Hilton Breaking the (Prototype) Rules
As a frequent traveler, I’ve become a hotel snob. When it’s time to pick out a room for my next trip, I look for something unique rather than a cookie-cutter hotel that could be in any city or under any flag. With so many hip, new hotel flags aimed at travelers like me—and younger—hotel conglomerates are investing unprecedented resources to adapt their standard brand prototypes to cool old buildings. It’s no small task.
I recently interviewed Bill Duncan, global head of Hilton’s All Suites division that includes Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites and its entry-level Home2, the company’s “hip, extended stay hotel experience.” In discussing adaptive reuse projects—where old buildings are transformed into fashionable new hotels—Duncan said he loves the challenges of marrying a specific building with one of his brands, even if it can be a big challenge for his team.
“We have to make sure that, from our perspective, we’re delivering the [brand] promise in an urban setting that is probably nowhere near prototypical,” he said. “These urban hotels are interesting, they’re unique, they’re beautiful, they’re very respectful … and what we've learned is that, with some careful planning and thoughtfulness, you can bring the brand to life in a very non-typical way.”
Duncan said there are several reasons behind the rise of adaptive reuse hotel projects happening in most growing cities. First, he said, is the challenge of finding or affording new construction in the confines of a condensed urban environment. Land is scarce/expensive in most first-, second- and third-tier cities, and hotels are hyper-dependent on having the best possible location.
On a recent tour of the new Embassy Suites in downtown Minneapolis, one of the recent projects that crossed Duncan’s desk, original materials were repurposed, local artists highlighted the building’s Minneapolis flair and historic preservation guidelines protected the original bones of what was once a 105-year-old office building.
As more hotels join the adaptive reuse/conversion bandwagon, Duncan said finding good buildings—in great locations—to convert to hotels is becoming increasingly difficult, especially in the hottest cities.
Through his three brands, Duncan said the company has new projects coming online in New York’s Midtown, Chicago’s West Loop, Seattle, Atlanta and Birmingham—with many more on the horizon. He suggested the pace of new hotel development has yet to show signs of cooling off, even after several years of breakneck hospitality growth.
In most of my recent travels, where I dedicate a full day to exploring a city on foot, I’ve seen many of these projects with my own eyes—from Denver’s LoDo neighborhood to the French Quarter in New Orleans or Midtown in Detroit.
With all the cool choices to, where you learn a little bit more about the city you’re visiting, who wants to stay in a generic building that says nothing about its location? This old millennial ain't got time for that.