Candice D'Cruz, Vice President of Luxury Brands for Asia Pacific, Hilton Talks About the New Rules of Luxury Travel

By Marianne Tan
Photography by Zulfadli bin Rahman, assisted by Tracey Nguyen
Hair and makeup by Nikk Fu using Armani Beauty
04 Apr 2024

For D'Cruz, it’s all about human connections when it comes to putting together unforgettable experiences for hotel guests or creating a supportive workplace for employees.

In her twenty-odd years in the global hospitality industry, Vice President of Luxury Brands for Asia Pacific, Hilton, Candice D’Cruz’s job has taken her all over the globe, to oversee branding and marketing efforts for some of the world’s most renowned luxury hotels – from their expansion into new territories to inauguration. It’s an illustrious career marked by grand hotel openings, travels to unexplored lands, and experiences with new cultures and traditions. 

But much like how expectations of luxury travel have evolved past the ostentatious to focus on intimate, personalized gestures that leave an indelible memory, D’Cruz, in her new role leading Hilton’s award-winning luxury brands, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, LXR Hotels & Resorts, and Conrad Hotels & Resorts across Asia Pacific, draws inspiration not only from her past work experiences, but also those nearest and dearest to her – her family and their treasured holiday memories together.

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She explains: “Children possess a remarkable ability to be genuine and inclusive, treating others with equality, kindness, and warmth. I'm continually inspired by these beautiful traits, particularly when I witness how they adapt to various nationalities and cultures during our travels together.” 

In particular, she says, they have an “incredible ability to remember every detail” and propensity to give ‘candid feedback’, recounting a time where her daughter “provided honest feedback to a general manager about the quality of macarons at a hotel’s coffee shop”.

“This highlighted the importance of [hotels] maintaining standards,” she adds. Likewise, she believes hotels should also not overlook engaging children, whether it’s through the arrival experience, in-room amenities or in-room dining setups.

“Luxury travellers, including children, have specific expectations, and even the smallest details can greatly impact their experience. Personalization is key.”


Creating Unforgettable Memories

An eye for detail and fervour for constantly finding new ways to elevate the guest experience are important traits for any hospitality professional. For D’Cruz, they were also what inspired her to join the industry.

In one of her first jobs working for real estate developer Emaar Properties, she led marketing and communications for the Burj Khalifa and had the opportunity to be a part of the launch of the world’s inaugural Armani Hotel and Armani Residences housed within the tower. At the hotel, she says, was where she experienced “the team’s meticulous attention to detail and unwavering commitment to enhancing every aspect of the guest experience, [which] left a profound impression on [her]”.

“Though many guests may not cross paths with every staff member, their behind-the-scenes dedication is the bedrock of seamless service delivery. From orchestrating post-event breakfast setups to restoring poolside cabanas after a rainstorm, every aspect hinges on our collective effort. It's the genuine connections forged with guests that transform ordinary moments into something extraordinary.”

“Hospitality isn’t just about service; it’s about fostering humility, tolerance, and kindness. At the core of my leadership philosophy is a commitment to prioritizing people.”

“Captivated” by this experience, she decided to make her switch to hospitality, joining St. Regis to launch the brand’s inaugural Middle East establishment, The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi. Since then, she says, she has “never looked back”.

“Being able to create unforgettable moments for guests and ensuring that every aspect of their stay contributes to their satisfaction solidified my passion for the industry and my determination to pursue a career where I can continue to make a meaningful impact through exceptional hospitality.”


Poised for More

2-bedroom Tropical Garden Pool Villa at Umana Bali

In the last five years alone, D’Cruz has orchestrated pre-opening and launch strategies for over 40 luxury properties of various brands – including franchise growth initiatives for select brands – across Europe, Middle East, and Africa. It is, if anything, a reflection of the strong rebound in the luxury travel market – a sentiment echoed by Forbes in an article on global trends in luxury travel and hospitality in 2024. 

According to the report, the global luxury travel market, currently worth an estimated $1.5 trillion, “continues to accelerate as well as diversify after an initial post-pandemic lift”. Travel demand and spending, fuelled by a demand for novel experiences, is also expected to increase this year.

Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi

“Guests now crave deeper engagement during their stays, actively participating in crafting their own unique experiences that they wouldn’t have access to at home; experiences that enable them to immerse in the local culture in a tasteful, unique way. The emphasis is on a transformative impact, where guests aim to depart with a sense of personal improvement,” adds D’Cruz.

Hilton is set to capitalize on these trends, with luxury expansion plans in the Asia-Pacific region that will see Waldorf Astoria expand from six to 19 hotels over the next five years in key cities like Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, and Tokyo. Likewise, the Conrad brand has a series of openings in Malaysia, China, and Japan lined up.

This is coupled with a greater focus on the unique experiences that luxury travellers are hankering after. 

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Conrad Shenzhen

At Conrad Bali, for example, guests can take part in full moon ceremonies that incorporate traditional Balinese rituals and meditations alongside an authentic tasting experience. Guests at ROKU KYOTO can learn how to make traditional artisan crafts, guided by Japanese masters, while those staying at Umana Bali can go stargazing with a resident astronomer, kite-making with a master kite builder, and attend cooking classes within a home kitchen.

D’Cruz says these plans will put squarely in the position as “the fastest-growing hospitality company in the region”, signalling the importance of APAC for Hilton in luxury travel.

“Currently, 40% of our luxury portfolio resides in this region, and we are committed to doubling our luxury brand presence in APAC in the coming years.”

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Leading With Kindness

While unique experiences may be what would draw guests to hotels, hospitality teams capable of seamlessly delivering on these experiences are what would keep them coming back for more. Empowering them with the right training and tools, and “to be themselves” will be critical, D’Cruz, as are other tangible benefits like the flexibility of work-life integration that respects employees’ need to balance personal and professional commitments.  

“Hospitality isn’t just about service; it’s about fostering humility, tolerance, and kindness. At the core of my leadership philosophy is a commitment to prioritizing people,” she says.

In particular, she is passionate about fostering female leadership across the different facets of the hospitality industry, such as engineering, culinary arts, and F&B operations. Besides actively mentoring aspiring female leaders and providing them with networking opportunities and access to resources that can help further their careers, she also kickstarted the ‘Women in Luxury Leadership’ initiative in 2018 – a platform for open dialogue that allows C-Suite women in the luxury sector to share insights on how they navigate their roles.

“I aspire to establish a more inclusive and equitable hospitality industry, where women are not only represented, but celebrated for their contributions and achievements,” she explains.

Ultimately, she believes that the secret to creating a workplace where employees can thrive lies in “accepting people’s strengths rather than attempting to change them”.

“Meeting individuals where they are and guiding them on the journey fosters the strongest teams. Instead of striving to mould them into something they're not, allowing their true selves to shine brings out the best in them.”