathrow's Terminal 5 (opening 2010), a Hilton and a Hampton by Hilton hotel in Leeds Eastgate, a Hampton by Hilton in Derby, a Hilton Garden Inn Luton North, Hilton Garden Inn Aberdeen and Hampton by Hilton Corby North.

Doubletree by Hilton has also made its mark in the UK with the first agreement signed with The Ability Group for a hotel located in Cambridge – the Doubletree by Hilton Cambridge Garden House recently opened (see online news February 1).

This roll-out is mirrored throughout Europe, with the region’s first Doubletree by Hilton due to open in Milan, followed by the first Hampton by Hilton, which is expected to come online in Düsseldorf by mid-2009. 

So what can guest expect of the new Garden Inn and Hampton brands? Business Traveller recently visited Hilton’s International Operations Centre in Watford Junction, where the group has mock ups of  Hilton’s forthcoming mid-market and economy brands.

You immediately get the sense that the issue of consistency has been key to the new designs. Room sizes are 21sqm for the Hampton by Hilton brand and 24sqm for Garden Inn, and this is non-negotiable, as are the fixtures and fittings (and their positioning within the rooms). Developers have a range of pre-determined colour schemes which they can use within the guest rooms, either sticking to one scheme throughout the property or giving guests a choice of schemes in individual rooms, but apart from this splash of colour guests will know exactly what to expect when booking a room at either brand.

With Hampton by Hilton this means a room layout very similar to rival Express by Holiday Inn, although with slightly more room taken up by the bathroom, which has a large walk in shower (but no bath). There’s a queen size “Cloud Nine” bed, as well as a double foldout sofa bed, 26-inch flatscreen TV and broadband internet access - an offering which Nick Smart, vice president development, UK and Ireland jokingly summed up as “big bathroom, big bed, big telly”.

Other amenities will include a 24hr self-service “Pantry” offering pre-packed meals and snacks, with microwaves on each floor for guest use, as well as a bar, “Work” and “Living” zones, boardoom, complimentary breakfast offering, and a 30sqm fitness centre.

With the mid-market Garden Inn brand guests can expect signature “Garden Sleep” beds, a larger work desk with wifi internet access, laptop safe, fridge, tea and coffee facilities, sofabed (or armchair) and coffee table, shower or combined bath and shower (depending on room type), and furnishings including a Herman Miller work chair and slate/dark wood effect tiling in the bathrooms.

Public areas will feature a bar, “Pavillion Pantry”, restaurant, 60sqm fitness centre, outdoor terrace area, up to 400sqm of meeting space and a 24hr business centre (with the ability for guests to print from their rooms).

Both brands feel fresh and modern, but of course they will be going head to head in the UK with long-established brands such as Courtyard by Marriott and Express by Holiday Inn.

Asked why Hilton had not launched its mid-market or economy brands in the UK before now, Nick Smart said that it simply had not been possible while the US-based Hilton Hotels Corporation (which owned the Hampton brand), and the UK-based Hilton International had remained separate entities – a hurdle which was overcome when the Hilton Hotels Corporation bought Hilton International in 2005, and The Blackstone Group subsequently purchased the corporation last year.

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