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Interview with Mark Nogal, EMEA Regional Director of Focused Service Brands, Hilton Worldwide

Initiator of the Hilton Garden Inn brand in the United States and former Head of Sales & Marketing at the Hilton Worldwide group, Mark Nogal is now in charge of deploying the Focused Service brands in the EMEA zone.

You are in charge of deploying Hampton by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn brand operations in the EMEA zone, how was this concept conceived of, and the Hilton Garden Inn brand in particular ?

I myself participated in the creation of the Hilton Garden Inn brand in the '80s to complete the Hilton line, which only consisted of «Full Service» establishments and to meet the needs of business travelers enamored with «value for money», even as America came out of the first oil shock. We had to wait a few additional years to launch the first constructions of this concept which developed a new notion of «focused service».

Was this also your response to similar concepts developed by the competition under the Limited or Selected Service names?

The two concepts that you mention give a sense of limitation. We reflected on essential services for the client and the services that they will actually use. We focused on these services: of course free internet and wireless throughout, automatic boutique near the reception and a business center connected to the room to print documents, a well-equipped and permanently open fitness center, a self-service laundromat ... Our main concern is to be effective without the frills that are reflected in the price ... This is why we do not offer VOD on TV but rather a wide range of international channels. However, we draw attention to critical details such as office space in the room and the quality of the chair, a sophisticated Herman Miller model. The public spaces are designed to facilitate coexistence between customers if they wish. A customer can be alone but not necessarily lonely.

What was the public response to your proposal?

In the United States, where the Hilton Garden Inn concept was born, we have won more JD Power awards than any of the competition, but if some similar concepts were born before us and inspired us. We have overtaken them on their own ground. The deployment of the concept in Europe follows the same path.

What is the status of your deployment in the Europe, Africa and Middle East area?

In the EMEA zone, the presence is essentially European, with the first concrete results in the Middle East. There are, to date, 28 Hilton Garden Inn in operation. The first opened in Stuttgart, the second in Florence, and the most recent openings include that of Krasdonar in Russia, Milan Malpensa and Seville in March, the first in Spain to date, but not the last. We have a pipeline of about fifty projects, the most eastern is located in the heart of Siberia in Krasnoyarsk, a hotel with 259 rooms. For the Hampton Inn brand, another cheaper Focused service concept, we have 18 hotels in operation, all in Europe, and 60 projects in the pipeline, including a first in Saudi Arabia. What you say is the speed with which the concept fits outside the United States. Everywhere we want to establish a national network for the cost of operations and marketing is broadcast on many units. We opened the fifth hotel in Turkey and six others will follow quickly. Among the future projects we do not expect a lot of "dual brands," combinations associating Hilton Hotels to Hampton Inn or a Garden Inn. In Val d'Europe, the Disneyland Resort area, the "combo" will associate Hampton by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn.

What are the arguments that convince the owners? In which form will you develop?

The recession that the Western world knows has an impact on business travel spending, the Focused Services concept is better suited to the current conditions in some markets, without denying the role of other 'full service' group brands. In addition, the operating cost is much less than a full service hotel, due to the limited number of employees. Finally, it is a concept that offers more development opportunities in cities that do not warrant a Hilton or DoubleTree. We will go more easily in "secondary cities" with a return on investment more attractive to homeowners. Not to mention the connection of these brands in the HHonors program with over 30 million members. Our desire is to maintain / 50 balance between the 50 hotels under management contracts and franchises, even if the client can never tell the difference between the two types of management.

To reduce the investment required are you reduced to settlements on the outskirts of cities?

Not really, our intention is to offer hotels in the hearts of cities and also near airports. The concept is well suited to conversions of buildings, as we did in Seville with an office tower, or a rebranding as was the case with the Claridge Rome close to the Spanish Steps, or with some Mint hotels in Britain. While retaining the DNA of the brand, we can be flexible enough to adapt to all kinds of situations.
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