By Sara Turner What do you find to be the biggest challenge in your role?
I would say staying ahead and innovating in an effective way, when the world is changing all the time.
What is Hilton doing to innovate?
Firstly, we've got a big focus on China and we've just announced a guest service programme specifically designed for Chinese travellers, called Hilton Huanying - the Chinese word for welcome. We launched this programme in August, at an initial 50 hotels. It provides some guaranteed service elements that Chinese travellers would look for and recognise.
It's built around three things: arrival, the bedroom and breakfast. On arrival, every participating hotel will have at least one fluent Chinese speaker in their reception team. In the bedroom, there'll be at least one Chinese TV channel, slippers, a hot water kettle and Chinese tea. And at breakfast there will be some items that Chinese travellers would recognise. We're doing this because we're at that tipping point now where China is becoming one of the leading outbound travel destinations in the world, so we're trying to stay ahead of the trend.
Secondly, spas. For many years we've operated spas in our hotels - we have more than 190 in our hotels - but we got to the point a year ago when we realized that we needed our own spa concept. Because so many of our hotels were being built with spas, owners and developers were looking for guidance and our customers were looking for something that was genuinely of high quality. So, we took a year to research and build our own spa concept called Eforea. We've opened five already, and we have another 40 in development. It's about recognising the importance that the spa has in the full-service hotel environment, and that it's not something we can just leave to local choice. We need to get a high standard.
And thirdly, resorts are becoming a bigger and bigger part of what we do. We have 72 now amongst our 540 hotels. We've always had resorts in the business, but we're now taking a more consolidated approach to making sure that there are some common standards and therefore a more shared marketing approach, so we market them as a dedicated resorts portfolio. We're opening a lot of new resorts - this year we've opened resorts in Turkey, China, New Zealand and Egypt.
Where is Hilton planning to open new hotels?
We try and stay ahead by continuing to pioneer new destinations. Hilton really made its name through the 50s, 60s and 70s by being the first in to international destinations, and that's still happening today. We've opened the first international hotel in Namibia and Equatorial Guinea this year, and later in 2011 we'll open in Baku in Azerbaijan, our 79th country. It's important that we keep that Conrad Hilton pioneering culture of bringing international hospitality to the world.
We've also opened a new hotel in Manhattan, in the fashion district, which gives us better coverage of New York, plus Chennai and Mumbai in India, Queenstown in New Zealand, Marsa Alam in Egypt, and a second hotel in the Seychelles. We've also got a steady stream of openings in China, including our second resort in China.
We've got more than 120 hotels in development - our opening pipeline is the largest it's ever been. The next one in the UK is Heathrow Terminal 5.
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