May 14 2012
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Regional expansion will continue into 2012: Hilton head
For global hospitality brand Hilton, 2012 is already being heralded as a year of expansion in the region. With more than 40 properties amounting to 15,000 rooms across 14 countries and 10 openings currently in its pipeline, Hilton's widespread regional expansion is set to continue throughout the year, a senior executive told Zawya.
"We are definitely confident about the prospects for hospitality within the region and expect to benefit from the strong business, MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions], leisure and religious tourism sectors," said Rudi Jagersbacher, President, Hilton Worldwide, Middle East & Africa.
"Also, the Middle East with its world-class aviation industry continues to attract established markets in Europe and America as well as emerging markets in the Indian subcontinent, Asia and Africa. The continued presence of five-star events has given the region global recognition and are also major crowd-pullers," he said.
The 10 properties to be opened in the UAE include the Waldorf Astoria, RAK; Conrad Dubai; Hilton Sharjah; and Double Tree by Hilton Dubai Al Barsha Hotel and Residence.
Last year, the brand surpassed 630,000 hotel rooms around the world and in total opened 170 hotels containing more than 29,400 rooms.
Jagersbacher took on his currently role in January 2011 - a time of change for the region.
"It's been an exciting year for the regional hospitality industry as a while and the challenges have been universal. Some of the biggest challenges we have faced since January 2011 are recruitment and adapting to the socio-political situations in the Middle East," he said.
The brand has more than 6,700 rooms in Egypt and stayed open during the start of the Arab Spring: "While our hotels remained open throughout the Arab Spring, we continued to pursue with our development strategy in the country."
During 2011, the company opened the Hilton Zamalek Residence Cairo and the Hilton Marsa Alam Nubian Resort and has the Hilton Makadi Resort and Hilton Heliopolis in the pipeline.
Jagersbacher joined Hilton Worldwide in 1974, having worked in senior roles at The Savoy and Claridges in London, UK. He then went on to work as General Manager in properties such as the Langham Hilton and Park Lane Hilton.
"Hospitality is about people, making them comfortable and giving access to the amenities they need. When travel and hospitality are your career, you learn to respect the differences in cultures and appreciate the similarities," he said.
"Ultimately, aspirations and challenges are the similar everywhere - be it the UK or the Middle East - it's just the approach to dealing with them."
Jagersbacher is a founding member of the Hilton in the Community Foundation, which was established in the year 2000. The Foundation supports children/young people with disabilities, young people in hospital, homelessness and young people/children in hospices. To date, the Foundation has raised more than GBP 8 million (AED 47 million).
"Hilton in the Community Foundation is a project that is very close to my heart. We always pride ourselves on being part of the local community and we set up Hilton in the Community to actively engage in the communities we operate in. Through the programme, we have raised money that aids local projects reaching sick, disabled and underprivileged children throughout Europe. It is a completely community-based effort and we have maximised employee involvement, engaged communities, and invited guests and the general public to be part of our mission," he said.
While operational differences in the Middle East vary only slightly to Europe, recruitment is another matter. The hospitality industry contributes greatly to national GDPs around the region; however, it is still growing in several Middle Eastern states.
"In the Middle East, we have to work hard to position hospitality as a viable career option amongst young UAE nationals and residents. Although hospitality is ingrained in the Middle East and African culture, specialised training courses are still being developed in this part of the world," Jagersbacher said, continuing that the brand has partnered with local organisations to develop a hospitality curriculum, aimed at attracting more young graduates to the hospitality industry.
The President is "definitely confident" about the prospects for the industry in the region, expecting to benefit from the "strong business, MICE, leisure and religious tourism sectors".
In total, Hilton Worldwide has 56 properties operating in 17 regional countries, with a goal of signing 100 more in ME&A in the next five years.
2012 will also bring new sales and marketing campaigns, promotions and incentives targeted at consumers, travel agents, niche segments including tour operators and members of the Hilton HHonors loyalty programme.
"Development and expansion are our main priorities moving forward," Jagersbacher said. "With international, regional and local projects rising, we are also benefiting from the surge in business tourism. Travellers within the GCC are exploring regional destinations like Ras Al Khaimah, Dubai, Beirut and Salalah, etc. in addition traditional getaways for summer/winter/Eid breaks and this has provided us with a strong emerging source market to tap into," he said.
Developments in the region have aided the growth of regional business tourism, along with awareness of the potential of "niche sectors", such as adventure tourism, cultural tourism and 'staycations', he concluded.
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