29 May 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
 
 
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Spa Business
2023 issue 2

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Leisure Management - Hilton

Top team

Hilton


Sleep, fitness and new spa concepts are just some of the strategies we can expect from Hilton as it looks to deliver wellness across its 7,000 properties. Katie Barnes catches up with its all-female leadership team around the world to find out more

People want authentic, localised experiences when they travel and Hilton is focusing on this photo: Hilton Playa del Carmen, Hilton Hotels & Resorts

Earlier this year, global chain Hilton Hotels & Resorts appointed spa industry veteran Amanda Al-Masri to head up its wellness division.

The group oversees more than 7,000 properties in its portfolio and close to 3,000 in development (see p76). It also operates nearly 300 spas and has 62 more in the pipeline, making it one of the biggest players in the wellness industry.

And while wellbeing has often been a luxury for the privileged few, Hilton has brought Al-Masri on board as vice-president of wellness to change this. In an unprecedented strategy, a major part of her role is to work out a way to deliver wellness across all of its 19 brands and not just those at the top end.

This will see wellness touchpoints being delivered throughout properties, not just within spas. Not necessarily a radical move in hospitality these days, but the scale of it is and Al-Masri insists it’s underpinned by innovation. She reveals that sleep and fitness are two key areas of focus. An overhaul of spa concepts for Waldorf Astoria and Conrad is on the cards as well.

It’s also refreshing to note that this fundamental pivot for Hilton is being led by a powerhouse of women – Al-Masri at headquarters in Virginia, USA; Jessica Shea in the Americas; Louise Moore in Europe; Sharon Barcock in the Middle East and Africa; Amanda Teng in Asia and Ann Lei in China.

Spa Business catches up with the team to find out more about these ambitious plans.

Amanda Al-Masri
VICE-PRESIDENT, WELLNESS
What’s your global wellness strategy?

Hilton has always been committed to wellness. We have deep expertise in fitness and spa, but we’re looking to expand into areas that have emerged as critical to our customer promise, which is delivering an optimal stay.

We knew travellers had an interest in wellness, but our 2023 trends report (see p73) showed it’s much bigger than that – more than half of the 8,000 people surveyed said they’re looking to engage with wellness experiences. The audience has become increasingly diverse and their expectations of wellness are expanding too. The findings were compelling and we had to react.

On top of that, all of our main competitors are going after wellness. So Hilton brought me on to define what wellness means to the brand and how it aligns with its core values. We don’t want to follow suit, we want to engage with wellness in a way that feels uniquely ours.

It’s a huge mandate and even though wellness has been a big component of hospitality programming for decades, what we’re doing is innovative.

What are you doing that’s so different

As the wellness consumer diversifies, our goal is to reach as many people as possible – not just guests in our luxury or full-service properties, but across our entire portfolio of 19 brands and a million guestrooms in 123 countries.

Spa and fitness facilities remain an incredibly important way for us to engage with guests. But if we want to democratise wellness and scale it up, we need to embed touchpoints outside of their walls and our partnership with Peloton is the epitome of this approach. Every single Hilton hotel in the US, UK and Germany and the majority in Canada will have a Peloton bike in it and every bike delivers personalised workouts to guests.

This non-prescriptive approach enables us to meet people where they’re at in their wellness journey – an ‘opt in’ if they want. This is something I’m most proud of and we’re expecting to engage in more partnerships like this.

What major wellness initiatives can we expect?

One of the biggest things we’re going after is sleep. It’s an overall driver of wellbeing and critical to how people perceive their stay has gone. And we’re looking at all of the wonderful elements that are coming up in the industry – sleep experts, equipment and partners. Getting the right room temperature, bed linen, noise levels and light exposure. Assessing what we can provide as an option for guests.

It’s nice to be one of the few female leaders in this space... women bring a different perspective to the table

Fitness is a huge category for us too. Our trends report showed that 47 per cent of travellers list physical wellness and accessibility to fitness amenities as a priority. And these are savvy people, highly opinionated and well-educated about the market.

At its most basic, this is about having really lovely, well-resourced gyms. But it’s also about having access to outdoor spaces and knowing where to direct guests if we can’t offer something in-house. That could be providing a running route in the city, pointing out hiking trails or tapping into the local fitness culture.

