HotelsAPAC president Alan Watts unveils how Hilton's growth dynamics in Singapore reflects its 'up and down' expansion strategy in the region.

What’s next for Hilton in APAC in 2023 and beyond?

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Hilton is seeing a booming development pipeline in the region, according to executive vice president & regional president Asia Pacific Alan Watts.
Hilton is seeing a booming development pipeline in the region, according to executive vice president & regional president Asia Pacific Alan Watts.

Hilton is clearly having a field day when it comes to its development pipeline in Asia Pacific. Not only has it embarked on an aggressive expansion strategy across the region, the hotel chain has also landed a number of significant deals, including brand conversions, in the past few years.

From a development perspective, the region is "booming" for Hilton, said executive vice president & regional president Asia Pacific Alan Watts. "We are the fastest-growing hotel company in Asia: one in every three hotels getting opened in China carries a Hilton flag and one in every four hotels in Asia Pacific carries the Hilton flag."

In China, Hilton has over the course of the pandemic signed a deal for over 1,000 Home2 Suites, an extended stay brand, and has also renewed its contract with Plateno for 600 Hamptons, a focused service brand, according to Watts. 

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"The development and the macro environment of Asia Pacific mean we've had a record year of signings," said Watts. "We signed 247 hotels and opened 100 last year, which were new records for both of those, and we will do the same this year to open another 100 hotels." 

Watts believes that the pandemic crisis has tilted the favour towards major hotel companies like Hilton, whose chain machinery – including huge loyalty programme and global marketing outreach – has helped to win over more owners and developers in Asia Pacific to go with brands. 

Singapore as a priority market

In the region, Singapore is where Hilton's growth ambitions have prominently played out in recent years. 

The company took over Mandarin Orchard Singapore and transformed the property into Hilton Singapore Orchard – also the brand's biggest in the region – when it opened in January 2022.

Most recently, Hilton became the talk of the town again when it clinched the deal to convert Regent Singapore (under IHG) into Conrad Singapore Orchard. Set for a 1Q 2024 opening, the rebranded property under Hilton will mark Conrad's second outpost in Singapore after Conrad Centennial Singapore.

Regent Singapore's much-loved F&B outlets would be retained when it rebrands into Conrad Singapore Orchard.
Regent Singapore's much-loved F&B outlets would be retained when it rebrands into Conrad Singapore Orchard.

But it won't be a case of Hilton simply flipping the brand and changing the Regent sign to Conrad, Watts pointed out. Similar to Hilton Singapore Orchard, which retained the iconic restaurant Chatterbox from its predecessor, a similar treatment could be expected for the Regent where an extensive room refurbishment has been earmarked. 

Regent Singapore's much-loved F&B outlets would be brought over to its Conrad reincarnation, said Watts, who revealed that the fate of the dining outlets had been one of the most frequent questions he had been asked about the deal. 

"We will close 100% of the inventory and renovate them before opening the hotel as a Conrad, but we won't close all the F&B. Basilico, Manhattan Bar and Summer Palace have been phenomenal, and we won't change the winning formula of the F&B," said Watts. 

Doubling down on the 'up and down' strategy

Looking ahead, what then are the opportunities for Hilton to grow in a prime hotel market like Singapore? 

"In most markets we start with Hilton and then we move up or down. So if you think of Singapore, Shanghai, or Tokyo as examples, it's the core Hilton that we anchor our strategy on, and then given supply and supply and demand characteristics we will go up with Conrad and ultimately Waldorf Astoria for a market that can afford that price point. 

Watts says Hilton would look to develop more properties towards the other end of the market. "It's a pyramid – you would run down with DoubleTree by Hiltons, which you might have two in a small market, three Hilton Garden Inns and 10 Hamptons." 

Given that Shanghai and Tokyo already have a Waldorf Astoria, and others key cities like Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi and Osaka will soon get one, Watts clearly believes there is room for Hilton to launch its crème de la crème brand in Singapore.

"We would like to bring Waldorf Astoria to Singapore – it's a market that deserves one," said Watts. "But we're not close to announcing one."

Only time would tell.

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