THE Asia Pacific and Southeast Asia remain a key growth engine for Hilton, said Paul Hutton, vice-president, operations, for the hotel group in Southeast Asia.
“We are seeing an emerging market in Southeast Asia, especially due to rising urbanisation across the region and the growth of a sizeable middle class in the region who are keen to travel,” he said.
“With our strategy to fill gaps with the right brand, in the right location, at the right time, the opportunities presented to us are abundant and there is a huge potential for the growth of our brands in the region.”
Hutton said that this is why in 2017, Hilton introduced the first Canopy by Hilton into the region, sealed a landmark portfolio deal comprising six hotels in Sri Lanka and obtained four significant approvals in Vietnam.
“Our iconic properties continue to generate the 'Hilton effect' - by creating opportunities and serving as a vibrant heart of the community, and we are looking to continue deepening our presence in the region, through the introduction of new brands and entry into new markets,” he said.
“We want to be where our guests want to be, to serve any lodging need they may have, be its leisure or business. On the whole, markets in the region, like Myanmar and Vietnam, generally still see an under-supply, so we see huge potential in bringing our brands in to the region, particularly by introducing new brands to attract different segments of travellers.
“Thailand, too, is a key growth market for Hilton, with a forecast rise of 6 per cent in tourism numbers this year after hitting a record 35.38 million in 2017, equivalent to half of Thailand’s population.”
Hutton said that with such a strong prospect for travel and tourism, Hilton is excited to be introducing its ultra-luxury brand Waldorf Astoria to Bangkok in the third quarter of this year, which is slated to mark the brand’s debut in Southeast Asia.
Hutton said that the Maldives, where Hilton has a rich history of operations, remains a key market for growth as well. The company recently signed two new properties – Curio Collection Maldives resort slated to open at the end of 2018, and Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi Resort, scheduled for opening in early 2019, marking the debut of both brands in one of the region’s most popular resort destinations.
“As of the fourth quarter of 2017, we have 2,257 hotels under construction globally and 415 of them are in Asia Pacific,” Hutton said. “Of the 50 hotels we have in the pipeline for Southeast Asia, we are expecting to open 28 of them over the next three years.
“Within the region, our strategic markets for growth over the next 24 months are Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, with expansion plans also underway in markets such as the Philippines and Myanmar. Within the next three years, we will also be making our entry into new markets such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Timor Leste.”
Hutton said that Hilton has been steadily growing since 1919 and now operates 5,284 hotels across the world, with 34 of them in the region: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. Its properties in the region account for 0.6 per cent of Hilton’s total properties worldwide.
“We currently have 2,257 properties in the pipeline around the world, and 50 of them are slated to launch in Southeast Asia. Currently, we operate eight hotels in Thailand, and two more – Waldorf Astoria Bangkok and DoubleTree by Hilton Bangkok Ploenchit - are slated to open later this year,” Hutton said.
“Our mission is to be the most hospitable company in the world by being anywhere our guests want to be in the world. This has spurred us on to consider entering markets across different countries as we witness the centre of gravity for the travel industry shifting to Asia Pacific, both in travel to the region and with outbound travel.
“With our portfolio of 14 world-class global brands spanning the lodging sector from luxury and full-service hotels and resorts to extended-stay suites and focused-service hotels, we are able to serve our guests' evolving needs, catering to travellers looking for different kinds of travel experiences, and to owners seeking the flexibility in choosing the right brand for their property and market.
“Ultimately, what differentiates us is our commitment to creating exceptional experiences for every guest, every hotel, every time, while also providing meaningful opportunities for our team members, generating high value for owners and shareholders, and making a lasting positive impact on communities where we operate.”
He said that as a global hospitality company, Hilton faces an ongoing challenge in nurturing talent “to sustain excellence in operations and service across its properties”, particularly as there is a need to more than double its workforce through its existing pipeline alone.
“We remain committed to investing in the development and discovery of talent, which is why we have also rolled out platforms like the ISEA F&B Masters, an internal competition open to employees within Hilton properties,” Hutton said “Aiming to discover, develop and celebrate the best food and beverage talent in our midst, the competition provides an opportunity for hotel team members to develop skills, creativity and gain real-world experience.
“The competition also puts a spotlight on the hard work, passion and commitment of team members across the region – in fact, the Culinary Challenge winner at the recently concluded ISEA F&B Masters is one of our team members from DoubleTree by Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok.
“As hotel operators, we are also constantly seeking to meet the evolving needs of our guests. In today’s digital age, the new-age digital savvy consumer demands more and is increasingly expecting more personalised digital interactions across channels throughout their travel experience. In order to meet these needs, we have placed special emphasis on digital innovation, driven by the same DNA of pioneering innovation that has run through our company since our founding.”
He said that the company’s “industry-leading tools” like digital check-in with room selection gives guests the ability to choose their room and view while Digital Key allows them to use their smartphones as their room key.
“These empower travellers to select the exact room they want, based on both the hotel layout and its external surroundings,” Hutton said.
“Interactive digital floor plans make it easy for Hilton Honors members to decide whether they want to be near the pool or the elevator, and integration with the Google Maps API lets guests determine if they prefer a view of the courtyard or the city skyline.
“ After checking in and selecting their room from their phone, guests can skip the check-in at the front desk and proceed to their desired room. Hilton Honors members have responded positively to these features since they were rolled out in the region in 2016.”
In addition, Hutton said: “Hilton has piloted Connected Room last year, a mobile-centric smart room that lets guests use their smartphones to customise their stay, from changing the temperature, lighting, window coverings, and even TV entertainment preferences. The company is looking forward to scale this rapidly across the hotels.
“Hilton has also recently opened Innovation Gallery in our global headquarters.”
Hutton said this feature presents an immersive guest experience that showcases various technologies, design elements and dining concepts – from noise-cancellation and sleep-inducing devices for guestrooms to more functional and sustainable materials.
“Further, the company is also working with multiple partners and will be testing Waverly Labs’ new product Pilot, a real-time translation solution that delivers seamless language translation between two parties through an earpiece and app,” he said.