Hilton Worldwide says it plans to expand its presence in the Middle East by nearly 80% over the next three to four years led by a push to rapidly grow its existing portfolio of hotels in Saudi Arabia.
The hotel chain announced this week that it plans to open 10 hotels across the Middle East and Africa in 2011. Already this year the company opened its 10th hotel in theUAE in Ras Al Khaimah, as well as its first in Jordan and Sharjah.
Later this year it plans to launch its first hotel in Doha, along with new properties in Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Residence and Al Barsha, as well as Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.
Next year, the company is aiming to open eight hotels in the region – including five in Saudi Arabia – with two more planned for 2013 and one for 2014. Hilton will also launch two properties in Jordan and Egypt next year, and two more, in the same countries, in 2014.
“In 2011 we have hit the ground running with five openings and four new signings, so we are basically signing one deal a month,” said Carlos Khneisser, Hilton Worldwide’s vice president for development in the Middle East. “So now our pipeline in the region is 30 hotels, and we anticipate that these will open in the next three-to-four years.”
“But our focus market is Saudi Arabia, where we will double our pipeline in the next couple of years. Our projection down the line, in say five to ten years, is that we are looking to increase our existing hotels by 300% in the country.”
First Waldorf Astoria in UAE
Hilton Worldwide’s new hotel in Ras Al Khaimah will be its second Waldorf Astoria in the Middle East following the 2005 opening of the Qasr Al Sharq in Jeddah. The ultra-luxury hotel, designed as a palace, will be located on a 600-metre private beach about 45 minutes away from Dubai International Airport.
Asked about why the company chose to open its first Waldorf Astoria in the UAE in Ras Al Khaimah, Khneisser pointed to the hotel’s design, its beachfront location, and the existing platform of Hilton hotels in RAK that will help it sell the brand within the emirate. However, Khneisser was also quick to point out that Hilton is keen to open the Waldorf Astoria in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and other gateway cities in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the unrest in Middle East is having little impact on Hilton’s rapid expansion plans in the region, as evidenced by the recent opening of its 17th hotel in Egypt. The company has three more hotels in the pipeline in Egypt and hopes to open these properties the next few years.
“In general, if you look at the unrest, you have to differentiate between the Libyan unrest and the unrest in Egypt,” he told AMEInfo.com. “Egypt is a place where we have our main operation, and in Cairo our occupancy in April was 20% higher than in the first quarter, while occupancies in the whole of Egypt are back up to about 50%, so that gives you an indication that things are coming back slowly. But everyone is waiting to see what happens after the election.”
In keeping with the theme that was echoed by most hotel operators at Arabian Hotel Investment Conference and the Arabian Travel Market this week, Hilton Worldwide remains bullish on the long-term growth prospects of the hospitality industry in the Middle East. “Funnily enough, I have been in contact with many investors, and most of them have a positive picture of what is happening in the region. With any change comes an opportunity, and I believe this is what everybody is capitalizing on,” he said.