Danny Hughes, EVP and president of the Americas region for Hilton, said luxury growth, conversion opportunities and strong connections with owners and guests will fuel future growth in the Americas for the company.
MCLEAN, Virginia—A 30-year veteran at Hilton, Danny Hughes has served as the company’s EVP and president of the Americas region for just over a year, which he said has been the “best year comparatively we’ve ever had in the Americas—a great, great year.”
His first year in the role has coincided with Hilton’s 100th anniversary, celebrated throughout 2019, “and so much of what we were celebrating as a company is very personal for me,” he said.
Hughes started at Hilton in sales, management and operations roles. He moved up to become SVP of Latin America and the Caribbean for the company, then took on the roles of SVP and commercial director for the Americas before coming into his current position, which oversees all of Hilton’s interests across North, Central and South Americas.
What’s made 2019 special for Hilton’s brands in the Americas region has been strong overall growth, particularly in the luxury space, he said. Key openings in the last year have included the Conrad Washington, D.C., the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal in Mexico and the reopening of the Conrad New York Midtown.
At the end of the third quarter, Hilton had approximately 744,000 rooms at 5,105 open hotels in the Americas region. The region’s pipeline, according to Hilton, includes 1,658 hotels and more than 196,560 guestrooms.
Focus on people
Hughes said that if he had to sum up what he brings to the role in one word, it’s “connectivity.”
“We have incredible people associated with our hotels,” he said. “That includes great owners and incredible people in above-property support roles. When you get to be as big as we are, you have to work harder to make sure people feel connected. Strengthening that connectivity improves performance and makes life more enjoyable.”
That people-centric focus has been Hughes’ top priority for the past year, and one that extends to property-level employees.
“We have incredible talent in our company, great tenure and diversity, but you can never have enough great talent,” he said. “We’re identifying that talent and developing it, and creating a culture where the best people want to come and be a part of Hilton.”
Hughes said he has particularly enjoyed getting to know the diverse community of Hilton owners.
“We had a mission a year ago to be the most owner-centric brands in the Americas,” he said.
Learning about Hilton’s diverse ownership base in the region, from private equity groups to family offices to pension funds, has been a big priority, Hughes said.
“If we’re truly going to be the most owner-centric company, we need to truly understand short-, medium- and long-term dreams and visions for all these groups and tailor operations to that,” he said. “It’s a continuing learning curve. I don’t know that it’ll ever have an end point, and it shouldn’t, really.”
He added that he and the company also think a lot about how to help their stakeholders navigate today’s economic uncertainty in the Americas region, acknowledging that uncertainty can breed hesitance to travel.
“We always are looking for improvement, to help cut through the noise,” he said.
Trends defining the industry’s future
Hilton accomplishes that, Hughes said, by constantly paying attention to what’s important to travelers in any environment, and assuring them their travel dollars are well-spent with a values-driven company.
To that end, he identified two major trends spanning all geographies:
- Personalization: “This is absolutely a megatrend,” Hughes said. “It’s no longer acceptable to simply have a clean, safe room. People want their stay personalized by type of room, direction it’s facing, floor it’s on. They want to tell us what time they’re arriving and departing, and whether they have allergies.”
- Corporate responsibility: “We’re focusing a lot on what our place is in the world, and accepting our responsibility to be good citizens, especially around sustainability,” he said. “I have five kids—they want to know the companies they do business with have values. And while this is the right ethical thing to do, it also makes business sense. When we reduce energy consumption, make building materials more sustainable, even recycle soap, we make the hotel more efficient and can invest some of that money back into the guest experience.”
Hughes said Hilton is tackling these trends in a number of ways—for example, by gathering data through its Hilton Honors program to personalize stays for guests, and establishing an on-property program to support corporate responsibility projects.
“Every single hotel will have a Travel with Purpose champion,” he explained. “It might be a concierge; it might be an executive chef. It’s the person who champions our initiatives throughout the hotel and is that rally point behind it.”
Across the Americas region, Hughes sees a lot of opportunity despite political and economic noise.
“We continue to see great growth in Latin America, and we’re seeing more and more institutional money going into the region,” he said. “We continue to see South America growing across all brands, but particularly in luxury.
In Mexico, where Hilton has nearly 70 hotels and resorts, with approximately 30 more in the pipeline, growth has “exploded,” Hughes said.
“We see more and more growth there, that’s being supported by the strength of the Mexican economy and driven by Mexicans spending in Mexico.”
The United States of course is experiencing some slower growth, but Hughes said Hilton sees opportunity for conversions in that environment.
“Over the last few years, we’ve launched brands that are very conversion-friendly, like Curio, Canopy and Tapestry,” he said. “Now we have LXR, and really a lot of brands that we didn’t have during the last slowdown. We’ve been very purposeful about how we develop our brands.”
*Correction, 11 December 2019: This story has been updated to change Danny Hughes' length of tenure at Hilton.