SPOTLIGHT on John T.A. Vanderslice, Global Head, Luxury and Lifestyle Brands, Hilton Worldwide

John Vanderslice_HeadshotVanderslice joined Hilton Worldwide in September 2009 and leads the Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, and Canopy by Hilton brands in their development strategies, operations and product innovation, training and culture, as well as global marketing initiatives.

He will be keynote speaker at the ILHA’s Pinnacle Summit in Washington D.C., where he will give an overview of the luxury hospitality space and talk about how Hilton are listening to today’s experience-based travelers and addressing their needs.

Can you give us some detail on what you will be talking about at the ILHA summit?

I will be discussing Hilton’s commitment to addressing and fulfilling the needs of today’s luxury traveler. To do so, we believe it’s important to listen and be aware of what they are asking for and enhancing our guest experiences to meet those needs. In fact, our listening and monitoring of what luxury travelers want in today’s competitive market has revealed an important trend in luxury hospitality – guests have shifted their focus from products to experiences. To stay ahead of this trend and deliver the type of experiences that luxury guests expect, our luxury brands, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts, each offer their own brand-wide, guest-centric initiatives that deliver one-of-a-kind, memorable experiences for guests, and that bring each brand to life.

The focus of the presentation will be to:

  • Provide a brief overview of the luxury hospitality landscape
  • Describe and illuminate the brand-wide, experience-based initiatives provided by Waldorf Astoria and Conrad and discuss how they are brand differentiators
  • Showcase how we continue to evolve and innovate these programs to deliver the best possible experiences for our guests that build emotional connections, foster loyalty and positively impact ROI
  • Discuss why it’s vital for luxury hotel brands to create experience-based programs that resonate with various demographic sectors – from Millennials to baby boomers

Hilton is known for its continual innovation. What have been some recent innovations that bring Waldorf Astoria and Conrad closer to creating emotional connections with their guests and improving their overall experience?

At Waldorf Astoria, one of our key brand-wide initiatives is Unforgettable Experiences, a program that curates the most engaging activities in each of our destinations, offered exclusively for our guests. Unforgettable Experiences are currently available at 26 iconic destinations worldwide.

For instance, Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Key West, Florida, offers a chartered Hinckley luxury yacht to a private island for a special dinner and sunset experience. They also have an after-hours guided tour of the Hemingway Home and Museum, led by the museum’s curator. Additionally, guests can opt to charter a sea plane from the Casa Marina pier for a half-day adventure to the Dry Tortugas – Fort Jefferson, which features a private tour, world-class snorkeling and a picnic. Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, UAE offers an experience where guests can take a hot air balloon ride in the desert overlooking the Emirates from afar. These experiences can only be done through these particular Waldorf properties.

At select properties, we offer Waldorf Astoria Driving Experiences through a new partnership with Italian super sports car maker, Automobili Lamborghini. Automotive aficionados are now given once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to get behind the wheel of the rarest supercars on the planet. Guests have the unique experience to test drive Lamborghini’s latest models, including the new Lamborghini Huracán LP 580-2 and Huracán LP 610-4 Spyder, at seven distinct Waldorf Astoria properties worldwide.

Guests are also invited to book Waldorf Astoria Golf Experiences, a collection of exclusive packages that pair the most elite golf experiences with luxury accommodations at select Waldorf Astoria hotels. The annual program will visit new destinations each year, with the inaugural year in 2016 featuring four properties: Waldorf Astoria Chicago, Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh, Waldorf Astoria New York and Waldorf Astoria Orlando.

At Conrad, our goal is to make our guests’ journeys more inspired through our intuitive service, stylish interior design and sophisticated surroundings and by providing them with access to a world of connections. Through our Stay Inspired initiative, we are creating memorable moments at each of our 26 properties across the globe. We now provide customized and curated activities, accessible at StayInspired.com, in the form of 1/3/5 hour itineraries that offer guests inspiring and immersive experiences.

For example, if you have one hour at Conrad New York, you might sample gourmet oysters and sparkling rosé on the Grand Banks schooner; 3 hours, browse the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a weekend evening to avoid the crowds and enjoy the museum’s Balcony Bar; 5 hours, visit Hudson River Park for a flying trapeze class, bicycling and outdoor art installations.

These experiences step away from the traditional tourist activities typically offered to guests and create a more localized and inspired stay.

How has the currency of luxury changed? What kind of experiences are your guests looking for and how has Waldorf Astoria and Conrad adapted to these new patterns of behavior?

Conrad New York InteriorIn an increasingly hectic world where the lines between business and leisure travel are always blurred, today’s true luxury is time – white space on the calendar.

In response to this reality, Waldorf Astoria and Conrad have developed programs that tap into guests’ passions, focus on experiences over products, and leave travelers with meaningful memories and cocktail currency.

For instance, the Rome Cavalieri, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, offers a prearranged 90-minute walking tour of the Vatican Gardens or a visit to a classic vineyard in Tuscany or Umbria for lunch and a wine-tasting experience. At Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus, a Conrad 1/3/5 hour itinerary could include breakfast at a former Ottoman residence nestled in a lovely park, an experience in a 16th-century Ottoman bathhouse designed by renowned Ottoman architect Mimar Sinana, or a day in Asia on a guided tour exploring the contrasting suburbs of Üsküdar and Kadıköy.

Has this changed the way you market to your guest? What are Waldorf Astoria’s and Conrad’s approaches?

Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts has always represented worldly sophistication and unparalleled service. We deliver that to our guests in three ways: True Waldorf Service, residing in Inspirational Environments and delivering Authentic Moments.

For Conrad, it’s always been about offering guests a World of Style, Intuitive Service and Infinite Connections in gateway cities and exclusive leisure destinations around the world.

While technology has allowed us to enhance these tenets, our approach remains rooted in the things we’ve built our foundations on from day one. That authenticity has allowed us to become the destinations of choice for today’s modern, sophisticated travelers.

In your opinion, how has technology played a role in Waldorf Astoria and Conrad improving guest service?

Technology has allowed Waldorf Astoria and Conrad to improve guest service by optimizing what today’s luxury travelers covet most – time and memorable experiences. At Waldorf Astoria, before our guests arrive, a connection is made via email introducing them to True Waldorf Service and their Personal Concierge. It is at this point we work with our guests to customize their stay with us. Whether that’s setting up airport transfers, dinner reservations or booking any of our Unforgettable Experiences packages, we plant the seeds for a memorable experience.

At Conrad, it’s all about ‘smart luxury.’ With our Conrad Concierge mobile app, we reinforce our commitment to technology and enhance guest service by allowing guests to customize their stay with us all from the convenience of their mobile device. Whether that’s accessing StayInspired.com where they can find our Conrad 1/3/5 hour itineraries or simply seeking a recommendation for an off-the-beaten path Ramen restaurant, these intuitive tools speak to what today’s luxury travelers are seeking and that resonates with our guests.

What’s next for Waldorf Astoria and Conrad?

Conrad New YorkThe future for both Waldorf Astoria and Conrad is clear. Our mission is to be the fastest growing and most innovative luxury hotel brands in the industry.

Waldorf Astoria’s current portfolio consists of 26 gateway cities including Amsterdam, Beijing, Chicago, Dubai, Jerusalem, Ras al-Khaimah and Shanghai. The brand’s 2016 to 2017 pipeline includes openings in key destinations such as Bali, Bangkok, Beverly Hills and Chengdu.

Conrad currently has 26 properties on five continents. We are focusing our development efforts in both strong and emerging markets with openings in the next few years slated for Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, San Luis Potosi, Xiamen and Guangzhou.