Article Summary:

Hilton’s 17th brand, Signia Hilton, will meet what President and CEO Chris Nassetta calls “growing long-term demand” for meetings-and-events properties with tech-forward guestrooms.

Primary Category: Brands

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NEW YORK—Hilton is banking big on the global meetings-and-events industry with its launch today of Signia Hilton, the company’s 17th brand.

Three deals are already in the works for the brand—a renovation of the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, plus new-build projects underway in Atlanta and Indianapolis.

Hilton President and CEO Chris Nassetta said at a launch event today that Signia Hilton fills “a gap in the upper end of the meetings and events space” based on “the pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit and drive to innovate” of Hilton.

With emphasis on meeting space, technology, food and beverage and design, the brand sits at “the upper end of upper-upscale, but not into luxury,” Nassetta said. The brand will be primarily new-build, and Hilton will seek opportunities to expand it internationally, he said.

Based on industry performance and outlook, now is a good time for projects of this scope, Nassetta said. Each Signia Hilton will have a minimum of 500 guestrooms and 75 square feet of meeting space per key.

“The short-term trends are phenomenal, and the long-term trends (around group business) are fantastic in the U.S. and around the world,” he said. “There are a couple markets around the world, particularly the U.S. and Europe, where we’ve missed a generation of construction of big hotels that have meeting space. When meeting planners tell us they want new and different things, it’s because they’re dealing with spaces that are in some cases three generations old.”

He said since the Great Recession, economics haven’t supported hotel construction of this scale, “so you have growing long-term demand and an effectively diminishing supply of meeting space.”

Signature elements
The brand developed out of conversations with meeting planners, developers and Hilton customers and turned into what Dave Marr, Hilton’s SVP and global head of full service brands, said is “something very special (Hilton) could build around.”

The brand’s signature elements revolve around technology, design and F&B. Its pillars include:

  • an impressive arrival experience,
  • a destination bar,
  • signature restaurants and culinary experiences, including banquets and catering,
  • innovative restaurant design,
  • premium wellness experiences, and
  • advanced meetings and events.

Technology is the foundation for a lot of what sets the brand apart, Nassetta and Marr said. Guestrooms will be larger than standard Hiltons, with seamless connectivity of devices, wireless charging stations and fitness feeds into guestroom TVs.

Meetings and event spaces will be the focus of the hotels, with smart technology embedded at every step.

“We’re creating spaces that are unique and have a story to them,” Marr said. Ballrooms will have high ceilings and natural light, and lots of flexibility for configuring spaces.

Small and midsize meeting space is a particular focus for Signia Hilton, and Marr said much of what the company is designing for these smaller spaces came directly from conversations with meeting planners.

“They were sick and tired of the beige box,” he said. “They want spaces that reflect the destination. They want it to be interesting.”

Built-in technology will allow meeting organizers to personalize the space to the event, with smart whiteboard technology; digital art that can be changed to show different artwork, logos or photos; build-in wireless charging; and even robots that facilitate remote attendance at events.

Development
Nassetta and Marr acknowledged that large events hotels require a lot of time and cost of construction, but they’re hedging on long-term plays for these properties.

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek is owned by Park Hotels & Resorts, the real estate investment trust that spun off from Hilton in 2017. The Georgia World Congress Center Authority is developing the Atlanta property and Kite Realty Group Trust is developing the Indianapolis property.

Marr said the Orlando property likely would open as a Signia Hilton in 2020 and the new-builds will take “at least 30 months in construction.”

Marr told Hotel News Now that while conversions are on the table, don’t expect a rash of conversions from Hilton hotels into Signia Hilton.

“I don’t want to take all the great Hiltons and work them into Signias,” he said. “There’s always an opportunity to consider (conversions) based on situations, but we don’t intend to. There’s opportunity to do new-builds, and there’s opportunity to convert other brands into Signia.”

In the U.S., the company is targeting strong meetings-and-events cities and what Marr called “the right urban markets” and some resort destinations.

“These are expensive hotels to build, so it’s not like there will be hundreds of these,” he said. “We’re focused on quality, not quantity.”

Outside the U.S., Marr cited the Asia Pacific region as one that would have opportunity for Signia Hilton properties. “They build hotels like this very well (in APAC). They are very much aligned from an architectural perspective, and that’s probably where you’ll see us launch the brand internationally first,” he said.

Beyond that, certain parts of Latin America—though with a slightly lower room count—present opportunities for Signia Hilton as well, he said.

What about a downturn?
Marr emphasized that Signia Hilton is “a long-term play.”

“The meetings-and-events industry is very strong. It will go through ebbs and tides, but at the end of the day, these hotels will be here for (the long term),” he said. “The combination of blue-chip developers and a blue-chip company like Hilton—that’s why I think it’s a long-term play.”

Clarification, 22 February 2019: This article has been updated with the full name of Hilton's new brand, Signia Hilton.

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