Hilton Hotels & Resorts opened a record number of luxury hotels last year and has 30 more in the pipeline, including the long-awaited renovation of New York's iconic Waldorf Astoria. Senior editor Jeri Clausing talked with Martin Rinck, executive vice president and global head of the Luxury & Lifestyle Group, about his plans for the company's three luxury brands: Conrad, LXR and Waldorf Astoria.
Q: It sounds like 2019 was a good year for you.
A: We had a super exciting year. We had 11 luxury openings, which is more than we've ever had in any year of our 100-year history.
I'm the first one who always says it's not about the quantity when you want to do luxury, it's about the quality of the properties. But I can say, hand on heart, that the 11 we opened this year are all absolutely best of class and beat their competition hands down.
Over and above that, we currently have 30 hotels in the pipeline, 25 of which will open by 2025.
Q: How many of those do you expect to open this year? Will you beat 2019's record?
A: No. And we have no interest in doing that. To be honest, 2020 will be a good year to digest these 11 openings and at the same time further develop our brands.
Q: What are some of the more exciting projects on the horizon?
A: We are opening in Q1 of this year the Conrad Punta Mita. We have a beautiful development of a Waldorf Astoria in Mexico City. We have one in Cancun. And we are, of course, giving rebirth to the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
Q: That's been a long and sometimes troubled project. Is it finally going to open?
A: Not this year. I always make the caveat that work is going full speed ahead. We just reviewed the mock-up room. It's just that we are converting a 1,400-bedroom hotel into a hotel that will have 370 keys and a residence component that will have 370 keys. So you're not only halving the inventory as such, but we are reconfiguring a [historically] listed building where all the public areas are effectively protected and will be restored, because they will be brought back to their old glory. The challenge is that at the same time we are redeveloping the asset, we are moving elevator shafts, which has an impact on the structural components of a listed building. So you have to be very, very careful.
That brings a little bit of addition to the timeline. But when it opens up -- and it will; I said "when" not "if" -- it will be the best hotel, bar none.
Q: Do you think it will be ready to reopen in 2021?
A: The official party line, yes, it's 2021. With everything I've said, I think it's going to push a little, realistically.
Q: On a broader scale, across all three luxury brands, what is your main focus heading into the new year?
A: The focus is to really continue the trajectory that we have started with Waldorf Astoria, Conrad and LXR. I think there are lots of destinations where we should have a presence. We obviously would die for a Waldorf in Paris. We would die for one in Hong Kong, ... in Tokyo. So we are working very hard to be in the destinations where the consumer is looking for us and wants to stay with us.
At the same time, we continue to expand on our resort portfolio. Waldorf Astoria is a brand that is traditionally known as a more urban brand. But now, when you look at what we have done with the Waldorf Astoria in the Maldives, the Waldorf Astoria in Los Cabos, we are expanding on the resort portfolio, because the people who are loyal to our brand love to stay in a Waldorf when they ... go on holiday in a leisure destination.
So the focus is on expanding the footprint of destinations and gateway cities around the world where we don't have a presence yet, on expanding the resort footprint.
Q: Tell me a bit more about the LXR brand. Hasn't that been around for a while with different companies and in different iterations?
A: It's the newest brand in the [luxury portfolio]. It was a brand that was initially owned by Blackstone, and Hilton bought it back from Blackstone.
LXR is really about finding the most unique destinations. Because when you look at the travel trends right now, food tourism is huge. But then there is also immersing yourself in the culture of the destination where you are. So LXR is more the brand that is unique in its own right in each destination. The LXR group will be very selective in terms of where we grow and how we grow.