Hilton Melbourne's team of Adrian Teh, Marjorie Vieira and Sam Moore in Luci restaurant with VP Operations Australasia, Heidi Kunkel.

“I have witnessed such determination, resilience and kindness in our team members this past year as they’ve continued to make positive impacts in the lives of guests and local communities,” says Heidi Kunkel, Hilton’s Vice President of Operations for Australasia.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Hilton acted with start-up style speed to respond. First, it was with enhanced travel flexibility policies for guests, followed soon after with increased benefits for Hilton Honors loyalty program members. By June 2020, Hilton had launched a program introducing an industry-defining standard of cleanliness and disinfection, called Hilton CleanStay. Soon after, it expanded that program with ‘Hilton EventReady with CleanStay’, to help event planners safely organise events.

Hilton’s owners displayed courage and confidence in continuing to invest in a number of major renovations undertaken in 2020. DoubleTree by Hilton Alice Springs revamped all 235 guest rooms, while both Hilton Darwin and Hilton Surfers Paradise also undertook major refurbs to their lobbies, lounges and restaurants.

Hilton Sydney spent AUD$25 million on a refurbishment of its 587 guest rooms.

Then early in 2021, Hilton Sydney and Parmelia Hilton Perth – both iconic hotels in their respective cities – unveiled multi-million dollar renovations. Hilton Sydney underwent an AUD$25 million upgrade to all 587 guest rooms and suites, adding brand new soft furnishings including carpets and curtains, European tapware, recliners, striking artworks, bedside lights and 55” Smart TV’s – and added two new room types: Family rooms and Corner rooms.

Parmelia Hilton Perth, meanwhile, undertook an AUD$45 million makeover of the hotel from top to bottom, adding 32 new rooms, touchless technology, a new executive lounge, a transformed restaurant and lobby and a new thoroughfare connecting the hotel directly to Brookfield Place in the heart of Perth’s CBD.

“Our owners are our valued business partners and it’s been impressive to see their investments in these hotels come to fruition, and raise the bar in their respective locations,” says Heidi.

Parmelia Hilton Perth went touchless in a major AUD$45 million renovation.

“But this past year has been tough. We quickly activated enhanced hygiene and cleanliness protocols, adjusting marketing spend and relaxing certain brand standards and capital expenditure requirements. We have been a vocal advocate in industry lobbying efforts focused on supporting their liquidity,” she added.

Importantly, there is a keen sense of hope and optimism as Hilton welcomes back its flagship brand to Melbourne. Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street, following pandemic-related delays, finally opened its doors in March. The hotel is a spectacular transformation of the heritage-listed Equity Chambers building, off Bourke Street, which makes it accessible by foot or tram to virtually every part of the city.

Designed by Bates Smart, the renowned building and its original Romanesque and Gothic detailing has been painstakingly restored and then connected to a modern six-level extension and new 16-level tower – home to most of the 244 guest rooms and suites.

The laneway entrance to Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street.

Contrasting the heritage building are a number of large-scale works by award-winning Melbourne street art collaborative, Juddy Roller, a reference to the city’s thriving and internationally renowned graffiti-art scene.

Heidi says: “We’re absolutely delighted to see the hotel team welcoming guests as they arrive to check in, enjoy a drink in the atmospheric Douglas Club, or order dinner in stunning Luci restaurant.”

Looking forward to how Hilton will achieve its ambitious plan to double its footprint in the region in the next five years, we ask Tushar Raniga, Hilton’s Director of Development for Australasia. He says Hilton has plans to add depth and breadth by introducing new luxury, lifestyle and focused service brands in Australia and New Zealand, and by entering new markets, especially in capital cities where gaps have been identified.

Hilton Garden Inn Albany will open to guests later in 2021.

“We’re always looking to add the right brand, in the right location, at the right time,” says Tushar. “Whilst Hilton and DoubleTree by Hilton remain the heart of our growth plans for Australasia, I’d love to see us add a luxury property in a key gateway city and to expand our pipeline of focused service Hilton Garden Inn hotels.”

Later this year, Hilton will add the first Hilton Garden Inn to the Australasian portfolio when it opens the newly built Hilton Garden Inn Albany in Western Australia. The company says it is also looking at franchise opportunities and strategic development partnerships as well.

“Hilton is resilient and, while we can’t predict long-term outcomes from the COVID-19 pandemic, I remain confident that our industry will recover and prosper as people will always want to travel,” Heidi concluded.