BT: It seems every major hotel chain is launching some kind of collection or soft brand these days. What’s the story behind Hilton’s Curio Collection?
VAUGHAN: Hilton has been doing soft branding for over 50 years, but we had hotels that were embedded in each brand. So Hilton has Palmer House or DoubleTree has the Roanoke. We’ve got about 40 hotels that are soft branded in existing brands. Our owner-advisory council for the last several years has been saying, ‘Hey, when is Hilton going to launch this kind of collection space?’
BT: The Curio Collection is coming up on its two-year anniversary. What’s been the growth story in that time?
VAUGHAN: We have 18 hotels open today and about 70 committed in our pipeline. So it really has caught on fire very quickly.
BT: Tell us about the latest properties to join Curio.
VAUGHAN: The Logan, which is the former Four Seasons in downtown Philadelphia, opened in December. They closed the hotel and did a huge renovation. And the other is Amway Grand in Grand Rapids with 682 rooms, also opened in December. Upcoming there’s London House in Chicago, that’s going to be opening in probably April. And then the other big one is Lincoln Plaza in London.
BT: What kind of hotel owner is looking to come under the Curio umbrella?
VAUGHAN: When we first launched, we thought the majority of our hotels would be those independent owners, like the Providence Biltmore or the Sam Houston. But what we quickly saw was a lot of our owners have one of our other 11 or 12 Hilton portfolio brands. For example our Sam Houston owner also has a DoubleTree and a Hilton, and I’m sure other brands. So even though he has this independent hotel, he also owns others.
So we have a variety of owners, from institutional owners to independent owners to owners that have multiple brands. When we launched we really thought it was going to be the majority of the independent, I just have this one hotel. But that really hasn’t been the case.
BT: Explain the concept behind a collection versus a ‘hard’ brand?
VAUGHAN: It really goes back to that owner wanting to have their own authentic hotel experience. As long as they are providing an upscale luxury 4- 5- 6-star hotel from the consumer point of view, we give a lot of flexibility. Sometimes people think, ‘Oh, it might be easy to become a Curio.’ It really isn’t. You still have to maintain those standards; we’re just a little more flexible in them, and owners love that. Because they really like to bring out that authentic experience for the consumers with these individual hotels.
BT: What impact has the Internet had on the collection concept?
VAUGHAN: The Internet really has changed how everybody looks at hotels. But even with the Internet changing the landscape, Curio customers aren’t needing to do a lot of research. It’s that quiet reassurance of, I’m getting this independent, authentic hotel that’s different, but I don’t have to worry because it’s backed by Hilton. Also those 48 million HHonors members? They want something different, but they want their points too.
BT: Why do you think these independent luxury properties are gaining traction with business travelers these days?
VAUGHAN: What’s the new luxury today? I’ve been doing business travel for probably 15 years, and I can’t tell you how many times I went airport-hotel-airport-home. So to me, it’s the luxury of convenience and the luxury of being able to enjoy yourself, have some leisure while you’re there for your business. It’s enabling the consumer to connect to the local community – where I’m staying at a hotel and I’m getting to have fun.