Not just Park Avenue anymore

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"Meet me at the Waldorf." For decades, that message was more than sufficient for people looking to get together in New York City. There was only one Waldorf, the Waldorf=Astoria on Park Avenue, the Queen of all Big Apple hotels. That all changes—albeit slightly—this morning with Hilton's announcement that it's launching a sub-brand based on the untold equity it has built from the reputation and performance of the original Waldorf.

More precisely, Hilton says it will brand a number of high-end properties it manages with the tagline, "The Waldorf=Astoria Collection," to as it says, "extend the cachet" of its legendary property. Initially, the appellation will appear on the Grand Wailea in Maui, the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix and the La Quinta Resort in the California desert. Hilton is assuming management of the three properties on Feb. 1 for their owner, CNL Hotels & Resorts.

The announcement signals a number of opportunities and challenges for Hilton. For one, it gives the company a stronger footing in the luxury resort market, a segment that's been a minor weakness. Thanks to the recent acquisition of London-based Hilton Group, the company can now fly all Hilton flags overseas, and the Waldorf brand (as well as Conrad) gives it a logical vehicle in the luxury segments. The three resorts, as well as other non-Hilton hotels and resorts that may also become part of the collection, get to tap into the company's storied reservations system, Hilton HHonors program and other assorted branding, marketing and operational systems.

The only downside, if there is one, is that Hilton must be careful not to tarnish the Waldorf name and mystique as it plants the name on other properties and in other countries. It's taken Hilton and previous owners more than 100 years to burnish the Waldorf name and reputation into the collective consciousness of travelers. Just one hotel that doesn't live up to the Waldorf tradition can have a potentially disastrous effect. Above all, Hilton and its management team are careful custodians of their brands, so I don't believe theyâ€â„¢ll let anything or anyone tarnish either the Hilton or Waldorf names.

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