We’re creating the next generation of in-room movement. Ryan Crabbe launched a wonderful concept called Five Feet to Fitness (see www.SpaBusiness.com/fivefeettofitness) which brings more than 11 different pieces of equipment and accessory options into the hotel guestroom. We’ll expand on this and introduce different categories of movement such as yoga, stretching and meditation.

What else is bubbling under?

We’re looking at wellness at a category/brand level as well. There will be a complete refresh of the Conrad and Waldorf spa concepts and with that will come a variety of different programmes.

And most certainly there are regional and property-led executions of wellness that deliver a pure cultural experience.

The challenge of focusing on far-reaching wellness is not to detract from the incredible work our spas are doing

At Conrad Koh Samui, we have wonderful workshops where you learn about local healing herbs and create compresses to use in your spa treatment, for instance. Or at Royal Palm Galapagos we’re offering a 30-day wildlife sabbatical which enables people to work and experience nature like you can’t get anywhere else for an extended period.

Where do spas fit within all of this?

The challenge of focusing on far-reaching wellness is not to detract from the incredible work our spas are doing. They are an extremely important element at Hilton and still a huge priority. The refresh of the Conrad and Waldorf spa concepts is emblematic of that.

We’re building amazing new facilities and continuing to deepen and evolve our offerings because the mandate of spa is increasing. It’s no longer just about pampering or relaxation. It’s about offering those authentic experiences, engagement, the quality of our practitioners and training.

How are you shining a spotlight on spas?

It’s about uncovering the great work that our onsite teams are already doing and ensuring it sees the light of day by liaising with our marketing people. And that comes down to gathering information. It’s not sexy. But at a corporate level, a lot of value people like myself bring to the table is focused on processes – how we organise the flow of information and share that across departments and regions.

It’s exciting to see that this is an all-female team.

It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Even my boss, Lara Hernandez, senior vice president of global brand innovation and planning, is female. Hilton takes equality very seriously and one of the many variables women bring to the table is a different perspective. Many of us are mums and children force us to find balance. We can empathise with how stretched business guests can be – juggling timetables, travelling and being pulled in different directions. I think a lot of my male colleagues are also wonderful, but I have to be honest and say that it’s nice to be one of the few female leaders in this space.

What keeps you motivated?

Most people choose hospitality as a profession because they love to serve. That’s an innate passion in me and I really believe that democratisation helps us do right by our guests. So when I think about wellness, I feel a huge responsibility to deliver the core things – eating, movement, sleeping – even if people don’t stay in a luxury property. It’s a basic right.

Democratision of wellness helps us do right by our guests and I feel a huge responsibility to deliver it
A wildlife sabbatical in the Galapagos Islands / photo: Royal palm Galapagos, Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Sleep will be a core part of Hilton’s wellness mandate / photo: shutterstock/Ground Picture
Taking in-room movement to the next level / photo: peloton
"We want to deliver wellness in a way that feels uniquely ours,” says Al-Masri / photo: Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Guests are demanding a sense of care and personalisation / photo: Hilton Playa del Carmen, Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Jessica Shea
VICE PRESIDENT OF WELLNESS, RETAIL AND LEISURE OPERATIONS (Americas)
What exciting things are you working on?

2023 has been very busy! I’m supporting the growth of our spas as they achieve record levels of business and as our teams deliver creative, meaningful experiences. Some examples of this include the launch of a spiritual spa menu at Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya and NuCalm neuroscience technology in our recovery cabins at Conrad Los Angeles. Significant spa openings include our first facility for Signia in Atlanta and at Conrad Orlando, featuring an extensive Florida-Springs-inspired water garden.

What trends are you noticing?

Social wellness has a massive impact on our spas as people continue to seek more healthful and fulfilling ways to connect during their travels. From small social gatherings to large corporate events, we’re hosting groups of all sizes in our spas and developing wellness programming both within and outside the facility to accommodate and support our guests on their wellness journey.

Where are the biggest growth markets for spas in your region?

Significant developments are happening in the Caribbean and Latin America, driven by Hilton’s focus on all-inclusive, resort and luxury segments and the increased travel demand for spa and wellness experiences in these evolving markets.

