SLS Las Vegas Hotel Casino will be one of five SBE hotels that will kick-off the Curio brand.

NEW YORK CITY—Hilton Hotels & Resorts may be starting its new brand, Curio, with just five properties—as announced Monday in conjunction with the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment conference—but Rob Palleschi, global head, Hilton, told during the conference that the company’s plans for its newest creation are aggressive.

“Our target is to have 350 hotels within the next five years,” he said. “If you look at three-and-four star independent hotels around the world, there are 1,500 properties. We’re looking in major markets such as Vancouver, Montreal, London, Paris and Rome, where there are many iconic assets as well as new ones that are designed to be market specific.”

“Those acquired will be rebranded,” Palleschi explained, with the majority expected to be franchises as the properties are already owned and operated. None of Curio’s hotels will be newly built specifically for the brand. “Our strategy for the last few years has been asset light so we won’t be using our balance sheet.”

A key differentiator of Curio, which is meant to provide the feeling of unique experiences, will be a lack of rules. “Whether it’s an amenity in a guest room or the size of a muffin on a buffet, a lot of the hotels in this space are providing great experiences today and we will enable that by not dictating standards,” he said.

“We’re telling owners,” Palleschi elaborated, ‘we want to celebrate the nature of your place or the vision for an upcoming property but bring our distribution systems, loyalty program and our cost controls to owners. It’s your vision but our engine.’”

Adding this brand to its portfolio now was a way to take advantage of both commercial real estate investors’ newfound interest in hotels and the driver of that: the strength of the travel market, said Palleschi. “We’ve pushed unique hotels into brands for years—like the Drake and the Palmer House in Chicago, as well as the Artic Club in Seattle—and it’s gone well, but there’s lot of new products and construction coming online and there’s a lot of money finding its way into the hotel sector. We need to have brands in every category, both for our 40 million Hilton Honors members who are seeking new experiences and for our owners, because we want to retain them as customers too.”