Offering the world of Hilton to GCC tourists

Avsar Koc aims to offer the world to GCC travellers and as the recently appointed director of international sales for Hilton International, he is well placed to do so. From his base at the Hilton's regional headquarters in Dubai Media City, Koc tells Kamleshkumar Desai of the varied choice Hilton offers regional holidaymakers.
Koc ... Gulf potential getting appreciated.

Q. As Director of International Sales, what is your mission and what are your targets?

A. My objective is to increase the business from UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman to Hilton hotels around the world.

Q. Since 9/11, most observers say that GCC holiday traffic is remaining closer to home or looking more eastwards to Asia and Australia, do you agree?

A. It is true that intra-regional travel is higher than previous years where

GCC holidaymakers are choosing closer destinations for short breaks. However, young nationals are very keen to explore and experience new places therefore we've seen a great deal of a demand towards the Asia Pacific region. Europe is still the predominant destination and region for the summer leisure traveller.

Q. What in your opinion are GCC holidaymakers looking for when they travel?

A. Safety is the most important aspect since most of GCC holidaymakers travel with families. They do appreciate the places where their cultural and religious behaviours are understood and welcomed. Despite the usual beliefs, GCC travellers do look for value for their money when they travel.

Q. What are the most popular Hilton hotel destinations among GCC travellers? Which are the hotels that you and your team would particularly recommend regional travellers to visit?

A. Favourite Hilton hotels for GCC travellers include our properties in Paris, London, Munich, Cannes, Vienna, Brussels, London, Maldives, Singapore, as well as our hotels in Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula. In addition our Conrad Hong Kong is a popular choice.

It is very difficult to single out a few hotels, out of over 2,400 properties in the world. However, the new Hilton Kuwait Resort and Hilton Ras Al Khaimah are great for short breaks for GCC travellers.

The Hilton Amsterdam is also recommended with the city's Flower Festival. Hilton Mauritius will be the next best destination for GCC travellers, but I'd recommend they book their holiday there well in advance!

Q. Will you be promoting specific destinations in the region? Hilton For Free is one promotion I believe has been a particular success - could you please spell out some details on that?

A. I will be focusing more on our new properties such as the Hilton Kuwait Resort, Hilton Dubai Creek and Hilton Ras Al Khaimah in particular. Personally, I would like to work with all our airline partners and tour operators in each country to promote new and high demand destinations.

The Hilton For Free promotion has been running for over five years and has proven to be one the best travel offers for GCC travellers. This year more than ever, 100 Hilton hotels around the world are participating by offering complimentary stays when travellers stay more than three nights (Stay 3 get 1 free, stay 5 get 2 free, and stay 7 and get 3 free and this continues). It's valid until September 30.

Halfway through the promotion we'd generated 20,000 room nights, equivalent to $4 million.

Q. Will your efforts involve regional partners such as airlines? I believe

Hilton already has a partnership with Emirates - could you provide details on this, as well as any other similar partnerships?

A. The success of our efforts will depend on our local and regional partners such as airlines, tour operators and tourism authorities.

Our goal is to be the number one hotel partner for Emirates Group for all our existing and new destinations.

Our current partnership involves tactical promotions for summer leisure travellers, holiday packages with Emirates Holidays, and a partnership between HHonors and Skyward loyalty and frequent flyer programmes.

We're aiming for similar relations with all regional airline partners.

Q. I believe Dubai and the Gulf are not new areas for you, what do you think about the state of the industry here?

A. The synergy between government and private travel industry sectors helps great new destinations to emerge every year, such as Dubai, Doha, Kuwait and Muscat.

Worldwide travellers are beginning to understand and appreciate the potential of the Gulf in terms of quality hotels, professional destination management companies, and strong airlines.

Q. Hilton, like several other major chains, has been pursuing an aggressive expansion policy in the region with I believe a target of a Hilton in every major city. Could you provide details?

A. Yes that is correct - as business and leisure travel becomes an increasingly integral part of everyday life, our priorities lie in growing as one of the world's leading hotel brands and offering our customer value for money in the destinations of their choice.

We are therefore looking to continue expanding our portfolio of properties to provide at least one Hilton hotel in every major city in the region.

Hilton is currently in development to open 11 new hotels in the region over the next three years as follows:

Egypt: Hilton Alexandria Green Plaza (Q4-2002); Hilton Ras Sudr Sinai Stars Resort (Q4-2002); Hilton Shark Bay Resort, Sharm El Shiekh (Q4-2002); Hilton Sharm Nabq (Q3-2003); Hilton Ain El Sokhna (2005); and Hilton Marsa Alam Coral Beach (2005).

Lebanon: Hilton Beirut Barrage Residence (Q2-2003) and Hilton Beirut (Q3-2004).

Saudi Arabia: Hilton Jeddah Palace (Q1-2003) and Makkah Towers (Q3- 2002).

Qatar: Hilton Doha (2004)

Q. Do you feel this expansion has the potential downside of a glut in the market?

A. I do not believe that this expansion has the potential to over capacitate the market, and let me explain:

Leisure travel to the region continues to increase, despite the constant media coverage on the Israel Palestine situation, and the possibility of war with Iraq. Hotels on the golden Mile in Jumeirah Dubai are filled to capacity in August and business is looking up again in Egypt.

Oil prices remain high further fuelling expansion the region. In Qatar, the Dolphin gas project will in turn spark increased opportunities for business, which will in turn require new hotels to accommodate increased traffic.

The new convention centre in Dubai will definitely increase the amount of MICE business coming to the GCC.

New gateways are constantly being opened up by the Middle East airlines with Emirates taking the lead.

I believe that far from there being a glut in the market, that there is a demand for additional hotels in the future.