Hilton was in fact the first international hotel chain to open in the Middle East nearly 50 years ago with the Nile Hilton and also in the UAE, 35 years ago with the Hilton Al Ain. Today the group is still stamping its blue logo across the region. The group has just opened a property in Ras Al Khaimah and over the next three years they will be opening 11 properties in the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt and the Levant. Hilton is also expecting to see another 20 management agreements signed in the next five years.
Breaking Travel News asked Ian Carter, CEO, Hilton Hotels Corporation about his impressions on the region and its potential for growth:
BTN: Why does the Middle East represent an opportunity for Hilton?
Carter: The Middle East is one of the fastest growing tourism destinations in the world, and is a key development market for Hilton Hotels.
We feel that the recent growth is only the beginning of a sustained trend of massive growth in the market, and accordingly we are very optimistic about this region.
BTN: What is the major challenge for Hilton in the region?
Carter: We need to work together to ensure that our industry attracts talent and is properly resourced. We need to address the constant challenge of employee turnover and retention—‘localisation’ targets are also a key challenge.
BTN: You recently went on a Gulf investment tour, where are the opportunities?
Carter: In the immediate future, we are going to see unprecedented growth in inbound tourism. In addition to the growth of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in Saudi Arabia, we will continue to see a growth in domestic travel and of course the Hajj will grow at an unparalleled pace over the next decade, and inbound visitor arrivals will top ten million this year. High-end domestic tourism could generate $28 billion by 2020. WTO membership will also have a positive impact on the Kingdom.
BTN: How do you plan to stop Hilton losing its five-star reputation, as you grow the mid-market brands?
Carter: Our brand development with Hilton and Conrad will continue. Waldorf-Astoria will also be introduced as a luxury offering in this region. The new mid-market brands will be introduced in destinations where Hilton is already an established brand - therefore we will be addressing all market segments.
There is no doubt that moving forward Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton by Hilton will be the biggest drivers in this market. Doubletree by Hilton, which is primarily a conversion brand in other markets, will mostly comprise new builds in the Arabian Peninsula.
BTN: Which are other growth markets for you?
Carter: We plan to grow the Hilton family of brands internationally in markets where Hilton has an existing strong presence or where there is the greatest growth potential. Europe - including Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia and the UK have been identified as strategic growth markets while in Asia and the Middle East development will focus on India, China, Japan, the UAE/Qatar, and Australia and New Zealand.
The company will also concentrate on expanding its presence in airport hubs around the world, starting with four new airport hotels in Europe—Madrid, Frankfurt and Helsinki in the next two years.