McLEAN, VA. – By the end of 2015, Hilton Worldwide expects to be running 25 to 30 hotels in key metro areas under its newest brand, Curio so I recently sat down with Curio brand chief Dianna Vaughan to learn more. The brand is meant to be a collection of quirky, interesting hotels that keep their own identity.
Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned is that the personality of the target Curio customer will likely drive them to spend more than guests at other Hilton hotels during a stay.
“We are assuming the length of stay will be longer and they will spend more,” Vaughan told me. “They want to connect to the local community. They will typically add a day either before or after,” she said. “They want to see what’s going on with museums, for instance. Plus, a lot of these hotels have interesting food outlets, so they can experience the scene and have an out-of-the-ordinary stay.”
Before getting into the rest of our conversation, it’s worth noting that Hilton didn’t reinvent the wheel when it came up with Curio.
Marriott’s Autograph Collection, Starwood’s Ascend Collection and Choice’s Ascend Collection provide, more or less, a similar concept although price ranges vary. They’re essentially marketing vehicles for independent properties whose owners don’t want to follow strict brand rules for whatever reason, yet want to tap bigger audiences. They’re also designed to appeal to consumers who aren’t big fans of cookie-cutter hotels.
Curio is certainly worth highlighting here because it will be one of Hilton’s main ways to cater to Millennials – and like-minded travelers – who look for hotels with personality instead of predictability. The brand name does, after all, consist of the first five letters of “curious.”
So Hilton’s going out of its way to pick unexpected partners. It recently, for instance, signed the SLS Las Vegas into the Curio system, giving Hilton loyalty program members an option to earn and burn points at the off-the-beaten path resort on the Las Vegas Strip. (The original SLS in Los Angeles partnered with Starwood, where it’s part of the Luxury Collection.) Housed in the former Sahara hotel-casino on the far northern edge of the Strip, the SLS Las Vegas focuses on celebrity chef restaurants, hip nightclubs and whimsical design. Another Curio hotel that will soon open: The large Diplomat Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which previously operated as one of Starwood’s Westin locations.
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So what can you expect from Curio? Highlights from my conversation with Vaughan:
- Given that a growing number of consumers seek experiences instead of predictability, Hilton sees a future in teaming with owners of these types of properties. “They don’t want the structure of a typical hard brand,” she said. “They’ve got that independent spirit, but they may be looking for a little lift (in terms of business).”
- Vaughan aims to tap hotels owners who already own at least one Hilton property but also own an independent hotel. “We targeted them,” she told me during our meeting at Hilton’s corporate headquarters. There are about 1,500 hotels that fit the criteria, she said.
- In the U.S., expect some of the hotels to have four-star customer experience even though they might not comply with old-fashioned four-star rules focused on physical things. For instance, she said, some older properties built on small urban footprints have the sink outside the bathroom so technically it would be three and a half stars.
- Outside the U.S.A., expect most properties to be five-stars.
- Some hotels will have executive floor lounges, while some may not. Some may have a buffet breakfast, some may not. You get the point. (Fewer rules for owners.)
Don’t, by the way, expect to hear a ton of external buzz about Curio (i.e., advertisements). Why? Hilton’s 11th brand is being marketed to consumers primarily within existing channels such as the 41-million-member Hilton HHonors loyalty program, Vaughan told me. Loyalty data can be used to figure out who might be an ideal fit for Curio stays.
Previously in August, Hilton Worldwide CEO Chris Nassetta had said during Hilton’s Q2 earnings call that the brand was “off to a strong start.” Later this year, Hilton will announce the launch of yet another new chain that will also cater to experience-seeking Millennials and others with a similar mindset.
Readers: Are you curious about Curio, or have other comments?