The history of Hilton Hotels attests to the virtue of innovation, vision, and perseverance within the hospitality industry.

Founded by Conrad N. Hilton with the acquisition of a modest establishment in Cisco, Texas, in 1919, this iconic brand has transformed into a global powerhouse, shaping popular culture and epitomizing business excellence in the hospitality industry.

Key Takeaways:

  • Hilton Hotels Corporation formed in 1946, expanding coast-to-coast.
  • Acquired The Statler Hotel Company for $111 million in 1954.
  • Launched Hilton Honors loyalty program in 1987.
  • Acquired by Blackstone Group in 2007 for approximately $26 billion, went public again in 2018.
  • Current CEO is Christopher J. Nassetta, leading since 2007.
  • Hilton Worldwide owns various hotel brands across different market segments.
  • Known for iconic hotels like Waldorf Astoria New York and The Beverly Hilton.
  • Hilton has continually innovated in the hospitality industry, adapting to changes and expanding globally.

Here at Business2Community, we offer an in-depth exploration of Hilton’s trajectory.

From Conrad N. Hilton’s initial venture to the strategic expansions led by Barron Hilton, including the pioneering move to open franchises and implement franchise fees, to the establishment of a vast network under Hilton Worldwide, our narrative encapsulates how Hilton has been a great channel of innovation over the decades.

A History of Hilton Hotels – Key Dates

  • Conrad Hilton purchased his first hotel, the Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas, in 1919
  • Hilton Hotels Corporation was formed in 1946, with the business expanding beyond Texas and going coast-to-coast
  • Hilton acquired The Statler Hotel Company for $111 million in 1954, which at the time was the largest real estate deal in history.
  • Hilton Honors was launched in 1987, a loyalty program allowing members to earn points for stays at Hilton Hotels.
  • In 2007, Hilton Hotels Corporation was acquired by The Blackstone Group, in a landmark deal valued at approximately $26 billion, before going public again in 2018.

Who Owns Hilton Hotels?

Hilton Hotels is owned by Hilton Worldwide, which is a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol HLT. Major institutional shareholders include Vanguard Group with 10.02%, Blackrock with 7.21%, and FMR with 4.06%. From 2007 to 2018, Hilton Hotels was owned by the private equity firm Blackstone Group- led by Stephen Schwarzman – before returning to public ownership.

Many hotels branded as Hilton are privately owned and franchised.

Hilton’s expansion was characterized by reinvestment of profits, strategic acquisitions, and property development. Conrad Hilton’s early-stage investments and ventures were marked by his pursuit of expansion and innovation. Hilton’s vision extended beyond individual hotels, aiming to create a global brand synonymous with hospitality excellence.

Today, Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. has approximately 1.18 million hotel rooms globally, making it one of the largest and most recognizable hotel brands in the world. In addition to being publicly traded on the NYSE, Hilton Hotels also has various joint ventures and partnerships with other hospitality companies.

hilton hotel number of rooms

Who is the Hilton CEO?

The current President and CEO of Hilton Hotels Corporation is Christopher J. Nassetta who has been with the company since 2007. He was installed as the leader following the Blackstone buy-out and was resented throughout the company at the beginning of his leadership.

 Period CEO Name
1919 – 1966 Conrad Hilton
1966 – 1996 Barron Hilton
1996 – 2007 Stephen F. Bollenbach
2007 – present Christopher J. Nassetta

Does Paris Hilton own Hilton Hotels?

No, Paris Hilton does not own Hilton Hotels, despite the name. While she is the great-granddaughter of the founder, Conrad Hilton, her role in the operations or ownership of the hotel chain is minimal if not nonexistent. Conrad Hilton remains the visionary behind Hilton Hotels’ inception and growth.

Growth and Development of Hilton Hotels

Hilton Hotels has experienced significant growth and development throughout its history, marked by strategic acquisitions, expansions, and changes in ownership.

