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Travel7 insights I learned from Hilton execs on new brands, partnerships and...

7 insights I learned from Hilton execs on new brands, partnerships and hotel innovations

Over the last few months, Hilton has been on a major growth campaign, announcing strategic partnerships and acquisitions to help beef up its global footprint and strengthen its luxury and lifestyle offerings.

On the luxury front, Hilton recently announced it acquired a majority stake in the Sydell Group, the parent company of NoMad Hotels, and plans to integrate the current NoMad properties (Las Vegas and London) into Hilton Honors — and eventually grow the brand to over 100 hotels. This year, we also found out that Hilton was able to snatch away Small Luxury Hotels from Hyatt, a move that will add dozens of incredible, one-of-a-kind properties around the world into the Hilton Honors program. Not to mention, the cheeky Graduate Hotels brand and the not-so-roughing-it Autocamp glamping brand are also new additions to the Hilton family.

With so many new brands and big changes on the horizon, Hilton invited a handful of travel journalists to Nashville, where the company has a significant presence, to spend time with some executives and brand leaders. Over the course of several days, we got to see how Hilton is reimagining some of its most popular brands (read on to see why I’m stoked about a Homewood Suites property), learn a little more about upcoming partnerships and understand how the aforementioned brands will integrate into Hilton Honors.

Here are just a few things I learned — and why there’s a lot for Hilton loyalists to look forward to. (Or, in many folks’ cases, why now might be the time to jump on the Hilton bandwagon.)

Wait and see on the SLH integration

The official news is no news — yet — from Hilton on when SLH will be integrated into Hilton Honors. What we did learn from the folks working to make that transition happen is that we can likely expect award redemptions, elite benefits and earnings for SLH properties to be “in line with” similar existing Hilton properties. I was told we’d find out the specifics on how much award nights might cost and details about elite loyalty benefits hopefully in the coming weeks, though Hilton is still very much ironing out those details.

What I can confirm is simple yet important: Most Small Luxury Hotels will participate in Hilton Honors, and there will be specific benefits for elite Hilton Honors members (potentially free breakfasts, possible room upgrades, early check-in or late checkout and the like). But, as I was told, Hilton has to “learn the way with Small Luxury Hotels,” and it’s a work in progress they’d rather roll out correctly than fumble in haste.

No more acquisitions and major partnerships — for now


Though it felt like Hilton was spitting out new strategic brand partnerships and acquisitions (as mentioned above) rapidly over the last few months, an informal conversation with some Hilton executives makes it seem that, at least for the moment, that growth mission has been accomplished. Now, it appears that Hilton and its various teams are hard at work finalizing and executing the logistics of integrating the new brands (NoMad, Graduate, SLH and Autocamp) into Hilton’s loyalty programs and the complex systems that manage them.

Sure, we’re all waiting to see how much those properties will cost to book with points, but in my conversations, it’s safe to say the Hilton Honors team is being diligent with the process to make it a successful rollout.

It also seems that Hilton made these acquisitions and partnerships by seriously digging into the data and customer feedback to fully understand what was missing within Hilton Honors. For example, it’s clear that Hilton was lacking in the luxury lifestyle space, and the company was asking itself if they were attracting the right customers without that presence. The quick answer is obvious: There was a gap — and a brand like NoMad is there to fill it. Now, it’s a game of wait-and-see to know if Hilton made the right move.

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But expect more from Hilton Honors on one-of-a-kind experiences


One place we should expect to see new or strengthening partnerships is with Hilton Honors Experiences, the program that allows members to trade in points for exclusive access to events like concerts and sporting events. Hilton already has relationships with the Recording Academy, McLaren Formula 1 and more. In the coming years, expect to see more partnerships of the like — and more exclusive access for members to bid on, especially as the trend of “gig tripping,” or traveling around the globe to see your favorite musicians, continues to grow thanks to the massive popularity of recent and current tours from the likes of Taylor Swift and Beyonce. Also, expect to see more attainable experiences, like culinary partnerships and local experiences that don’t require a huge bank of points.

