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And the No. 1 Franchise Is. . . Hampton Hotels

Hampton Hotels continues to dominate the U.S. franchising landscape, holding the No. 1 spot on this year's Franchise 500 List. The chain aims to bring value -- and a hot breakfast -- to travelers worldwide.
And the No. 1 Franchise Is. . . Hampton Hotels
Photo courtesy of Hampton Hotels

Phil Cordell is tired. Hilton's global head of focused service and Hampton brand management has been jetting around the globe for the last year, laying the groundwork for Hampton Hotels' aggressive international expansion plans, and it's catching up with him.

But Cordell is certain the bags under his eyes will pay off in the long run. "We took our first year to study and decide which markets to enter," he says. "Now, we're full-on in the mode of finding the right partners to help us develop. In places like China, you have to be there. All business is done face-to-face until you build trust, so I'm doing what has to be done."

Hampton, the No. 1 company in the Franchise 500® for the second year in a row, has captured U.S. market share during the recession by appealing to value-minded businesspeople and leisure travelers attracted by reasonable rates and guaranteed amenities, such as hot breakfast and in-room Wi-Fi.Now the company is approaching the international market with the same attention to guest satisfaction. For starters, it's capitalizing on its parent company's name by branding non-U.S. locations as "Hampton by Hilton."

"That Hilton endorsement brings credibility and awareness," Cordell explains. "It's surprising; you can be in parts of the world without a Hilton, but it's still well-known. We call it the ‘Hilton performance advantage.'"

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Even with that advantage, Cordell knows that international success will require a careful balance of Hampton's core values and guests' cultural expectations. That sensitivity led to the renovation of Casa San Agustin in Mexico City, Hampton's first international property in a "historic" building, and drives the company's efforts to ensure that new-construction buildings in cities like Berlin are harmonious with surrounding architecture.

"We're not naive enough to just replicate the U.S. Hampton and plop it into country X," Cordell says. "Guests will always receive a free breakfast, free high-speed internet and a clean bed, but there will also be local differentiation. In Europe, they expect a small bar and light cafe menu. China is a country where many U.S. brands have failed because they haven't understood that need to be local, or appreciated the mindset of the Chinese consumer. We're trying to … enter that market in the right way."

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Cordell is not sure when Hampton will open in China, but the company has a number of projects either completed or in the pipeline in the U.K., Germany, Italy, Turkey, Russia and Poland, as well as development agreements in South America and Asia. The international hotels are a mix of corporate-owned and franchised units.

Meanwhile, fans in the States needn't worry that the company's focus is fixed overseas. Last year in the U.S., Hampton added hot oatmeal to the breakfast table, improved its bathroom amenities and has even opened LEED-certified eco-Hamptons.

Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.

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This article was originally published in the January 2012 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: It's Still the One.

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