Hilton Creates A Mixed Bag Of Curios

Hilton Worldwide is building a “collection” of upscale four- to five-star hotels formally known as “Curio — A Collection by Hilton” that is targeted to  “travelers who seek local discovery and authentic experiences” and will keep the individual character of each property “intact,” it announced this week.

“Just as the word ‘curio’ can refer to something of interest, unique or even rare, each Curio hotel will be different from the next, with individuality being a common thread, along with the quiet reassurance of the Hilton name behind every location,” according to a release accompanying the announcement on Monday.

The company says it has signed letters of intent with the SLS Las Vegas Hotel & CasinoThe Sam Houston Hotel in Houston, Texas; Hotel Alex Johnson in Rapid City, S.D. (near Mount Rushmore); The Franklin Hotel in Chapel Hill, N.C.; and a soon-to-be named hotel development in downtown Portland, Ore.

“We had an opportunity to acquire a customer that maybe isn't in our system who has an interest in this type of hotel,” Christopher Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton Worldwide, said at the annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, reports Nancy Trejos in USA Today. “Once we get them in, and they experiment with us in any particular brand, they tend to start to travel with us much more frequently.”

“The expansion will be implemented exclusively using an asset-light business model, where franchises and management contracts are preferred to outright ownership,” the Financial Times’ Anjli Raval disclosed in a story prior to the formal announcement on Monday.

Hilton “is expected to secure two more deals in Doha and Dubai in the coming days,” Raval wrote, reporting that Nassetta “said that over the next five years it would seek to bring ‘hundreds’ of independent hotels into the Curio collection.”

It would appear to be a quite varied lot.

The 67-room Franklin Hotel, for example, is owned and operated by Chapel Hill-based Wintergreen Hospitality (“We’re in the kindness business”), which paid $14 million for the property in 2009, reports Amanda Jones Hoylei n the Triangle Business Journal. Starting later this year, it will pay a fee to Hilton to be part of the collection, along with access to its reservation and Hilton HHonors loyalty program.

“That's a big selling point for hotel owners, who end up giving Hilton a fee to be part of the collection,” writes the Associated Press’ Scott Mayerowitz. “There are more than 40 million members of Hilton's loyalty program and hotels gain access to them and Hilton's reservation system.”

The SLS Las Vegas, which will have more than 1,620 guest rooms and suites following a three-year, $415 million renovation of the former Sahara Hotel & Resort, is decidedly on the other side of the “boutique” spectrum from the Franklin.

Touted as a “high-style collaboration” between SBE Entertainment CEO Sam Nazarian [owner of the SLS], renowned design icon Philippe Starck, and James Beard Foundation award-winning chef José Andrés, the re-imagination of the 2.5 million-square-foot development will feature an all-encompassing, mixed-use resort and casino, according to the Hilton release, when it opens in time for the Labor Day holiday weekend.

“A number of major hotel chains have similar collections of independently owned hotels that maintain their own identities while taking advantage of the company's resources,” USA Today’s Trejos points out. “Marriott has the Autograph Collection, Starwood has the Luxury Collection, and Choice has Ascend. Hilton now has 11 brands in its portfolio.”

“At Hilton Worldwide, we have a very simple vision, which is to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality,” CEO Nassetta told DiversityInc.com’s Luke Visconti in an interview last November about the diversity of both guests and staff at its more than 4,000 locations in 92 countries worldwide. “Said even more simply, it’s about providing our customers with exceptional experiences.”

In responding to the question of how he was “working to invigorate the diversity-management program at Hilton, Nassetta replied, “Ultimately, I have a very simple philosophy on diversity: It is what allows us to perform and deliver for our customers and, frankly, outperform the competition.”

A brand that contains the likes of SLS Las Vegas and the Franklin in Chapel Hill under the same umbrella is taking diversity of a different sort very seriously, too.

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