Five minutes with… Rudi Jagersbacher, president, Hilton Worldwide Middle East and Africa.
What were the hotel group’s key achievements and milestones in 2015?
Expanding our portfolio, investing in our hotels, and driving performance excellence is central to our regional growth strategy, and 2015 was a particularly remarkable period in these respects.
Strong, organic growth has underpinned our story in this part of the world. In the Middle East, we have an active pipeline of more than 21,000 keys – meaning that 70% of our pipeline is under construction. In fact, about one in four new hotel projects in the Middle East will be branded within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio.
In achieving this, we have continued to expand our brand offering, with the first Hampton by Hilton hotels confirmed for MEA; and ‘accessible lifestyle’ brand Canopy by Hilton in active negotiations.
Our strategy has also seen Hilton Worldwide take major strides into the mid-market segment in recent months, with the opening of three Hilton Garden Inn hotels in Dubai which joined two Hilton Garden Inn properties in Saudi Arabia as we target international guests eager to experience this region at an affordable price.
At this rate of growth and level of performance with more than 70 properties now trading and over 95 hotels in our pipeline across the MEA region, we expect to open an average of one hotel per month in the MEA over the next five years, as we continue to expand Hilton’s global portfolio of over 4,500 hotels.
What have been the key challenges facing your hotel group and the hospitality sector in general and how have you met these challenges?
With the MEA region recognised globally as a ‘hospitality hotspot,’ a constant key focus for us is to remain relevant and innovative, to uphold our competitiveness in what is an increasingly busy marketplace.
Each year sees these efforts come to fruition, with 2015 marking Hilton Worldwide’s growth of mid-market in the UAE with the launch of our two midscale brands, Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton by Hilton. We have also rolled out two new brands internationally: Curio – A Collection by Hilton and Canopy by Hilton – with development plans in place for our two latest offerings under works in the Middle East.
As we enter 2016, our continued growth momentum and delivery of outstanding hospitality across our brand portfolio will help us maximise the opportunity to stand Hilton Worldwide apart from competitors, steering us to a successful future across our regional operations.
What are the hotel group’s key goals for 2016 and why?
World travel is expected to continue to grow this year, and although the industry in the region has experienced some challenging factors, we are optimistic about 2016, with a number of key developments in the works:
- The next 12 months will see the arrival of Hampton by Hilton arriving in Dubai’s Al Qusais to meet growth in demand for mid-market hotel options.
- We see great regional potential for our newest brand,- Curio – A Collection by Hilton, as it fulfills newfound needs of guests and owners to experience and offer the charm and character of local destinations. Curio currently has 21 properties under development, which include AlRayyan Hotel – Doha, Curio, A Collection by Hilton and the Rosemont Hotel and Residences in Dubai.
- We continue to view North Africa as a key market in our MEA portfolio, with plans to open several new properties there in the coming years, including Hilton Alexandria King’s Ranch, which is now welcoming guests, Hilton Garden Inn Tanger, and Hilton Tanger City Center Hotel and Residences in Morocco.
Across the MEA, I foresee those companies that demonstrate optimum levels of management experience, the best guest service and operational excellence, and the development of strong, distinct brands – will continue to attract developers and guests alike, and outperform the market in the region.
How is technology dictating the way you run your business and liaise with customers?
Whether it’s looking at the hotel market, retail sector or airline industry, technology will continue to dictate certain operational offerings as guests expect to be able to manage their personal and professional lives online, as a minimum requirement.
Responding to this shift, in 2014, we pioneered the rollout of digital check-in and room selection via guests’ HHonors accounts, to offer guests unprecedented choice and control across their entire stay.
Recognising demand among guests to communicate online, our @Hiltonsuggests twitter handle continues to help travellers explore all a city has to offer – from restaurants and attractions, to hotels. Our @Hiltonsuggests team is made up of local contributors around the world representing markets such as New York City, Miami, London, and Shanghai, just to name a few.
Throughout 2016, we will endeavor to stay ahead of the curve through working closely with our owners across the region to prepare our regional portfolio for the launch of using smartphones as room keys in 2016 – another step in our journey to becoming the number choice for guests.