1919-1966: The Conrad Hilton Era 

Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, embarked on his entrepreneurial journey in the early 20th century. Born in San Antonio, New Mexico Territory, in 1887, Conrad Hilton ventured into the hotel industry in 1919 when he purchased the Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas. This marked the inception of what would become the Hilton Hotels Corporation, which went public in 1946 on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

conrad hilton

A landmark event was the creation of the Waco Hilton, Conrad’s first hotel built from the ground up in 1927. The Waco Hilton introduced the concept of air-conditioned public rooms and cold running water in each guest room, setting a new standard for comfort and luxury.

During World War II, this pioneering spirit continued as Hilton was quick to adapt its business model to serve the needs of the nation, building hotels at or near major airports to accommodate the influx of travelers and military personnel.

hilton hotels waco

During this period, Hilton Hotels Corporation grew through strategic acquisitions, including the purchase of the Statler Hotels chain in 1954, expanding the Hilton portfolio across the US. The deal was the largest real estate transaction in the world at the time. Another global groundbreaking moment was the opening of HILCRON, the first central reservations operation in the world.

In 1959, Hilton further solidified its reputation as an innovator by pioneering the airport-hotel concept with the opening of the 380-room San Francisco Airport Hilton.

December 1964 saw the international arm of the hotel chain spun off as Hilton International Co. This company would go on to be acquired by a range of hospitality and tourism businesses, using the Hilton brand outside of the USA and the “American” Hilton using the Conrad Hotels brand for properties it went on to open in other territories.

The launch of the Lady Hilton in 1965, the first hotel concept aimed specifically at female travelers, demonstrated the brand’s understanding of evolving customer needs. The Hilton Istanbul, known for being the first international hotel in Turkey, and the Hong Kong Hilton, were both prime examples of Conrad Hilton’s vision to “fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.”

lady hilton

By the end of this period, Hilton had opened properties on all six habitable continents.

1966-1996: Expansion and Diversification 

Following Conrad Hilton’s retirement in 1966, his son Barron Hilton took over as CEO.

In 1971, the company entered the domestic gaming business with the purchase of the Flamingo Las Vegas, the first time a NYSE-company moved into the market. Barron was instrumental in the success of the Flamingo and the Las Vegas Hilton, pushing Elvis and Liberace to outperform themselves and cementing the city as the “Entertainment capital of the world”. By 1972, around 45% of company income was derived from just these two properties.

flamingo las vegas

In 1987, Hilton Hotels introduced Hilton Honors, a pioneering loyalty program that revolutionized guest rewards within the hospitality industry. This program provided guests with exclusive benefits and incentives for their loyalty, setting a new standard for customer engagement and satisfaction.

In the 30 years under Barron Hilton’s leadership, he was able to generate 15% per annum return on investments for shareholders including dividends. He was known for having a tight rein on the company finances, maintaining a low debt-to-capital ratio which enabled a solid expansion during his tenure.

1996-2013: Strategic Restructuring and Modernization

Under the leadership of CEO Stephen F. Bollenbach, Hilton Hotels underwent significant restructuring and modernization efforts. Following the acquisition of the Promus Hotel Corporation in 1999, Hilton became the owner of the following brands:

  • DoubleTree
  • Red Lion
  • Embassy Suites
  • Hampton Inn
  • Homewood Suites

The $3.1 billion cash and stock deal meant the company had 1,700 hotels and over 85,000 employee worldwide.

The Hilton International brand that had been sold off in the 60s, Hilton International, was bought back by the US Hilton company in 2005. By number of rooms, Hilton became the fifth-largest hotel operator in the world with 475,000 rooms, with Marriott and Hyatt leading the pack.

The investment company Blackstone Group paid $26 billion cash to buy the Hilton company, making it one of the biggest hotel owners in the world in 2006. February 2009 saw the company move its headquarters from Beverly Hills, California to Fairfax County, Virginia.

2013-Present: Going Back Public and a Post-Pandemic Future

By 2013, Blackstone saw the opportunity to net a hefty profit. After a long slog of debt restructuring following the buy-out, Hilton was listed at a $7 billion profit for Blackstone. By the time it had cycled out of the company completely in 2018, it had realized a $14 billion profit.

In a further restructure, in 2016 the time-shares under Hilton Grand Vacations and real estate holdings under Park Hotel & Resorts were spun off, creating three independent businesses. This was done to alleviate the Hilton company of a range of assets, making the company more efficient with fewer capital investments, improving returns for shareholders.