As Hilton widens its wellness remit, where does that leave spas?

They are still the cornerstone of our wellness programmes and receive enormous support and recognition. Hilton’s strategic vision on wellness only bolsters our spas’ position as industry-leading in hospitality innovation. This is proven by Hilton’s commitment to a well-tenured spa and wellness corporate leadership team, through to talented team members and managers.

Social wellness has a massive impact on our spas as people continue to seek healthful ways to connect
Shea highlights Conrad Orlando as a significant spa opening in her region / photo: Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Louise Moore
DIRECTOR OF SPA OPERATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT (Europe)
How is Hilton’s commitment to broader wellness impacting your work?

There’s never been such a significant time to make sure we’re fully leveraging our spa and wellness programmes. Hilton is truly engaged in furthering its work and innovation in wellness in small and big ways and the recent appointment of Amanda [Al-Masri] is a true testament to that.

We’re collaborating closely with her to create programmes to improve sleep, food and beverage and more, and, ultimately, provide the best stay possible.

What are you working on regionally?

We have several exciting initiatives focused on how we can best harness and retain talent, provide access and share our governance around pre-opening, onboarding and best practice. To further enhance engagement, community learning and unite the region as a whole, we also plan to hold a virtual regional spa managers meeting. From a broader perspective, we’re always envisioning and innovating around what the spa of the future may look like. These points of collaboration will allow us to put our heads together efficiently.

What consumer demands are you noticing?

There’s an expanded definition of wellness that’s evolving into areas of movement, recovery and mindfulness, nourishment and design.

With this in mind, many of our properties are elevating their offerings both inside and outside of the spa. Conrad Algarve, for example, is combining high touch and high-tech disciplines in new personalised programmes such as A Better Journey For You which includes approaches like yoga immersion, life reset, essential detox, stay in shape or weight loss.

I’ve seen a significant increase of interest in thermal bathing and the health benefits that it brings both mentally and physically and this is part of the really exciting Waldorf Hilton, London project I’m working on that’s due for completion in 2025. Thermal bathing lends itself to social activity so it’s perfect for guests seeking connection.

Across the board, we’re finding that travellers are seeking an experience that is not only enjoyable but is also sustainable and socially responsible.

I’ve seen a significant increase of interest in thermal bathing and the health benefits it brings both mentally and physically
Programmes at Conrad Algarve are particularly innovative, says Moore / photo: Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Waldorf Hilton, London is an exciting development that’s due to open in 2025 / photo: Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Hilton 2023 Trends Report

Fifty per cent of travellers seek experiences that align with their wellness goals and prioritise addressing the mind, body and spirit, according to Hilton’s latest forecasting report*. Other findings from the survey include the following:

• For almost 1 in 2 travellers (47 per cent), physical wellness and accessibility to fitness amenities like centres or activities will be top of mind

• Addressing mental health on the road will be prioritised by 35 per cent of people

• Nearly half (49 per cent) of survey respondents want to be immersed in local culture and products while travelling

• Overall, a sense of care rules. Nearly nine in 10 (86 per cent) indicate they want recognition and personalisation when they travel

• Frictionless travel is also key, with 56 per cent looking for solutions – such as digital key cards – to make travel easier

*The 2023 Traveler: Emerging Trends that are Innovating the Travel Experience, A Report from Hilton, was conducted in August 2022 and based on responses from 8,000-plus consumers in Australia, China, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the UK and the US.

About Hilton

Listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Hilton Hotels & Resorts reported an overall RevPAR of US$101.90 (€93, £81) in 2022. That’s a 42.5 per cent increase on the previous year and occupancy had grown by 10.3 percentage points to 67.5 per cent. EBITDA sat at US$2.3bn (€2.11bn, £1.83bn).

Headquartered in Virginia, its portfolio includes 19 brands with 7,165 properties globally and a further 2,821 in the pipeline.

Currently, Hilton oversees 289 spas spread across the following regions:

• The Americas (128 open and more than 11 in development)

• Europe (66 open and 14 in development)

• MEA (28 open and 26 in development)

• APAC (67 open and 11-plus in development)


Originally published in Spa Business 2023 issue 2

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