What does the future of hotels look like? Hilton's Paul Hutton shares his insights
When someone refers to places like Africa, the Middle East, the Gulf and China as home, you know he or she would probably have seen most of the world. Such is the life of Paul Hutton — whom we met recently — and part of the reason why he's so well-travelled has to do with his childhood growing up as the son of a diplomat, as well as his current job as vice-president of operations in Hilton Southeast Asia.
Joining the Hilton group was his first career choice, which eventually stuck well with him — Hutton has been with the global hospitality brand for over three decades with a dedicated passion towards hotels and hospitality. Safe to say, the man has settled down in countless places around the world and lived through more escapades than the average traveller. We'll trade places with him any day.
Now based in Singapore, we chatted with Hutton on the growing trend of solo travel, what the future of hotels could encompass and his secret to finding a healthy work-life balance.
Tell us more about what your job entails. Is there a certain pressure you have to live up to when it comes to managing a hotel like Hilton?
I work across many disparate markets and managing all the various brands in Hilton's portfolio, such as Hilton, Conrad, and DoubleTree by Hilton, amongst others. There's a reason I've been with the company for over 35 years — Hilton is a brand that I absolutely take pride in working for.
The key is prioritising your own personal well-being and seeking balance in your everyday life. For instance, while I'm a big foodie, I do try to eat as healthily as possible. And no matter how hectic my travel schedule is, I never fail to pack a pair of trainers, just so I can fit in a workout as often as possible.
How has travel evolved when you were a little boy compared to the present? What are some things people look for in a hotel?
To a huge extent, travel is now seen almost as a necessity; and not just an extravagance. People are travelling a lot more often now. Additionally, today's travellers are completely inundated with options, such that in order to stand out as a travel brand, you'd need to realise that it's all about the experience. Brands have to think about how we can provide travellers with exclusive, money-can't-buy experiences, something we strive to achieve through Hilton Honors, which is our membership program.
What are your thoughts of the present hotel landscape in Singapore and what do you see happening in the future?
Driven in part by the growth in middle-class and millennial travelers in Asia, we're seeing investment in mid-range hotels continue to rise, in line with similar trends that we're seeing globally. There's a big push for personalisation in the hotel landscape. For instance, one of the things we're especially excited about at Hilton is our Digital Key, which we offer at each of our properties. It allows travellers to select the exact room they want using interactive floor plans and Google Maps API — all while side-stepping the need to check in at the front desk altogether.
Tell us more about the trend of solo travel.
While solo travel has always been around, it's only in recent years that there has been this big upsurge. At the same time, the solo traveller of today is vastly different from the solo traveller of 40 or 50 years ago. In the past, it was mainly bucket shop tourists who would travel on their own, but that's no longer the case. At the same time, far from choosing budget-friendly, money-saving options, solo travellers are increasingly looking for more luxurious experiences, and the industry is definitely wising up to this trend.
Which destinations do you feel are severely underrated?
Sri Lanka is definitely one of the most underrated destinations out there, especially with the variety of options it offers — from sprawling tea plantations and nature parks, to some of the best beaches you can find on this side of the world. There's also Myanmar, which similarly doesn't quite get the recognition it deserves as a tourist destination. One of the key highlights for me would definitely be the countless monasteries, temples and pagodas, each beautiful in its own unique way.
Your last most memorable holiday was ...
Without a doubt, it would have to be my most recent visit to Ho Chi Minh City. There's just something incredibly fascinating about the city, in no small part due to the lingering French influence left behind from the days of colonial rule, especially in its architecture.
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Read more interviews in our The Art of Travel series.