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Hilton’s new Tru aims at entry level


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Hilton’s 13th concept is Tru by Hilton, with dynamic interiors shown above yet a price point below the $100 psychological barrier.

New opportunities present themselves when existing, entry-level brands move upscale. As a plebeian Honda Civic or Hampton Inn, for example, gets fancier and more expensive, the door opens for a new product to replace what was once considered economy class. It’s the circle of life.

With growing leisure and business travel fueling massive year-over-year gains in the hospitality world, workaday hotels aren’t as affordable as they once were. A night at a Hampton Inn in a major city can now cost $130—not exactly Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, but also not affordable for mainstream travelers on a budget (or carefully watched expense account).

More social spaces

As is the nature of things, Hilton has unveiled plans for its 13th concept, Tru by Hilton, that’s designed to fill the entry-level void. Tru’s got a funky design, smaller, stripped-down guest rooms, a more social lobby space and a nightly price planned to come in below the psychological $100 barrier.

“We’re providing those things that they really need and want, and none of the things they don’t,” said Alexandra Jarita, global brand head for Tru. “From an owner’s perspective it was all about making sure we designed this product to be easy to build, easy to maintain and easy to operate.”

Tru by Hilton

According to Hilton’s research, the unwanted stuff includes excess square footage, full-sized desks and closets in guest rooms, with larger lobby spaces designed to drive connections among the youthful and social guests it plans to attract.

“People want an experience, rather than just a place to check in and check out,” Jarita added, describing divided lobby spaces with separate zones for work, play, and eating and drinking. Planned amenities include foosball and ping-pong tables, “buzzy hubs” that include sound-insulated booths, and hammock-style seating and high-backed sofas that hopefully won’t be a liability if fellow travelers get too social with the sangria.

Tru is planned to be a franchise-only brand, which the company says is enabled by its track record of thorough research before launching new flags.

Aside from smaller overall square footage, Hilton said Tru’s design uses bold colors and patterns on items that are meant to be replaced regularly, with neutral tones on surfaces and items designed to last longer than 10 years. It envisions a cost per guest room around $85,000, plus land.

‘Zee input

Phil Cordell, global head of focused service at Hilton, said the company included input from a council of 10 to 12 franchisees, who also help to serve as “champions for the brand.” He added Tru has 102 approved projects, with another 30 to 50 in the pipeline—most planned to be fully new construction.

While urban and suburban locations are planned, Cordell said the company has been pleasantly surprised by interest for city-center locations, with locations slated for Charlotte, Boston, Phoenix, Portland, Dallas and Nashville.

Mitch Patel, president and CEO of Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Vision Hospital Group, has more than 30 hotels and 18 additional hotels in its pipeline, including eight planned Tru locations. His first Tru will be opening in the nearby Nashville market, with additional units planned in Atlanta, Charlotte and his home market of Chattanooga.

Calling the last four years an “incredible” time to be in hospitality, he said adding Tru to his multi-brand portfolio will act as a hedge against the next economic downturn.

“Value doesn’t hurt you in good times,” he said. “I love the proposition: It’s clean, comfortable, compact, spirited, fun—pretty much what a guest needs and nothing more.”

The smaller footprint provides Patel’s company the opportunity to construct dual-branded properties that pair Tru with a more expensive flag that could share lobby spaces and reduce overall development costs.

Beyond dollars and cents, Patel equated Tru to affordable and hip brands like Zara and H&M, which have upended the fashion world.

“No one has done that yet in the hotel world,” he said. “Why do you need to pay more than $100? When you turn off the light, the room looks the same.”

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