Jim Holt­houser, Hil­ton World­wide be­tween mak­ing great mu­sic and mak­ing great ho­tels work

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE -

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.

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