Trade Talk: Nils-Arne Schroeder of Hilton

Hilton’s Vice President for Luxury and Lifestyle in Asia Pacific speaks about new initiatives, sustainability goals, and hotels in the pipeline.

Photo courtesy of Hilton

 

In your opinion, what has been the biggest shift in luxury travel between 2019 and now?

I think that personalization is more important than ever. It was before, but guests have different needs nowadays when they travel. I think more people are craving culinary experiences within the hotel. It’s the first time I have seen so many guests actually not going out, because they trust the chef. What’s important as well is the trust factor of the brand, as well as each of the team members. I can see this around the world in all our brands, from Waldorf-Astoria and Conrad to LXR: it’s really the personalization, the details. Customers are staying longer than ever before — they make choices based on experiences. They don’t only choose to stay in the hotel because of the bed and the shower, they want to experience it, they want to meet the team members, they want to know what’s happening in the local community. They want to know about all the small details; they want to go to the small temple nobody else is going to, they want to talk to the chef and eat something nobody else is eating.

 

Wellness has really come to the fore since the pandemic hit. How is Hilton catering to this renewed interest in self-care within Asia Pacific?

We are in the process of launching new offerings. For example, the Waldorf-Astoria Maldives, which we opened three years ago, added an aqua-wellness center in the middle of the pandemic last year. It’s not your usual spa village: you have hot saunas and cold ice rooms, and different spaces in an outdoor wet area where a team member is guiding you, going from one zone to another. Each of the zones has an impact on different parts of your body — the back, legs, feet, and hands. What I want to say is that there are different trends we are absorbing, and we are catering for that across all our luxury brands.

Wellness rituals are sometimes maybe relevant to only one destination, as the same ritual doesn’t work in other places. Whatever works in Thailand doesn’t necessarily work in Japan. The Roku Kyoto, LXR has a beautiful spa that’s about healing and time. It’s not about a 40-minute massage and that’s it. You need three hours to go through the whole ritual. You spend time with someone really looks after you and helps you calm down. If you want to learn about Japanese wellness rituals, what better place is there to do that?

The thermal pool at Roku Kyoto, LXR Hotels & Resorts. (Photo courtesy of Hilton)

Increasing numbers of travelers want to make a positive impact on the places they visit. Is there a website or resource where guests can look up the initiatives they can join at Conrad’s APAC properties?

There isn’t yet, no website you can browse through and say, “Oh, based on my feelings, I’m going to that destination now.” I think it’s about each of our destinations. For example, at Conrad Koh Samui we have the Iris Farm, which began as an initiative by the general manager at the beginning of the pandemic. We had an empty field, and he had the amazing idea of creating an organic farm on the hotel grounds. Now, two years later, he literally gets a substantial amount of his daily supply from his own farm. There are even chickens — all the eggs in the hotel come from the chickens on that farm. The team members and our management tell our guests these stories. It’s all there on social media, and travelers make a decision based on that. The GM has created experiences where guests actually go into the kitchen and really spend time with the chef, learning beyond just a little cooking class.

There was a very beautiful story that happened a few months ago. A guest was actually helping to make sausages in the afternoon, together with the chef, and he loved it. The next morning he was very proud, because every sausage he made was on the breakfast buffet. Everyone ate it. Would you say it was a unique experience he will not forget? Yes, absolutely.

 

Many companies in the travel sector are actively reducing carbon emissions, cutting down on food waste, and so on. What mid- to long-term goals does Hilton have on the sustainability front, particularly in APAC?

Globally speaking, we are paving the way to net zero as part of Hilton’s Travel with Purpose 2030 Goals. We place sustainability at the forefront of our operations and are in the process of substantially reducing our environmental footprint — we want to cut both water use and waste in half by 2030. And we’re very, very committed and confident in achieving net zero across our properties in Asia Pacific. Sustainability is always front of mind for us; it’s important and crucial for the success of all our hotels in the years and decades to come.

Melati and Isabel Wijsen, the Bali-born founders of Bye Bye Plastic Bags. (Photo: Bye Bye Plastic Bags)

Has Conrad forged partnerships with regional environmental NGOs to make an impact across several different countries?

I want to talk about personalization here as well, because I think whatever works in Bali might not work in Tokyo or Bora Bora. So each of our general managers has already found organizations that are relevant to the local market and support the local community. In Bora Bora and the Maldives, we’re building back the reefs, or looking after the fish, the entire environment around us. Soap for Hope [a soap recycling initiative] is something that may work across the region, but then we’re helping different organizations so we don’t need to ship the soap halfway around the world in an airplane and create more carbon emissions. The soap should be used as close to the hotel as possible. I personally believe we should always prioritize organizations in the neighborhood. Team members are much prouder to tell the story if they have a direct connection, maybe they know someone there and they’re part of the community. That’s why we work with Bye Bye Plastic Bags in Bali — we’ve known the two sisters [who started it] for six years. They were teenagers back then and they have grown so much since we met for the first time. Those stories are much more powerful than maybe working with a global partner.

 

Are there any major hotel upgrades or renovations our readers should know about?

Each of our hotels in Asia Pacific have worked on upgrading opportunities, small or big. The complete renovation of Conrad Maldives Rangali Island was a big one and planned for a very long time. We went through a major refurbishment of the entire island, all 150 villas, over the past two years. Conrad Centennial Singapore we just concluded literally at the beginning of the pandemic. A lot of hotels have maybe added a restaurant and maybe upgraded some of the guest rooms, so we’re always enhancing the facilities, enhancing the services, enhancing our offerings. What I want to say is it didn’t stop during the pandemic — we used some of that time to make those changes so we were ready for when travelers return. And we’re happy that our customers are back.

An artist’s impression of the Waldorf Astoria Kuala Lumpur. (Image courtesy of Hilton)

We’re also keen to hear about Hilton’s expansion plans in APAC. What are some of the notable hotel openings lined up for the near future?

We are bringing the Conrad brand to our third city in Japan, to Nagoya. It’s coming in 2026. In Southeast Asia the Conrad Kuala Lumpur is opening mid next year. Of course there’s also the LXR here in Bali, which we’re very proud of having. In Japan it’s the Waldorf Astoria Tokyo and Osaka, and in Australia we’re happy that the Waldorf Astoria in Sydney is under construction — it’s not just a vision. All of them are under construction and in different stages of development. And of course Waldorf Astoria Jakarta. I recently met the ownership; they’re absolutely committed to make it an amazing hotel in the sky. I would love to give you opening dates when they are really firm because then, consumers can make plans to go to a specific destination because of the hotel they would love to stay in.

 

Where do you want Conrad to be in five or 10 years’ time?

We want to be in every destination where luxury consumers are traveling to, in every urban environment and every resort location. I’ve lived in Asia for the past 23 years, and I still can give you 15 names of cities or beaches where I want Conrad to be, so that’s my mission, and that’s my vision of bringing the brand to life. Because it’s a brand that is relevant to the consumer, and our guests love the brand. I really want to bring it to destinations where they want us, where travelers want to experience what Conrad delivers in Bali, in the Maldives, and in Tokyo and Osaka. So, that’s my dream and my wish.

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