In Search of Instagrammable Moments: Hilton Hotel's Daniel Welk connects the dots
The profile of the new-age luxury traveller has evolved in the era of social media. Daniel Welk, VP-Operations, Luxury and Lifestyle, Asia Pacific, Hilton Hotels, talks about how the tech-savvy luxury traveller is changing the hospitality industry
How would you define the new-age luxury traveller?
Well, I can speak from the experience we have had at Hilton’s luxury hotels. We have three luxury brands: Waldorf Astoria, an 84-year old brand with 31 hotels around the world, Conrad which has 33 hotels (19 in Asia Pacific), and now the recently launched Canopy by Hilton. We will be bringing it to Asia in December this year, with Canopy by Hilton Chengdu. What is common among the luxury travellers we attract is the search for experiences that money cannot buy. The new-age luxury traveller is looking to achieve social currency. Today, everyone is taking photographs to post, to tell their travel story. Hotels have to offer such instagrammable moments, create memories that travellers can take back home with them, visually and otherwise.
Instagram, very recently, hit 1 billion monthly users and it is clear that, when it comes to millennials, social media will continue to play a critical role in defining their travel experience. Knowing this, we need to continue to give our travelers those “Instagrammable moments”.
If I talk in relation to my experience with Waldorf Astoria — an iconic classic luxury brand — then luxury travellers are seeking unparalleled experiences, inspiring and personalised stays, and a timely but timeless environment that allows guests to make the most of their time.
Do you think exploration of new cultures and destinations by luxury travellers leads to a better understanding of the world?
I think Asian cultures are quite easily distinguishable. China is a completely different market to India or to Indonesia. I would say [travellers] are genuinely interested in exploring different cultures. The luxury traveller has changed in the last two decades. Earlier, Indians travelled internationally to meet their families in the US, UK, Canada. Today, younger people are travelling to experience different cultures. These are travellers who now want to live like locals, to feel inspired by the places they visit and experience a transformative journey that is wholly their own.
How is the Indian millennial luxury traveller different from say, the one from China or Indonesia?
Indian millennial travellers are very tech and social media savvy. They have immense accessibility to the internet and put in a huge amount of research before they travel. They are well attuned to the destination they are travelling to and what they hope to achieve. Millennial travellers know what they want from a hotel they stay in. An Indian luxury traveller is constantly in touch with the hotel much before he or she arrives, challenging the staff to provide information about what they can achieve in their three-or-four-day stay. Their research could come from various sources: it could be through their network, from the internet, or the influencers they follow on instagram.
What are the challenges luxury hotels face when dealing with millennial travellers, who have very specific needs?
You have to constantly innovate and be ahead of the curve. I can speak from the Hilton Worldwide perspective. We have been pioneers in luxury travel and we hope to stay so over the next 100 years. Leadership in the luxury sphere comes with a lot of investment in infrastructure and technology. We have innovations such as the Hilton Honors App that puts smart luxury at a guest’s fingertips. It completely integrates with hotel management systems, providing guests with services such as restaurant reservations, the ability to check into and select their preferred room, as well as pre-arrival and room service features to enable personalisation during their stay. Over a 1,000 Hilton properties now offer Digital Key, an option for guests to use their smartphone or iPad to open any door that would regularly be opened with a key card. Our Hilton Honors programme has 6.6 million members wordwide. Through the Hilton Honors app, guests can check-in before arrival and skip the front desk altogether. The moment a guest books a suite in one of our hotels, he or she can select their room, pretty much in the same way they select an airline seat.
We are also in the final stages of what we call testing out a connected room in the US through a pilot project. In a connected room, a guest will be able to set things the way they want to — from Netflix, to setting up the air-conditioning at just the right temperature, selecting your pillow, even choosing the digital artwork that they may want in their room.
You made a very interesting point earlier about how Indians expect a certain level of service, while internationally guests have different expectations… Has the millennial Indian traveller’s attitude to service changed?
It is not about how service is viewed in India or the West; it is about what Conrad or Hilton’s luxury hotels represent. We had the first airport hotel, the first hotel to have a TV in the room… Conrad, to me, is a brand that offers the best of luxury experiences, innovations and hospitality. Conrad Chicago is different from Conrad Pune, which is very different from Conrad Tokyo.
We want to bring in the vision and entrepreneurial spirit that Conrad is known for, but adapt it to the local cultures and mores. The Indian market has evolved over time. There are a lot more luxury hospitality products entering the market. Our idea is to provide the level of service that Indian guests expect, but ensure that it is seamless, without the over approaching or the hovering around the table.
Does India offer experiences that attract global luxury travelers?
The desire for interesting experiences is bringing luxury travellers to India. Global travellers are very familiar with destinations such as Rajasthan, Agra and Delhi. But since 2008, the Indian hospitality market has evolved. To me it seems it is growing amazingly well. While we attract a lot of global corporate travellers to Conrad Bengaluru and Conrad Pune, typically many stay for two days on business. But they may extend their stay to experience the cities. And they would go back home and recommend the destination and the hotels to their friends and family.
What are Conrad’s plans for India?
The rise of the middle class, increasing disposable incomes, and double-digit growth in domestic tourism are positive trends emerging from India. I would like to have a Conrad in Mumbai and Delhi. India is also ready to have a luxury brand like Waldorf Astoria and I see the potential for the brand in these two cities, where people understand luxury and opulence. We are in conversation with investors, but a Waldorf Astoria property cannot just be an investment strategy.It is an iconic brand and owners have to be committed to luxury.