Dave Horton, the global head of Hilton Hotels & Resorts
, is an anomaly in an industry known for executives who jump from brand to brand. He’s been with Hilton Worldwide for his entire 32-year career. Horton started his career with Hilton as a busboy at what is now the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort in Phoenix. His meteoric rise to the top of the brand is a testament to his hard work, determination and love of service.
“[Hilton] is the only hotel company I’ve known; it’s in my blood,” he told Hotel Management from the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner, which is adjacent to Hilton Worldwide’s headquarters in McLean, Va.
Leading Hilton’s flagship brand is quite a leap for a small-town kid from Iowa, who grew up in a city with a population of only 20,000. Today, Horton, who became head of the brand in 2009 and previously was SVP of brand management for DoubleTree Hotels, is tasked with growing the Hilton Hotels & Resorts flag on a global scale. The brand is bullish on growth in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, and also Europe, where it plans to open 19 hotels by 2014.
The BRIC countries also are a focus for Hilton. “That’s where the new development is strongest because the markets are changing dramatically and have the funds, land and need, which create a perfect environment for growth,” Horton said. “The world really is flat and people are traveling all over the world. We need to be where our customers are traveling—that’s our hallmark. We have development offices in all regions, so there isn’t any part of the world that is ignored. In certain areas, money is more available, land is more available and deals are easier to transact.”
Above all, Hilton remains concentrated on major gateway markets and particularly large convention hotels, Horton said, citing such properties as Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, Hilton Americas-Houston, Hilton Baltimore and Hilton Columbus at Easton—new-build properties constructed primarily through bonds. (Horton reported that group business for the company is on an incline and Hilton is “feeling good” about 2013-2014 advance group bookings.) In the U.S., “most of the new-builds are of a larger scale, in major urban markets and tied to convention centers,” he said.
With growth via conversions becoming a viable alternative to new construction, particularly in light of the noted difficulty in securing debt for such projects, Horton said banks are more apt to lend for projects that are attached to a strong brand. “When banks look at lending, an important factor is what brand the developer will align with,” Horton said. “In fact, many banks require a hotel to have a brand. The Hilton name adds value to the lending proposition in contrast to being independent. That’s the strength of the Hilton brand and key to our rapid growth.”