|By Muzaffar Rizvi, Khaleej Times, Dubai,
United Arab EmiratesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 01, 2012--Hilton Worldwide plans to almost double its existing room capacity in the Middle East and Africa, or MEA, as it makes a "significant" investment to launch 40 properties in the region, its top official said.
The leading global hospitality company has eight properties in the pipeline for the UAE that are scheduled to open by 2014.
"We have 40 properties spanning 15 countries in the pipeline in the MEA, so the investment is quite significant. At the moment, we have almost 16,500 rooms in the region and once our current active pipeline is realised, we will have a total of over 30,000 rooms in the MEA," Hilton Worldwide president for MEA Rudi Jagersbacher told on the sidelines of Arabian Hotel Investment Conference.
Hilton Worldwide currently operates 56 properties in 19 countries across MEA. There are 18 hotels in Egypt, 10 hotels in the UAE, six in Saudi Arabia, one hotel and one convention centre in Jordan, one each in Oman and Kuwait, two hotels in Lebanon, one in Qatar plus another 12 hotels in Africa and three hotels in the Indian Ocean.
Jagersbacher said Hilton's two landmark properties -- Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah and Conrad Dubai -- are scheduled to open this winter. "For Hilton Worldwide, 2012 is going to be a significant year as we are scheduled to open a landmark property in the UAE -- Conrad Dubai on Shaikh Zayed Road -- the first Conrad property in the GCC," he said.
"Moreover, DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai Al Barsha Hotel & Residence is expected to open in 2013 while both our Palm Jumeirah properties -- Hilton Dubai Palm Jumeirah and Waldorf Astoria Palm Jumeirah -- are planned for 2014."
In Ras Al Khaimah, Hilton Al Hamra Resort & Spa, a conversion property, will open in 2013 and the new-built DoubleTree by Hilton Resort at Marjan Island is scheduled to be launched in 2014.
"Hilton Sharjah, a conversion property that will be our first in Sharjah, is also expected to open this winter," he said.
In reply to a question about three upcoming properties in Ras Al Khaimah, he said the emirate is a major development market for Hilton as it is an upcoming business and leisure destination in the UAE.
"The high-profile ventures such as the recently announced Real Madrid tourism complex are geared to thrust Ras Al Khaimah onto the global stage and position it on par with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in terms of tourism and investment," he said. Jagersbacher said Hilton is interested to launch its all brands in the region. "We have 10 brands operating under the Hilton Worldwide global brand umbrella, of which we have five in the MEA -- Waldorf Astoria, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn."
"We are interested in rolling out all the brands in the region but will need to ensure that a number of factors -- demand, feeder markets, infrastructure to name a few -- are present before making the call to introduce the other five."
About the demand for upscale, mid-segment and low-end properties in the region, he said: "One of the perks of operating in an emerging market like the MEA is that demand is high across multiple segments. Demand for mid-market options like Hilton Garden Inn Riyadh Olaya is definitely on the rise but that has not affected the performance of our upscale properties like Hilton Dubai Jumeirah in the UAE or Qasr Al Sharq in Saudi Arabia. We have a number of upscale Hilton properties and they have been performing consistently well over the past two years."
To a question about hotel industry outlook for the UAE and GCC, he said the region's hospitality industry is developing at a steady rate.
"We are positive about the prospects for the hospitality industry within the UAE and the wider GCC, thanks to growing business, Mice, leisure and religious tourism sectors. The entire tourism industry, including aviation, travel trade, F&B, Mice, etc, is developing at a steady rate and this will help us catch up to mature markets of Europe and US and stay on par with emerging markets in Asia."
"In parallel, there is a growing awareness of the potential of niche sectors such as adventure tourism, cultural tourism, staycations, etc, and many countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are working towards expanding their tourism potential to tap into these nascent or upcoming sectors."
About the occupancy level in the UAE this year, he said: "I don't want to speculate on the future but we are bullish about 2012 as all the trends point towards growth."
"Within the overall hospitality industry, Dubai hotel establishments were top of the global market in occupancy levels (86.2 per cent) and RevPAR ($232.7) in January 2012 and in March 2012, overall UAE hotel occupancy grew by 5.7 per cent to 80.9 per cent; and RevPAR jumped 12.6 per cent to $186.8 (Dh686.04). Given these overall industry trends, our plans are geared towards expanding our services and reaching a wider target market," he added.
In reply to a question about the impact of Arab Spring on the UAE's hotel industry, he said: "Due to the fragile socio-political situation in the Arab region last year, a lot of travellers re-routed to the UAE and our network here, which covers 10 hotels including the newly opened Hilton Jumeirah Hotel Apartment and DoubleTree by Hilton Ras Al Khaimah, helped us deal with the surplus and recoup potential losses elsewhere."
"I believe the UAE hotel industry is doing well at the moment -- occupancy and RevPAR are at record highs and growing. Also, as part of the tourism industry, the effects of increased tourist activity will be reflected in the hotel industry."
(c)2012 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
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