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Expert’s Voice: Hilton in South East Asia – A journey through the ages

by | Aug 30, 2019 | Experts

Paul Hutton, Hilton’s Vice President Operations South East Asia, summarises his 35-year journey and the legendary hotel group’s centenary with three verbs: innovate, imagine and inspire.

Celebrating a centenary is no mean feat and that is what our hotels and team members all across the globe are doing this week as Hilton marks its 100th anniversary in 2019. I count myself incredibly lucky to be a part of Hilton’s inspiring legacy, which has grown from a single hotel in Cisco, Texas, to the hospitality giant it is today.

I’ve often been asked about my most memorable experiences working with Hilton. While it is never easy to condense 35 years with the company into a few short anecdotes, taking a step back I can see three themes that broadly cover my insights and learnings throughout my journey with Hilton: innovate, imagine and inspire.


People often synonymise “innovation” with the latest technological advancements – and though we’re no stranger to that with our connected room and digital key, another aspect of innovation that we prioritise in equal measure is that related to our people.

Our team members have always been at the heart of our business. It is their passion, creativity and commitment that have placed Hilton at the forefront of the industry. As a business of people serving people, it makes absolute sense to invest in our most valuable assets, and we have, in no small amount over the years, dedicated a great deal of time, resources and creativity to talent development initiatives to help our team members stay motivated and grow in their careers.

Many from the industry are familiar with our 18-month South East Asia (SEA) Management Trainee Programme, set up to groom the next generation of hotel leaders who we aspire will one day lead in our growing pipeline of hotels. Acknowledging some of our people will want to grow in niche areas such as F&B, we also launched programmes such as the F&B Operations Academy last year, tailored to equip our operational and functional team members in the space with the knowledge and techniques required to excel in their fields.

It is very rewarding to see the results of these talent development efforts. For example, our annual intake for the Management Trainee Programme has doubled since its inception six years ago, and we have seen more than 100 graduates take on managerial positions at our hotels across South East Asia. The diversity of the trainees is also very encouraging as we envision more nationals moving into positions of leadership in our pipeline hotels across countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

My biggest takeaway, working with a team of passionate and dedicated people over the past three and a half decades, is how steering our focus to building a supportive work environment can earn us the loyalty of diligent, committed team members who will give us their unwavering support in our constant pursuit of service excellence and growth across our markets.


The ability to dream is critical in helping a company stand out in a competitive industry. For us, it is envisioning our footprint in places others have not been so that we can make an impact from the first.

When we started rolling out Hilton’s expansion plans for SEA almost 50 years ago, we were excited to break new ground by bringing travellers to new destinations across the region. To date, we’ve established our presence in countries such as Myanmar when its economy was just opening up. Not only were we amongst the first to establish an international brand’s presence in this spectacular country, we have also gone on to set up our first ever Hilton Vocational Training Centre, providing useful skills to young people in Myanmar keen to pursue a career in hospitality.

Over the coming year, we will be expanding our reach into Timor Leste. When Hilton Dili Palm Springs opens it will mark the foray of our flagship brand in the country and momentously signal the country’s first internationally-branded hotel.

Along a similar theme, we have also taken the design of new guest experiences to new levels with the launch of THE MURAKA at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island – the world’s first Underwater Villa that promises an unrivalled luxury escape 16.4 feet below sea level.
I am confident that the next 100 years will see us continue to embrace this pioneering spirit
that will help us leave an indelible mark wherever we venture to.


Another dimension of our work that inspires me is “Travel with Purpose”, our Corporate Responsibility platform which enables us to give back to the communities we operate in. When a global company such as Hilton operates in a region as diverse as South East Asia, where your scale gives you opportunities to impact local communities in every way possible – you do just that.

Six years ago, Hilton launched the Travel with Purpose action grants to support the development of local projects which strengthen the quality of life of the communities around us. Our team members went into creativity-overdrive, pulling out all the stops in coming up with the most effective ideas to develop and implement carefully curated projects that address a wide range of social and environmental challenges.

To date, our hotels have collectively secured almost 40 action grants to support on-property waste reduction efforts and hands-on sustainability education programmes and giving back at least US$120,000 to the community.

As a pioneer of sustainable travel, Hilton has also led the charge on green initiatives globally, regionally and locally. Take the reduction of single-use plastics for example. Hilton was the first major hotel brand to ban plastic straws across our managed hotels globally by the end of 2018 and we are doing more through local partners such as Bye Bye Plastic Bags in Bali to advocate for an island-wide reduction of single-use plastics.

More importantly, we have seen how much of an impact strong partnerships such as this one can have: from starting out with eliminating plastic straws in our hotels, we now work with an affiliate organization, Mountain Mamas, to empower the local community to be self-sustainable by reproducing waste items from our hotels into bags that they can use to earn their livelihood.

I am immensely proud to be a part of an organisation that places purpose and empathy at the centre of what we do, and gives all its Team Members an influential platform to make meaningful connections with others. That feeling of fulfillment is what motivates me every single day.

Looking ahead

As we close the chapter on our first 100 years, I am humbled by all that we’ve achieved.
There’s also much to look ahead to:

I am excited to continue building our reputation as the top global hospitality company to work for, through all we do for our Team Members in training and development, as well as pushing on with upping the game on inclusivity and diversity in our workplaces.

I anticipate another century of strengthening our presence in this dynamic region – with not just a robust pipeline of more than 50 hotels, but in delivering the Hilton Effect every we set our footprint.

Finally, I look forward to bringing Travel with Purpose to life, not only by working with young people via our partnership with the Youth Career Initiative to open more career opportunities to them, but also by leading the charge on sustainability and embarking on more innovative green campaigns to cut our carbon footprint across the globe.

Happy Anniversary, Hilton! It’s been a remarkable journey and I am truly excited to see how our future pans out.


Paul Hutton

Paul Hutton

Vice President of Operations, South East Asia, Hilton

With 35 years in Hilton, Paul Hutton has experience in numerous areas of the company: from executive assistant manager in Abu Dhabi to his current position as VP of Operations. As a career specialist, Paul targets self-starting individuals who want to join the world’s foremost hospitality brand and takes special care of guests and team members.


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