Hilton remains bullish about the Middle East as its strategy calls for developing focused-service brands across the region.
RAS AL KHAIMAH, United Arab Emirates—Hilton officials believe in the continued strength of the Middle East and are invested in new development opportunities in the region.
Carlos Khneisser, Hilton’s VP of development for the Middle East and North Africa, said Hilton—like many other major hotel companies—is targeting development in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
“Hilton is doubling its portfolio in the United Arab Emirates over the next three to five years, and in Saudi Arabia we will add 10 more hotels for a portfolio of 40 in the next five years,” Khneisser said during the recent Arabian Hotel Investment Conference in Ras al Khaimah.
Hilton plans on tripling its footprint throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Khneisser said. He added that one in five hotels opened in the region is a Hilton brand, and that approximately two-thirds are with owners that already are partners.
Hilton plans to open hotels across most of its segments, but focused-service brands are the standouts, Khneisser said.
“There is a lot of appetite on the focused-serviced side,” he said. “We’re just about to open the first Hampton by Hilton (Dubai Airport), with more than 400 rooms.”
In the UAE, Hilton has four focused-service hotels in Dubai under construction, and the company is seeing moderate growth in Abu Dhabi. Hilton Garden Inn is another brand touted for expansion in the region.
“On Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, a Hilton is coming, and in Ras al Khaimah we are opening another Hampton by Hilton,” Khneisser said.
Khneisser said about 99% of hotels in the Middle East and North Africa are managed and franchises are slowly catching on in Dubai, but there is a slight rise in third-party management.
Nisrine Karazi, Hilton’s senior director of development for the Middle East and North Africa, said Hilton has recently signed two more deals in Saudi Arabia.
The development of the Hampton by Hilton brand has also been fast-tracked in Saudi Arabia, Karazi said, with a 170-room Hampton just signed in King Abdullah Economic City for a debut in 2021.
The much-touted Red Sea tourism development in Saudi Arabia also is reason for excitement, Karazi said.
“The (Red Sea) project is under development, and speculation on property type is that it would likely be a full-fledged resort,” Karazi added.
Khneisser said Egypt is the third major focus of Hilton in the region.
“It has a different price point,” Khneisser said, who said that Hilton has 17 trading hotels in the country, with another three deals signed.
Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar also have Hilton’s attention, despite Qatar being boycotted by several Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
“Qatar from a trading perspective still is hitting budgets,” Khneisser said.
“Kuwait is seeing good development,” Karazi added.
Khneisser dismissed the regional threats from alternative-accommodation providers.
“Airbnb is a totally different business. (Hilton) opened one new hotel every day in 2017, and our technology is changing and enhancing the guest experience,” he said. “For example, they can now choose their rooms.”
Khneisser said the addition of 11 million new loyalty members has boosted the overall number to 71 million, which he added produced direct-booking occupancy of approximately 53%.
“Our loyalty guests smell and feel the value,” he said. “The technology is up to date and in line with guests’ expectations.”