Autocamp adds a whole new reason to love Hilton Honors

Probably the most unexpected of Hilton’s recent announcements, the introduction of AutoCamp to the Hilton Honors family shows that the company truly wants to offer something different from its competitor set. AutoCamp, for those unaware, is an outdoor lodging camp — let’s call it glamping — where travelers can stay in fully-fitted Airstream accommodations in locations in the great outdoors and near some of America’s best national parks, like Yosemite or Joshua Tree.

“We know today’s travelers are craving adventures when planning their next trip, and that’s why we look for innovative and like-minded partners like AutoCamp,” Chris Silcock, president of Global Brands and Commercial Services at Hilton, previously said in a statement. “This is the first time a major hospitality brand and outdoor lodging company have come together in this way to create even more choices for travelers while redefining the outdoor hospitality experience.”

Like SLH, we’ll have to wait to see the specifics of how AutoCamp is integrated into Hilton Honors.

Hilton goes back to school with Graduate Hotels


You probably guessed, but right now is also a wait-and-see moment regarding how the boutique lifestyle brand Graduate hotels, emphasizing locations in college cities and properties that reflect the local collegiate spirit, will integrate into Hilton Honors. But, while we wait, it’s worth noting that Graduate is one of the most interesting lifestyle brands at play right now, and there are two exciting properties we’ve been keeping an eye on: Graduate Princeton, a hotel in Princeton, New Jersey, that claimed a spot on TPG’s list of most exciting hotels opening in 2024, and Graduate Alburn, both of which are now taking reservations.

Nashville has the HIltons of the future

From the windows of the Hotel Fraye, part of the Curio Collection, you can look out and see Hilton’s massive presence in Music City, from luxury offerings like the Conrad to (one of a few) Embassy Suites and a Home2Suites, a Hampton Inn and the Dolly Parton-themed Graduate Nashville that’ll soon be a place to earn or burn Hilton Honors points.

But what shocked me the most while exploring Nashville through the lens of Hilton is how the company is using the city as a testing ground for ways to innovate with brands you might not expect to be that interesting.

Take the forthcoming dual-branded Canopy by Hilton and Homewood Suites by Hilton in the Gulch, a trendy area near downtown, for example. The Canopy is sure to become a popular hotel, as this brand is already well known for its lifestyle offerings. But, of the many hotels I toured (including hardhat tours for properties still very much under construction), none excited me as much as the extended-stay Homewood Suites, which will utilize the Canopy’s back-of-house to offer upscale room service to guests at the Homewood Suites. The property will feel totally separate from the Canopy, but guests will benefit from its secretive shared facilities.

The dual-branded hotel model is really picking up steam for hotel investors, and we should expect to see more of this symbiotic relationship between Hilton brands in the future.

Hilton is redefining the airport hotel experience


Lastly, I quickly wanted to hit on the new Hilton BNA Nashville Airport Terminal hotel, which is sure to change the standard for what an airport hotel can — and should — be. Without a doubt, it’s the nicest airport hotel that I’ve set foot in, with a rooftop pool and bar overlooking the runaway, top-notch food, tons of conference space and friendly staff. While I could write a full-on review of my time there (I can’t because I didn’t stay the night), it’s worth mentioning that the Hilton team I met with couldn’t stop gushing about the property — and how it sets a new standard for both Hilton’s namesake brand and airport hotels across the board.

Bottom line

Hilton’s growth trajectory is, simply put, looking up. Over the next few months, Hilton Honors members will have more ways and reasons than ever to spend their hard-earned points, be it on stays with new luxury or lifestyle brands, outdoorsy trips or once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Sure, Hilton Honors may not be the most award-friendly program out there, but Hilton’s strategic partnerships, acquisitions and push to fill some glaring gaps make it the one to watch.

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