Tilo Joos, GM of the Hilton Buenos Aires, says embracing change is a positive way to keep his hotel space engaging and his team motivated.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—Tilo Joos, GM of the Hilton Buenos Aires, is all about reinvention. He’s seen it happen in the neighborhood surrounding the hotel he has led for nine years, in the hotel building and even within himself.
Joos has spent nearly 20 years with Hilton and its predecessor company, Hilton International, and has experienced change at many points in his career. For him, it’s always been about turning that change into opportunities for growth and making a difference.
“We cannot stay the same every day,” he said. “Everybody evolves, and we need to change. An important part of my role is to think differently, in a positive way.”
Joining the industry as a non-hotelier
Joos was born and grew up in Argentina. After earning his university degree in business administration, he set off for Germany.
“I wanted to explore Europe, and I worked for several years at the headquarters of Lufthansa,” he said.
As he traveled around in that position, he said his interest in the hotel world was kindled. “I think I always wanted to work in hospitality, but we had no degrees for that here,” he said. “I would see different hotels and think, ‘one day, I’m going to work in one of those.’ Who knew?”
From Lufthansa, he accepted a position with Hilton International based back in his home country of Argentina, acting in a sales and marketing role for South America. From that first position with Hilton, he knew he had found his niche.
“There were so many common things between the airline and hotel industries at the time,” he said. “Airlines were much more advanced in frequent-traveler programs and revenue management so it made it much easier for me to join Hilton as a non-hotelier.”
He felt lucky to have found, so early in his career, a company that seemed to be the perfect fit. Still, his job continued to change, and he moved with it.
His first role in operations was as GM of the Hilton Colon Quito, which is set in Ecuador’s capital. After earning his MBA in Montreal, Joos took on the role of regional director of sales and marketing for the Caribbean and Central America with Hilton International, based in Miami.
“It was such an interesting time because Hilton was two companies then (Hilton and Hilton International). I was part of a team that launched an all-inclusive brand for the Caribbean, and we launched it from zero—creating the brand standards, the logo, everything—all while being part of a large corporation,” he said.
“We did a lot of experimenting at the time. We were looking into search engine optimization, even then, though it was manual. It was a really great time to be doing new things in marketing. I like innovation and creating new things.”
During that period, he oversaw the 2000 opening of the Hilton Buenos Aires, where he later became GM.
Hotel in a changing city
In 2008, Joos returned to his home of Argentina to take over the Hilton Buenos Aires, which was acting as an anchor for the new barrio of Puerto Madero in the country’s capital.
“When this hotel opened, it was in an area that wasn’t spectacular. There were no streets,” he said. “Then construction started happening, but the taxi drivers didn’t even know the addresses. Then it all changed. I saw the completion of the construction of Puerto Madero, and now we are in a perfect spot.”
From a terrace adjacent to the hotel’s presidential suite, Joos pointed out how the Puerto Madero neighborhood is located on the city’s waterfront edge to one side, while on the other, the city’s historic government buildings, including the Casa Rosada—the office of Argentina’s president—are visible from across sweeping, architectural bridges.
“This hotel was the first new building in Puerto Madero,” he said. “We started right here, in the center of it, in the middle of everything. This location is a key factor for success.”
Because it’s a large convention hotel with 72,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space, Joos works hard to ensure that the property has all the latest technology and space to accommodate business groups, but at the same time functions as a unique, distinctive destination in its own right.
“We have a strong focus on renovation—not just on product renovation, but on creating new experiences for our guests,” he said. “It’s not only about changing the carpets or lamps, but also creating new ways for people to stay at a hotel, or hold meetings at a hotel.”
At the beginning of his tenure as GM, Joos said, he made several changes to make meetings run smoother and more interesting, including implementing new digital signage that links to the hotel’s catering system, which helps to coordinate multiple groups throughout the 22 meeting rooms.
And he proudly pointed out the hotel’s pool terrace, which acts as function space.
“This used to be available only to sunbathe, but we recognized that as a corporate hotel, there’s nothing better for a group than to be outdoors when they can,” he said. “Nobody wants to be locked in a ballroom—they could be anywhere. So we transformed this terrace into a venue for cocktail receptions, and we built a support kitchen for catering.”
The most recent transformation of the hotel was the lobby renovation that was completed a year ago, and that exemplifies the change Joos embraces. Today, the expansive atrium space with a glass entrance focuses on food and beverage and community. Work from local artists rotates in, making the huge space feel intimate, with a renovated lobby bar in the center of the space.
A new grab-and-go outlet has transformed the space as well, Joos said, and drawn locals in.
“It’s been very well-received by people from the offices nearby who pick up lunch, and for business travelers,” he said. “We have salads, warm meals, Argentine wine, obviously, and we bring in a mix of local products as well.”
“We have a lot of repeat guests and companies that work with us a lot, so we have to reinvent ourselves,” he said.
The human element
Though much has changed, especially with technology—this summer, the hotel underwent a property-wide Internet upgrade, including cabling, access points and switches—some constants remain, Joos said.
“People still want a good night’s rest and a healthy breakfast,” he said. “People come to South America and expect the human touch. In some parts of the world, people don’t have that expectation. Here, they want to see and experience the warmth of the people.”
His people, Joos said, are “the hotel’s best asset.”
Of the 350 employees at the Hilton Buenos Aires, many have been with the hotel since its opening. Culture plays a big role in that, he said.
“We have high loyalty from team members, and that doesn’t come from nothing,” he said. “We do a lot as a company for our team members—we want them to be motivated, be engaged, feel well and have a good working initiative.”
He cited programs driven by the Hilton organization related to training, development, human resources and wellness as key contributors. Daily and monthly recognition of team members who go the extra mile also makes a big difference, Joos said.
“I like to talk and listen a lot to our team members,” he said. “It’s not always the easiest part. But as a manager, I like to get opinions and start discussions. It’s good when there is open discussion and people can express themselves. There’s a lot of know-how among our team, and we wouldn’t be smart not to use that.”
Next up for the hotel is another phase of guestroom renovations, and exploring plans to make the terrace space function more year-round.
“People get bored, so we need to be creating something new all the time,” Joos said, citing as examples new menu items, cocktails or even themed rooms—the hotel has gained a reputation for its Barbie-themed guestrooms and other kid-friendly spaces.
“It’s always about the service aspect,” he said. “Guests expect personalized service from us. We have to be able to react fast, and keep a team that is well-trained and motivated. We bring people together.”