Hilton reimagines itself for a new generation of guests

Inside the Wilmington/Christiana Hilton, the old is giving way to the new. Smooth gray tiles come up against floral carpeting. LED lights replace glass chandeliers. And black accent walls and drop ceilings prevail over rustic wood and brass.

The clash of styles isn’t permanent. The full-service hotel, located near the Christiana Mall on the north end of Newark, is in the middle of a $7 million renovation project to overhaul the look and feel of the building.
First built in 1985, the hotel had a “Brandywine Valley country-estate type of theme,” said Brad Wenger, general manager for the last 11 years. Pastoral murals covered the walls. The lights were often dim and cozy. “The ambiance of it was terrific.”

But times have changed, he said, and a new generation of travelers are impressing their tastes upon the hospitality industry. The redesign — or “reimagining,” as Wenger calls it — aims to get ahead of these demographic changes.

“We have a situation now where there are a lot more millennials traveling,” he said. “They are the up-and-coming road warriors who are in need of accommodations.”

A third-party consultant hired by the hotel found that younger travelers want a more contemporary, upscale feel. For the Hilton, that means changing everything from the lighting (brighter or darker depending on the time of day) to music (fewer classics and more Top 40 hits).

“It was formal. It was a little bit stuffy,” Wenger admits. “It’s time to move on to the next chapter.”

The renovations began in April 2016 with the redesign of all 266 existing guest rooms. The project also added four new rooms, including two suites. The designer, Verserius Studios, used a minimal style inspired by the French countryside, featuring textured vinyl headboards, shadow-box artwork and new flat-screen TVs.

But not all the changes have been surface-level. Electronic locks were added to the doors that allow guests to download their key ahead of time on their phones. In addition, 13 of the rooms now have wider doors, grab bars and a wheelchair-accessible layout to accommodate disabled guests.

The fourth floor has been designated a special area, known as the “Club on 4,” for visitors who want extra accommodations. These include an “executive lounge” where special events, such as cocktail hours and cooking classes, will take place, and daily complimentary breakfasts.

On the ground floor, the renovations are just getting started. The lobby and dining areas, which included the Hunt Club lounge and the Brasserie Grille, will get new restaurants and accommodations. The Hunt Club, in particular, will become a gastro-pub that sources local products, including herbs from the hotel’s courtyard.The new design will also feature a much lower, more approachable front desk closer to the front entrance. The lobby and dining areas are the final phase of the renovation and will be finished by May.

The lobby and dining areas are the final phase of the renovation and will be finished by May.
Wenger said he’s excited about the changes, despite his affection for the former design.

“It’s near and dear to my heart,” Wenger said of the old theme. “But I think as much as the physical part of that was our identity, a lot of that identity was also the staff and how the culture of this property is very well known in terms of how we service customers.”

“That’s not going to change,” he added.

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