Jim Holthouser, Hilton Worldwide between making great music and making great hotels work
One on One with Hilton’s Jim Holthouser. NewYork leads world’s hotel pipeline. Hertz unveils new Paris, Newark locations. Asiana receives first A380. Lufthansa reveals premium economy launch dates. Hyatt Place debuts at LaGuardia. Online hotel bookings jump in first quarter. Best Western Yokohama opens.
BT: We understand you’re an accomplished pianist, and now you’re using that talent with the brands at Hilton Worldwide. Tell us how that came about.
HOLTHOUSER: I had aspired once upon a time to be a concert musician, but just opted not to go in that direction. After that I got in the hospitality business. You know in this business we do a ton of speaking. Well, I was working with a speech coach, and she said, “If you want to connect with audiences, you’ve got to show more of your soul; you need to do a piano speech.” And I thought, What? Seriously? But the more I got into this, the more I realized how many beautiful parallels there are between music and business. They’re really endless. So we did this first one, and I took something really simple – Beethoven’s Für Elise – and that became the motif for the whole speech. That was the first time in my life I’d ever gotten a standing ovation.
BT: You’ll be doing a lot more playing as Hilton rolls out its new Curio Collection, we suspect. What is the Curio Collection?
HOLTHOUSER: It’s where we take different hotels that are well-established and well-defined, and we end up creating a win-win for Hilton, and for our customers, and for the owners of these hotels. These hotels fall in that four- to four-and-ahalf star range, with those kind of amenities, they’ll need to be over 200 keys, urban resorts.
BT: Why has Hilton decided to roll out a “collection” brand?
HOLTHOUSER: To answer that, let’s talk about the difference between a hard brand and a soft brand. Everything that exists today in our portfolio is what I would call a hard brand; very clear branding architecture and uniform culture. The soft brand – also known as a collection – it’s a little bit different. It’s more of a marriage of convenience, if you will.
BT: How do you make a marriage of convenience a win-win?
HOLTHOUSER: For loyal Hilton HHonors members, we can now give you so many more choices of cool, aspirational, really, really well done hotels. For the owners of these hotels, it’s purchasing power and commission savings and access to a hundred million of our customers, including 40 million HHonors members. What’s in it for us – in addition to a new fee stream – it’s also a way of getting inventory into certain markets that are almost impossible to get into today.
BT: So what will make Curio different from other collection brands that are in the market?
HOLTHOUSER: We’re putting qualifiers on these, so even though they’re all going to be a little bit different, there’s enough common DNA that the customer isn’t disappointed. That’s what I’d like to make part of that Curio story. At the end of the day what will emerge – if it’s not an oxymoron – is a more consistent collection brand.
BT: But do you worry that hotel brands are getting too fragmented?
HOLTHOUSER: This is a mature industry and it’s very natural for mature markets to hyper-segment – that’s the technical marketing word. What we’re trying to do in every one of our brands is deliver a unique flavor of hospitality. Curio is one part of the story this year. And hopefully you and I will get to talk a little later in the fall, because we’re going to be doing something we’re calling an accessible lifestyle brand.
BT: Accessible lifestyle brand? OK, I’m intrigued – what will that look like?
HOLTHOUSER: It’s going to be accessible to more customers and accessible to more owners. It’ll be local, it’s going to be a little edgy, it’ll be a great value proposition for the customer. And I think because we’re doing that side-by-side with Curio, that’s going to ultimately let us do both these brands a lot better.