Focused service, lifestyle and collection brands lead the way for Hilton

Patrick Fitzgibbon, Senior Vice President Development, EMEA at Hilton, gives his thoughts on the global hotel sector: predicting growth regions and segments and suggesting the best ways for achieving success ahead of the International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin on 3-5 May.

Hospitality Insights: What do you view as the major changes in the hospitality sector in 2022?

Patrick Fitzgibbon: The pandemic has prompted a flight to quality for investors and guests, presenting the opportunity for the strongest brands to increase market share, drive deeper loyalty with customers, and ultimately grow value for hotel owners. While leisure demand has driven the early recovery of the travel industry, we are seeing meaningful progress in group and business travel in the second half of 2022.

We continue to evolve our approach in the face of several consumer trends, including increased demand for sustainability features and a more seamless digital customer experience. We’ve invested in new technology to make it easier for guests to control and customise their stays, rolling out Digital Key more widely, now available at more than 80 per cent of our properties in Europe, Middle East and Africa. We also recently launched Digital Key Share, which allows more than one guest to access their room's digital key, as well as Confirmed Connected Rooms, a great way for families and groups to more easily book two or more connecting rooms.

We continue to remain fully focused on our Travel with Purpose 2030 Goals to cut our environmental footprint in half and double our social impact, and initiatives such as Meet with Purpose, our sustainable meetings package, continue to grow in importance. Last year, we launched our carbon neutral meetings package in partnership with South Pole, through which we are able to offset carbon emissions from business meetings.

Hospitality Insights: Which markets have the biggest potential for growth? 

Fitzgibbon: As travellers become more demanding and travel returns we see growth opportunity in every single market. The watch word here is quality. Guests expect quality at all price points and they are prepared to pay for is. There has been a very significant focus on leisure from across multiple investor groups particularly in destinations like Greece. Dubai has without doubt been one of the out and out winners over the last few years and we see that spreading across the UAE and into KSA.

Hospitality Insights: What segments and brands offer the biggest opportunities? 

Fitzgibbon: There really is opportunity across every sector but to be successful you must deliver constant and appropriate quality. With a broad portfolio of brands, Hilton is able to work with investors and developers to deliver an appropriate product according to local market needs. Our goal is to serve guests anywhere they want to travel, for any travel need they may have, and so our growth strategy reflects this priority. While we are experiencing growth across our entire portfolio of brands, we have seen particular interest in our focused service, lifestyle and collection brands. Hampton by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn currently lead the way for development, with more than 170 new hotels planned in EMEA.

We are also seeing growing demand for conversion properties, which accounted for 30% of openings in 2021. Our collection and lifestyle brands work well for these properties, allowing hotels to preserve their individuality while accessing Hilton’s powerful commercial engine and award-winning loyalty programme. These brands have made their debut in a number of European markets in the last year. Tapestry Collection by Hilton opened its first hotels in Spain, the UK, France, Italy and Portugal and Canopy by Hilton, with brand entries in London, Madrid and Paris, as well as the upcoming Canopy by Hilton Cannes and Canopy by Hilton Cape Town Rosebank, is a brand experiencing significant growth.

Hilton’s luxury portfolio has continued to be a focus for growth, with Mango House Seychelles, LXR Hotels & Resorts, opening last year, Conrad Chia Laguna Sardinia, Italy’s first Conrad Hotels & Resorts property, recently opening in April and the newly announced LXR Hotels and Resorts property, Al Nawras Island, Abu Dhabi.

Hilton’s full-service brands make up more than half of our portfolio in Europe, Middle East and Africa, with hotels in more than 60 countries in the region. In the last year, we opened our first DoubleTree by Hilton properties in France, Belgium and Germany.

Hospitality Insights: How have your relationships with owners and partners evolved?

Fitzgibbon: Despite a challenging period for the entire industry, we have developed even stronger partnerships with our ownership community over the last two years. We have listened to both our guests and our owners and tried to find solutions that cement long term value for everyone. Owner demand for our brands is such that we now have more than 600 hotels operating across the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, with close to 400 in the development pipeline. The pandemic has brought us closer to all of our stakeholders, and we continue to remain focused on driving market leading returns for owners as the recovery continues.

Hospitality Insights: With people at the core of hospitality, how do you view the current shortages in talent and what does your company do to address them?

Fitzgibbon: Our award-winning workplace culture, which is consistently recognised across Europe, Middle East and Africa, is critical as we focus on attracting and retaining the best talent. In 2021, Hilton ranked within the top 10 Best Workplaces in 12 markets in Europe, Middle East and Africa, according to Great Place to Work, and we are working to create the best and most inclusive home for our Team Members, ranking #1 on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.

The availability of labour is one of the biggest challenges for our industry right now and our hotels are fully focused on attracting and retaining the best industry talent. We remain positive, encouraged by the latest trends pointing to ever greater demand for travel, and believe we have a unique opportunity to reinforce our current position as the best place to work as pent-up demand plays out. We also continue to partner with academic institutions and other organisations to widen our talent pool and offer internship and training opportunities to candidates, as well as running dedicated recruitment days to find our future team members.

Hospitality Insights: What are you looking forward to with regards to your participation in IHIF? 

Fitzgibbon: We always bring a strong team to IHIF to meet up with our long-established ownership and advisory communities either over a coffee or a beer to hear how we can do more together and what we need to do to improve and strengthen our relationships.

The icing on the IHIF cake is always meeting new owners and investors and exploring their aspirations to see how we can help them grow their hospitality portfolios.

Patrick Fitzgibbon will be joining the panel ‘All Change? Remodelling the Hospitality Investment Landscape’ at IHIF on Wednesday 4th May. View the conference programme here