Ten years ago, Christopher Nassetta joined Hilton as president and chief executive officer for Hilton and in that time has steered the operator through many changes. From overseeing the move back into the New York Stock Exchange, and completing the spin-offs of Park Hotels & Resorts Inc and Hilton Grand Vacations Inc, resulting in three independent, publicly traded companies, Nassetta has been 100% hands-on towards creating a lean, mean, efficient hotel operating machine.

Hotelier Middle East last spoke to him three years ago soon after the historic IPO; this time, we meet him soon after the spin-off was completed. Speaking at the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) 2017, Nassetta is confident that this separation is a “stepping off point” for the company.

He says: “We took the bulk of our real estate business and spun it out into a real estate investment trust that’s totally independent, and we did the same thing with our timeshare business. So we took what was a big conglomerate, if you will, that had three related but nonetheless three separate businesses and we spun those out. What remains is a pure consumer branded business. We are at a unique moment in time where the last decade has been foundational to the next decade.”

And certainly, the last decade has been transformational. When he joined Hilton in 2007, his four priorities at the time included aligning the culture and organisation, improving basic performance, enhancing and strengthening and expanding the brands, and then expediting growth. He has done it all, and says that company culture is the most important element towards making it all happen.

When I ask what the highlight has been for him over the last decade, he says:  “We have been able to take a company that is a good company that had been a great company, and make it a great company again. And the way that we did that was transforming the culture of the company to get 350,000 people in 103 countries rallied around a common purpose.”

Adding that the experience has been “awe-inspiring”, Nassetta reveals that as a consequence of the changes, the company has grown — and how. “We have grown the company by nearly 50%, we have launched five new brands in as many years, we have the biggest pipeline that we have ever had in our history. We are opening a hotel a day on average a year. We are growing faster, on average, than anybody on earth,” he says enthusiastically.

He continues: “As good as the last decade was, the next decade is going to be even better for Hilton.

“You’re going to continue to see our growth accelerate, you’re going to continue to see us add lots of new hotels around the world, add lots of new brands around the world, with the core focus being better serving customers.”

With the talk of new brands and new hotels, it’s inevitable that the conversation turns to the industry’s mergers & acquisitions, as well as development of new brands. Tru by Hilton, for example, was a mid-scale brand that Hilton launched in January 2016. At the time, Hilton already had 102 hotels signed — now there are more than 400. With four hotels already open in the US, Nassetta expects Tru to have “thousands of hotels” in the future. While the brand has not yet moved beyond American shores, he’s confident that once it’s right in the US, it will be taken out on the road eventually.

Hilton has launched several brands in the past decade including Home2 Suites by Hilton in 2009, Curio — A Collection by Hilton in 2014, Canopy by Hilton in 2014 and Tru by Hilton in 2016. Another brand launch Hilton dropped earlier in 2017 was that of Tapestry Collection by Hilton, the operator’s 14th, and its second ‘collection’ brand. Located in the upscale segment just below Curio — A Collection by Hilton, it’s a sign of organic growth for the company. While Nassetta comments about how Hilton as it exists today exists as a consequence of mergers and acquisitions — with Hilton Hotels Corporation (HHC) acquiring brands including Hampton, Doubletree, Embassy Suites and Homeward Suites [Hilton International (HI) and HHC merged in 2006 to form Hilton] — he’s keen to drive an organic growth path for the operator.

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