|By Sara K. Clarke, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 12, 2009--Hilton Hotels Corp. has come to Orlando in a big way.
The Hilton family, which includes brands such as Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton and Homewood Suites, has a big footprint in Central Florida, with about 15 hotels. But while other hotel companies have had high-profile properties such as the Orlando World Center Marriott and Hyatt's Grand Cypress, Hilton properties in Orlando haven't gotten a lot of recognition -- until now.
The hotel company opened the 1,400-room Hilton Orlando near the Orange County Convention Center in September. A month later, it opened the 1,000-room Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, which is adjacent to a new, 497-room Waldorf Astoria.
"Hilton is extremely bullish about Orlando as a market," said Paul Brown, president of global brands and commercial services for Hilton Worldwide. "It's a great mixture between a leisure and a business destination."
That's important when you run big hotels, something Hilton considers one of its strong suits. Having a broad base of travelers to draw from -- including business travelers during the week and leisure guests on the weekend -- is key for places such as the Bonnet Creek Resort.
"There are very, very few markets in the United States that have such a destination for leisure travel and have a very, very strong convention market," Brown said. "Orlando is at the top of the list."
On the most basic level, the giant new resorts mean jobs: more than 1,400 among the properties.
From an economic standpoint, Hilton's push into the market couldn't come at a better time, said Ray Gilley, president of the Orlando Economic Development Commission.
"To have these type of brands investing in Metro Orlando shows a lot of confidence," Gilley said. "These are the kind of amenities that many communities can not claim."
Adding high-profile Hilton properties has another net effect. Every hotel brand has its own sales staff, and with three new hotels in town, Hilton's sales staff will likely focus more on selling Orlando. And that is a boon to the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which promotes Orlando as a tourism and business destination.
"They have a worldwide sales network," said Gary Sain, head of the visitors bureau. "Really, what we have done, is quadrupled our sales force, in many ways, because you have more attention now on Orlando."
Having top-of-the-line hotels can help seal the deal for airlines that are considering Orlando, said Victoria Jaramillo, director of marketing for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. Seats in the front of the aircraft provide the most profit margin, and airlines that are considering flying to Orlando want to make sure their first-class customers have a reason to come here.
In addition to its high-end properties, Hilton recently added a full-service property to its Orlando portfolio. A 1,094-room hotel near SeaWorld converted to the Doubletree brand in September.
Despite all the new rooms, Hilton doesn't think its push in Orlando will cannibalize its existing business here, said Olivier Chavy, Hilton Hotel's area vice president for Florida. Instead, the company said it now offers the whole spectrum of its brands to loyal customers.
"We think we have a unique chance to tackle all segments and have any kind of products available for any type of clientele," Chavy said. "You've got them all."
The opening of the three hotels within a month of one another is mostly coincidental. But Hilton is certainly benefiting from the combined buzz of adding several big properties to the market at once.
"We're stirring up obviously a lot of attention about the openings because they're happening together," Brown said. "That actually helps us from a marketing standpoint."
Sara K. Clarke can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5664.
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