Now, most of the Hilton-branded hotels aren’t owned by the company but by independent operators who franchise the brand, similar to the McDonald’s business model. This gives higher returns with much lower overheads. Shareholders wanting to be a part of the real estate and asset side of the business can still invest in the other two side of the company.

It was this capital-light business model that helped the company weather the pandemic, even reaching the 1 million rooms milestone in 2020. Hilton developed pandemic-friendly processes to keep hotels compliant with local regulations and still able to host guests where possible.

Hilton hotel cleaning

In 2023, Hilton reported revenue for the fiscal year of $1.15 billion, a 12.6% increase on the previous year. over 33,000 rooms were approved for development in Q4 2023, with a healthy overall development pipeline of more than 462,000 rooms overall.

What Hotels Does Hilton Own?

Hilton owns a variety of hotel brands encompassing different market segments, from luxury to extended stay. Here’s a glance at some of the most famous Hiltons under the franchise:

  • Waldorf Astoria New York, New York, USA – Bought in 1972, this iconic hotel represents the epitome of luxury and has been a significant landmark since its inception in 1931.
  • Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, Maldives – Opened in 1997, this luxurious resort is renowned for its extraordinary underwater restaurant and overwater bungalows.
  • Hilton Molino Stucky Venice, Italy – Originally a flour mill in the 19th century, it was bought and transformed into a hotel by Hilton in 2007, offering unique architecture with a blend of history and modern luxury.
  • The Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills, USA – Opened in 1955, this historic hotel is famous for hosting the Golden Globe Awards annually.
  • Hilton Waikoloa Village, Hawaii, USA – Acquired in 1988, this resort is known for its vast landscapes, abundant wildlife, and cultural experiences, making it a unique family destination.
  • Chicago Hilton and Towers, Chicago, USA – Purchased in 1994, this hotel is best known for hosting numerous well-known events such as the annual International Housewares Show

hilton hotel brands

The evolution of the Hilton Hotels logo over time captures the growth of a premier hospitality brand and reflects the changing tastes and standards of the global travel industry.

The original logo, introduced in 1948, featured a dark gray badge with elegant white cursive lettering, accented by a gold crest. This sophisticated design exuded a sense of luxury and refinement.

original hilton hotels logo

In 1967, Hilton revamped its logo with a monochrome palette and bold geometric shapes, featuring a stylized letter “H” composed of mirrored bars connected by a horizontal line.

hilton logo 1966

The 1967 logo underwent modifications in 1978, with thinner vertical bars and elongated tails, sans-serif “Hilton” lettering often placed beneath. The design conveyed a traditional aesthetic.

Hilton’s 1998 rebranding introduced a bold serif wordmark and a rounded emblem in blue and white. The emblem featured two thick vertical rectangles enclosed in a thin frame, exuding reliability and comfort.

A 2010 redesign of the logo darkened the color palette and introduced a softer serif typeface for the wordmark. The emblem was downsized, placing greater emphasis on the inscription while maintaining a chic and professional aesthetic.

The Future of Hilton Hotels

Looking towards the future of Hilton Hotels, it’s evident that the company’s rich history serves as a guiding force propelling it into new realms of success and innovation. With iconic landmarks like the San Francisco Airport Hilton and the first DoubleTree Hotel cementing its legacy, Hilton’s commitment to excellence and guest satisfaction remains unwavering.

By separating the real estate from the hotel brand with different businesses in 2017, Hilton has opened up new opportunities for growth and investment, allowing the company to further solidify its position as a global leader in the hospitality industry. Through innovative practices, Hilton is poised to navigate the ever-changing landscape of travel and hospitality, ensuring that guests enjoy memorable stays in every room, at every Hilton property.

As Hilton Hotels continues to forge ahead, its enduring commitment to providing the highest quality accommodations and experiences remains the cornerstone of its success. Business-savvy moves such as major acquisitions from its earliest days and spotting major hospitality opportunities like Barron Hilton did in the 70s have stood the company is solid stead. The leveraged buy-out and relisting by Blackstone showed the company was in a robust financial position and able to return profits for anyone who invests.

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