John Vanderslice, the global head of luxury and lifestyle for Hilton, guides the company’s decision making in both the luxury and lifestyle spaces. And under Vanderslice’s leadership, Hilton’s lifestyle and luxury brands have broken into international markets like Iceland, the U.K., China, and Indonesia, as well as U.S. cities like Beverly Hills, Calif., and Chicago, Ill. With a perspective shaped by decades of hospitality experience, Vanderslice had a lot to say about the Hilton’s success.
How have Hilton’s lifestyle and luxury brands grown over the past few years? We decided we wanted to be the fastest growing and most innovative company among our comp set. The Waldorf Astoria and Conrad brands have helped to make that possible. Today we have 26 Waldorf Astorias, with 10 more in the pipeline. With Conrad, we have28 hotels and 22 in the pipeline. Looking at a gross percent change, we are living our dream of being the fastest growing in the industry. But, I always tell the team that the second part of the vision—to be the most innovative —is more important because it fuels the first part.
What factors have driven this success? Simply put, we have a great team. We spend a lot of time with team members to ensure they understand their role in hospitality. We often think about new and growing markets and how we can extend our brand. We also really do our homework. We take a close look at high net-worth individuals around the globe and we study their interests to best predict successful destinations for luxury hotels.
Are you at all concerned about an industry downturn? After the recession in ’07 and ’08, no one was building luxury hotels. But, historically, luxury comes back strong. Personally, I have seen luxury bounce back after downturns several times, so I am not really concerned. We have to be careful, of course, but we are cautiously optimistic that if we do our job—focus on providing experiences—then we will continue to be successful.
Talking just about the luxury brands, how do you differentiate Waldorf Astoria and Conrad? The two brands each have their own service platform. At the Waldorf Astoria, every single guest gets a personal concierge. At Conrad, we use the Conrad Concierge, which is an app that allows guests to guide their own experience. We call this “smart luxury.” Both of the brands provide luxury, but the positioning of the two brands is different because Conrad is a bit more contemporary, more design-oriented, and less expensive.
How has Canopy allowed Hilton to enter the lifestyle space? Before we went into the lifestyle space, we did an enormous amount of research. We found that people were looking for a lifestyle brand that was more accessible. So we invented Canopy, which is the second part of my vision to make the Hilton the fastest growing and most innovative luxury hotel company. The Canopy brand is about luxury, but more importantly it is about creating organic, eclectic, and real experiences. It is about naturally adding to authentic neighborhoods. For example, in Reykjavik, located on the coast of Iceland, our property is located in a thriving area with artistic flare, a luxurious culinary scene, and beautiful volcanic landscapes. I was really proud to open in Reykjavik, and we consider that property a global representative of the brand. The hotel is a natural extension of their neighborhood and that is exactly what the Canopy brand seeks to create. We’re working on about thirty other deals right now in cool neighborhoods in cities like Washington D.C., Dallas, and London.