2011 is a milestone year for Doubletree by Hilton. Hilton Hotel’s sister brand, which has reinvested more than US$3bn into its facilities in recent years, will celebrate the opening of its 250th hotel. The brand currently has properties in 18 countries on five continents, by the end of the year it hopes to have 300 hotels in 22 countries with new hotels opening in Colombia, Istanbul and Jordan among other destinations. This less well-known of Hilton brands is working hard to introduce a new global brand identity, as Palleschi explains:
What differentiates the Doubletree by Hilton brand from Hilton Hotels?
We are traditionally smaller. The guest room count in our properties tends to be smaller as does the size of our meeting facilities. Hilton Hotels is known for its large-scale facilities catering for larger meetings and conventions and groups of people. Being smaller makes us able to provide more of a personalised experience for our guests and has won dividends through the recession as many companies downsized their meetings and events. Also an interesting thing about the brand is how our properties adapt to the community they are in: we try to inject local traditions in all of our properties. We want guests to feel like they are in the city they are in. We work with hotel team members to ensure we embrace the community surrounding the hotel.
How did you fare during the recession?
We were not dissimilar to everyone else and we saw a decline in demand. As our offering is smaller scale, however, we were not so sensitive to the radical swings that other larger properties experienced. We adapted to this decline in demand and went after smaller meetings business. We wanted to create a culture that when business declined our clients would still say: “Let’s go visit our friends at the Doubletree, we’ve got to cut the meeting in half, so maybe we should go there”.
Our higher-end locations suffered dramatically in the recession and we had to largely rate cut, a windfall for our guests but a difficult time for us.
Who are your main competitors?
We are in the upscale full-service arena so there are all those usual suspects; the Marriott is our largest worldwide competitor followed by the Sheraton. This is driven mostly by their presence in the market and their proximity to our hotels.
How do you compete with them
Having the best bed or the largest meeting room will never be enough as someone will always have better or larger. We like to think of our brand as offering a hotel experience that makes a traveller feel human again. For 25 years, we have been offering every guest on arrival a warm chocolate chip cookie, at all our hotels worldwide. More than 230m of these have been shared with our customers.
Is the cookie the same recipe worldwide? How is it received in countries such as China?
The recipe varies slightly, for example Brazilians aren’t keen on walnuts, so we modify it there, and we are discussing a cookie suitable for vegans in India. We have focus groups that research this kind of thing. The Chinese love the cookie idea as a warm welcome and a sweet surprise.
Do you have a social media strategy, how important is it to the success of the brand?
We have an active social media strategy particularly with Twitter and Facebook. We use Twitter to gain feedback from our guests which is great for checking the temperature of how we are performing. We also use it for marketing our products. It still amazes me there are companies out there that are burying their heads in the sand when it comes to social media, but at their own peril.
You have an aggressive growth plan for the future, which areas are of interest for future hotel launches?
We plan to continue to expand globally as we look to expand our marketing presence worldwide. We envision a loyal customer set that would choose our brand for meetings no matter what country they are in. Of particular interest to us is the UK and Eastern Europe. Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Poland and Russia have all been extremely receptive to the brand.
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