HB ON THE SCENE: Signia Hilton focuses on meetings business

NEW YORK—The launch of Hilton’s 17th brand showcased elements focused on the business traveler and meetings and events, an idea that’s been in the works for quite some time.

Developed out of feedback from meeting planners, Hilton President/CEO Christopher J. Nassetta said the new brand, Signia Hilton, has been in the works for about five to seven years, marking a significant portion of his time with the company.

According to the CEO, meeting planners are seeking new spaces and functioning technology. “It just needs to work,” Nassetta said at the brand launch event in New York City.

Signia Hilton sits in the upper end of upper-upscale—not quite in the luxury space, Nassetta said, with a minimum of 500 guestrooms and 75 sq. ft. of meeting space per key.

Nassetta explained that in large hospitality markets in the U.S. and Europe, planners were working with not only tech-deprived environments but older, outdated ones as well.

“They’re [meeting planners]dealing with spaces that are one, two and in some cases three generations old,” Nassetta said. “That happened because coming out of the Great Recession that hit Europe and the United States so hard, economics just haven’t really supported the construction of these types of hotels.”

There are already three deals in place for Signia Hilton—a renovation of the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek in Florida, and new-builds in Atlanta and Indianapolis.

According to David Marr, SVP/global head, full-service brands, Hilton expects it to be a global brand, with dialogue underway in three international cities already.

Marr said that Hilton is focusing on “the right urban markets and the right highly sought-after resort markets” with quality rather than quantity in mind as these hotels are not only costly to build, but take some time as well. The Orlando location has an expected 2020 opening, with the new-builds spending at least 26-30 months in construction.

Part of the process is integrating capable technology, taking some of the pressure off planners and making meeting experiences more personalized for attendees.

“We talk about the connected guestroom, but how cool would it be for a connected meeting room?” Marr asked.

Smart whiteboards, room control via the Hilton Honors app and even ways for planners to customize well before attendees even step foot on site are just some of the new additions.

The design is meant to be both understated and mature

“The expectation should be that we will have innovative technology for meeting planners in the same way that we try to be on the forefront of innovative technology for consumers,” said Jon Witter, Hilton’s chief customer officer.

Meeting planners can have the ability to think ahead through 3D floor plans, or, Witter said, make the most out of meeting time through integration of digital collaboration tools to solicit input and allow people to comment and participate in meetings more effectively.

“Maybe you used to hand a microphone around—now, there’s a whole new realm of possibilities,” Witter said. “It’s the whole notion of digitally connecting people to their physical environment to find new ways of adding value, and that’s true in the meeting and event space, but it’s also true for our leisure or transient customer who’s coming in on the weekend and wants to be able to control the temperature in their room with their smartphone.”

Technology is just one of the components of Signia Hilton, with the brand centered around design and food and beverage pillars as well: an impressive arrival experience with modern architecture; a design-focused and social lobby experience; modern guestrooms with embedded technology and nods to locale; a destination bar; a signature restaurant; a premium wellness experience with pools, spas and fitness centers; and, of course, the signature Signia Hilton meeting experience.

“Every one of these is a unique design, a specific process. Because of the scale of the projects, we’re trying to convey that sense of grandness, arrival, distinctiveness. Through fixtures and materials, we’re building local flavors,” Witter said, stressing the sophistication of Signia Hilton’s design, which is meant to be both understated and mature in its approach. “What it’s not is putting a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge on the wall.”

While hints of local culture are sprinkled throughout, creating both a relaxing and efficient trip for travelers is the core of the Signia Hilton brand.

“Everyone wants tech to be easy, convenient and work right every time,” Witter said. “Technology is more and more not just an enabler, it’s not just something you want to work, it’s actually a real differentiator. You can start to create experiences and capabilities that you couldn’t previously, which makes a real difference.”

Amidst its centennial, Hilton’s development hasn’t slowed, introducing new brands in the past year like LXR Hotels & Resorts, a luxury collection brand, and Motto by Hilton, an urban, micro-hotel brand.

For Signia Hilton, specifically, while technology may be a focus, it’s best kept simple. When talking with meeting planners, Marr said, they were interested in modern, smart technology. “They weren’t interested in the flashy technology but the kind that helps them run their meetings much more efficiently and makes it better,” he said.

It always does seem to come down to the basics and delivering a seamless stay for guests.

“Get the product right—comfortable bed, great sheets, quiet room, all of those pieces. If you have a great night’s sleep and a great bath experience, it’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to have a good stay,” Witter said.

Witter added that Hilton will spend a significant amount of time understanding the design-science of each property, from how noise transfers to which types of sounds disturb sleep. This will be used in construction when choosing materials, leaving business travelers left to focus on one thing: business.

“It’s all about making the busy calm and hectic meeting experience fulfilling,” Witter said. “Think about going to an event—it’s crazy, there’s a lot of people, you’re in an unfamiliar space, it’s about networking, learning, working and engaging—there’s a lot going on. The whole design here is about how we make that fun, relaxing and productive in a way that they say, ‘I’d never want to have a meeting anywhere else but at a Signia Hilton.’” HB

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