Hilton to open first branded hotel in Hong Kong in 22 years, with new site in Mong Kok

Hilton Garden Inn to launch later this month. The old Hong Kong Hilton in Central was flattened in the early ’90s to make way for Cheung Kong Center

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 December, 2016, 7:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 December, 2016, 10:53pm

The name “Hilton” hotel is returning to Hong Kong for the first time in 22 years as the group prepares to open a mid-priced Hilton Garden Inn later this month in Mong Kok, one of the world’s busiest neighbourhoods.

The new hotel will be Hilton Worldwide Holdings’ second property in Hong Kong, joining the five-star Conrad Hotel in Admiralty, which first opened its doors in 1990.

“Hong Kong as a market is, as we all know, not so easy to break into with new brands,” said Martin Rinck, president of Asia-Pacific for Hilton. “We are excited to have this happening, our second property here, and I’m definitely on the lookout for more opportunities [in Hong Kong].”

Hilton opened a 26-storey, 750-room landmark hotel in Central in 1961, with an Eagle’s Nest restaurant in the penthouse known to be a celebrity favourite. However, the hotel site was bought out by Hutchison Whampoa and converted into a commercial centre in 1994. Today, it is home to the Cheung Kong Center, a skyscraper sandwiched between HSBC Holdings’ headquarters and the Bank of China Tower.

Mong Kok was chosen as the site for the new hotel because the location fit well with what the mid-priced hotel brand offered, Rinck said.

“When we look at opportunities, the stars need to align in terms of having the right owner and having the right location for the right brand,” he said. “We feel that Mong Kok as a destination, which is partly business, partly leisure, has a great mix of what [Hilton Garden Inn] stands for as a mid-market brand.”

Mong Kok, which translates into “busy corner” in Cantonese, was a more local and affordable area that was “definitely on the radar screen for a lot of the tourists” as an alternative to high-end areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui or Causeway Bay, said Mariana Kou, head of China education and Hong Kong consumers at CLSA, a brokerage and investment company.

“You can really see the local culture, in terms of food, in terms of shopping, [in Mong Kok],” Kou said. “From that angle, that makes a lot of sense for Hilton to bring more of a mid-priced brand into a mid-priced district.”

The Hilton brand is a global brand, so I think it will be well received
Mariana Kou, head of China education and Hong Kong consumers, CLSA

While Hong Kong’s hotel rates have been under pressure “pretty significantly” over the past year, particularly as the number of mainland tourists falls, Kou said the industry was seeing some signs of stabilising.

“The Hilton brand is a global brand, so I think it will be well received,” she said.

Hilton operates 88 hotels across China and hopes to open its 100th by the end of the year or in the first quarter of next year. The company has 232 hotels in the pipeline in the country and aims to focus on its mid-market brands.

Chinese conglomerate HNA Group recently bought a 25 per cent stake in Hilton from private equity firm Blackstone Group, a move Rinck described as “fantastic news”.

Although it is too early to tell if the deal will accelerate Hilton’s growth in China, Rinck said he would not be surprised about ­future cooperation opportunities with HNA, which has businesses in the airline, hotel and tourism sectors.

“It’s fair to assume that by working closer with HNA as [it is] now an interested party in the Hilton shareholding, it will help us grow even further,” he said.

Going forward, it was a “No 1 priority” for Hilton to continue expanding in Hong Kong, he said.

“It’s just what we need. A Hilton in Hong Kong is what we absolutely would love to have,” Rinck said.