Hilton hotels looking to double ME portfolio

Jean-Paul Herzog, president, Middle East & Africa, Hilton Hotels, discusses the company’s cross-brand initiatives in the region with TTN’s SHALU CHANDRAN

With 20 properties in the pipeline for the next five years, what can we expect to see?
Pipeline, in my lingo, would be our hotels that are signed and are under construction, but definitely signed. Of those we have 13 in the Middle East and Africa.

Some of them are the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Beach residence, and the Hilton Dubai Beach Club, both opening in 2008. The Conrad Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road will be ready by 2009. In Abu Dhabi there is the Conrad Abu Dhabi on the Corniche, in RAK the second phase of the Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort & Spa. Across the region we also have the Hilton Doha, the Hilton Olympia Kuwait, the Hilton Luxor resort & Spa which will reopen early next year. Jordan will see two new properties, the Hilton Amman – Jordan Gate, and the Hilton Tala Bay Aqaba, scheduled to open in 2009.
The Hilton Beirut which was scheduled to open later this year, is currently on hold and will depend on the situations in Lebanon.
In Africa, we have two signed properties: the Hilton Malabo in Equatorial Guinea and Hilton Kampala in Uganda, both scheduled to open in 2008.
Additionally, we are looking at another 20 properties which are under discussions at the moment, and if signed, will be operational in the next five years. We are looking to double our portfolio.

Will we see other Hilton brands opening in this region? When and where?
In the Middle East and Africa, you are already seeing three brands –Hilton, Conrad and the Waldorf Astoria. As we roll out new ones, you will soon see the Hilton Garden Inn, maybe the Hampton and very likely the Doubletree. The Hampton is clearly a serviced economy brand. The Hilton Garden Inn is also mid-market. The key differentiator is not so much the level of market it caters to but the facilities that they offer. Garden Inn has a great emphasis on their food & beverage and meeting facilities. Doubletree is not very far away from a typical hotel, so it probably appeals to the lower-end of the upscale market.

But what is the potential for brands like Doubletree and Hilton Garden Inn?
If you look at what has happened in the Middle East, you have had a very poor expansion of hotels – they are all at the very top or they are very non-appealing bottom end of the market and there is something missing in the middle. And as the popularity of the Middle East grows for regional and international travellers, there is clearly this need to have these hotels.

So does that mean a change in marketing strategy?
In terms of consumer marketing, each brand will market individually. We obviously have the Hilton family of brands, so if it makes sense, yes we will market under that umbrella, but each individual brand has their own marketing strategy. Our promotions like Hilton For Free, for example, do include other brands like the Conrad and Garden Inn.

The Qasr Al Sharq is now part of the Waldorf-Astoria Collection. Can we expect to see more?
Yes. We do have another one in discussion, but it is too early to discuss it.

What is the level of investment for this region?
As hotel managers,  the investment is not put in by us. But we know that the average cost of a room average is anywhere between $400,000 and $1million, depending on the facilities and other costs.

Can you spotlight some new trends hotels across this region must incorporate?
We will see a continuation in the growth of the regional travel market. The area is very strong and we play a very strong part in it. It might require us to makes changes to the product – like more family rooms, more connecting rooms. There is also a huge scope for short leisure trips.