“It was as if the owners pitched the Hilton brand to us, instead of us pitching the brand to them”

With over 102 years of history, 60 years in Asia, and 30 years specifically in Bangkok, Hilton has given a lot of hotel users some very fond memories. Mine was my 23rd birthday. I celebrated my birthday alone in Bangkok at 360 Bar, Millennium Hilton, with my own money because I was an independent young woman who was single at the time. It was a lovely evening listening to jazz and getting a boat ride across the river.

For Christian Puncher, Senior Director of Development Asia at Hilton, the long history of the company is a wonderful selling point in itself – with many of the owners he meets taking the time to share their Hilton moments with him.

“By the end of some meetings, it can be as if the owner pitched the Hilton brand to us,” he observed, when talking about the attraction of the Hilton brand for owners.

Apart from being a loved and iconic brand, Hilton also provides the support that owners need – one of the highlights drawing owners to join the platform is the Hilton Honors loyalty program with 112.62 million members worldwide. This has now extended to Hilton announcing the conversion to the Hilton brand of 2,000 existing rooms in Thailand, and the opening of eight properties in the country.

“The brand debut will be Hilton Garden Inn Phuket Bang Tao in 2021. Next year, we will open the 608-room Hilton Bangkok Ratchada, which is our largest property in Bangkok, as well as the 244-room Hilton Garden Inn Bangkok within ICONSIAM,” said Christian.

“We expect to open Canopy by Hilton Bangkok Sukhumvit 12, which is a market entry for our lifestyle brand, Canopy by Hilton. Other Thai properties in the pipeline include one Hilton Garden Inn in Pattaya City and in Krabi, as well as one new Hilton property in Phuket,” he added.

What about Luxury?

“We believe in putting the right brand in the right location with the right owner. With luxury, it has to be the best of the best, which left us with optimal choices,” Christian explained, when I asked why I didn't see more Waldorf Astoria in Thailand.

While Christian is looking for the right owner with the right location for Waldorf in Thailand, there remains an opportunity for owners with luxury properties who want to join the Hilton family under LXR Hotels & Resorts. This is a collection of independent luxury properties that allows each hotel in the collection to remain steadfastly true to its own heritage and culture.

The most anticipated opening debut of LXR will be in fall 2021 with LXR Hotels & Resorts in Japan.

Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now

While hotels might be quiet during this pandemic, business development certainly isn’t. As we have seen with Accor and IHG, Christian also confirmed the belief of hotel owners that people will be traveling again. They have the confidence and they have the appetite.  

“From day one, they have unwavering confidence. Slow doesn’t mean a lack of confidence,” said Christian, although the nature of that growth is changing. For Hilton, many opportunities lie in conversions which the brand announced will be done within the next 24 months.

I asked Christian which properties are now joining the Hilton portfolio knowing damn well he wouldn’t say, but I like to try my luck.  

“They are independent brands, Thai brands, because they were the ones whose owners need to get bigger distribution channels, and support, as well as becoming part of a big engine that can drive business,” he ventured.

Hilton recently reported that conversion signings across the globe have increased more than 30 percent versus 2020. “We also have one of the strongest commercial engines serving our hotels all around the world – our loyalty program, sales offices, and revenue management capabilities are all great examples,” according to Christian.

“As of now, Hilton has more than 50 projects in the pipeline for South East Asia across seven brands, including Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Curio Collection by Hilton, and Canopy by Hilton.”

“Highlights of our upcoming openings include Conrad Kuala Lumpur, which will mark our brand debut in Malaysia in 2022, as well as The Nautilus Resort, Curio Collection by Hilton, a 250- room hotel on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia, which is planned for 2023.”

“With this extended footprint, Hilton will be all the more primed to meet growing and evolving travel expectations as international tourism gradually resumes in each South East Asian country.”

No matter rain or storm, Covid-19 or not, business development won’t stop. As one great man once said, “Success seems to be connected with action. Successful men keep moving… they don’t quit.”

That man was Conrad Hilton.