Back in 2004, Hampton Hotels designed an alarm clock. It wasn't exceptionally fancy or particularly stylish, but that was just fine.
After reviewing 130 clock radios on the market, Hampton created a clock with an extremely simple-to-set alarm and a no-fuss MP3 jack. It also added icons to the radio so travelers didn't have to fumble with the dial to find the local classical or easy listening station. The clock was a hit, and soon the entire Hilton Hotels family adopted similar gadgets.
That clock radio embodies the spirit of Hampton, which has more than 1,810 locations (Hampton Inn, Hampton Inn & Suites and Hampton by Hilton) in the U.S., Latin America and Europe, including nearly 100 units opened this year. It isn't trying to chase high-end hotels or be a trendsetter, but rather address customers' needs directly — even if that means building a new radio.
While the radio was being deployed, the company rolled out 120 other upgrades — including a free hot breakfast (with a to-go option), free high-speed Internet in every room, and little touches like a curved shower curtain rod. These efforts bumped Hampton into the top spot as a value leader for midpriced hotels and put it in an enviable position when the recession hit in 2008.
As corporate budgets shrank, business travelers began abandoning full-service hotels for midlevel brands, and Hampton, with its bundle of perks, fit the niche perfectly. It became the leader of the midlevel hotel category, and, last year, cracked the Top 10 of the Franchise 500®, coming in at No. 4.
Now, as the worst freeze in the history of the hospitality industry begins to thaw, Hampton is No. 1 overall, and Phil Cordell, the company's global brand manager, thinks he knows why.
"The rules of engagement have changed so much over the last three years — who the customer is, where they come from and why they purchase from you are all changing," he says. "It used to be, in hard times, people would adjust their spending and be frugal, then go back to their old behavior. That's not happening. People's values have reset, and we understand that."
That means business clients are sticking with Hampton rather than opting for pricier accommodations, and traveling families are staying with the brand, too. Hampton attributes much of that loyalty to its culture. "Sure, guests like the waffle bar, but they also talk about the friendly guy at the front desk who remembers they like blueberry muffins," Cordell says.
In the next year, Hampton hopes to up its game using Hilton's proprietary software that scans social media conversations on Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor and other sites to address guest concerns quickly.
"That's an incredibly powerful tool, and one that few other hotels, and few franchises, have," Cordell says.
It's also a little more advanced than a clock radio, but it fits Hampton's mantra perfectly.
"We're change-ready and future-focused," Cordell says.