Dating back to 1893, The Waldorf Astoria New York is one of the world’s most famous hotels with a glittery aura and Art Deco grandeur. The challenge however with grand dame hotels 100+ years later is making them relevant for anyone who wasn’t born before WWII, while maintaining the classic intrigue.
In 2006, The Waldorf Astoria Collection launched with the mothership and three more hotels in Maui, Phoenix and Palm Springs. At the time, the industry wasn’t quite sure about this. The brand, for many people, seemed too cherished to franchise.
Today, the Collection has proved quite successful during its evolution through subsequent openings in Europe, Saudi Arabia, The Maldives and eight more across America. The Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund opens this fall, and Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem opens early next year. Next up are Germany, London, Beverly Hills, Montreal and Beijing.
Through solicitous interior design and judicious hotel selection, the brand has maintained its level of sophistication while building an entirely contemporary experience appealing to a younger audience. Most importantly, due to the fact that many of the properties have an important storyline singular to their destination, it imbues any group visit with an authentic multi-layered experience.
For example, the legacy of Standard Oil and railway magnate Henry Flagler’s drive to open up Florida to tourism thrives at his colonial 1920s Casa Marina Resort on the best beach in Key West. The Jazz Age is thick at The Roosevelt in New Orleans. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s transcendent architectural movement shines at The Arizona Biltmore. And the sheer mass of intricate mahogany woodwork at El San Juan Hotel & Casino in Puerto Rico, typically found in a historic nobleman’s hacienda, could never begin to be duplicated today.
Then there are the newbuilds. In Utah, Waldorf Astoria Park City takes the eco-luxe mountain lodge concept to a new level with twin Baccarat chandeliers and an ancient fireplace hearth shipped over from Tuscany, countered with a mod spa and sleek restaurant.
Likewise, the Waldorf Astoria Orlando reverberates with confidence in restaurants inspired by the iconic F&B establishments in New York. Even the rooms feel like Madison Ave condos.
“Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts is what I like to call a new 100 year-old luxury brand,” says John Vanderslice, global head of luxury/lifestyle brands for Hilton Worldwide. “First and foremost, the Waldorf Astoria brand stands for unique guest experiences.”
Vanderslice says the three pillars that differentiate the brand include “true Waldorf service” and “better guestrooms than what you have at home”—a direct connection back to the original NYC hotel’s world-beating service and atypically large rooms.
The third pillar, which we’re particularly interested in, is what Vanderslice calls “inspirational environments.” Anyone who’s stood on the cliffside promenade at El Conquistador Resort in Puerto Rico or dined at Rome Cavalieri perched over the Eternal City will understand. In Palm Springs, La Quinta Resort just reeks of raw Old Hollywood star power. Think Reagan on a horse.
“Our hotels are known for being unique, historically recognized landmark properties that are pretty commercially successful,” says Vanderslice. “When you walk into any of our hotel lobbies, you know you’re in a place where important things are happening. Our restaurants are destinations unto themselves, many with great traditions behind them. Many of the meeting venues are destinations themselves, with important cultural meaning….
“And what that says is, if you’re having a meeting at a Waldorf Astoria, it’s an important meeting.”