Hotel Pioneers

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Hilton Worldwide is in 102 countries with nearly 4,000 hotels across the world, which according to Global President and CEO, Chris Nassetta, is a good reason for him to travel. Nassetta was in South Africa recently, and I joined him, Area President for Middle East and Africa, Rudi Jagersbacher, and VP of Operations for Africa and Indian Ocean, Jan van der Putten, for a coffee, a chat, and a clearer understanding of what Hilton’s immediate plans for Africa are. He’s pretty engaging is Chris Nassetta and a bit more approachable than your everyday president and CEO of a global giant such as Hilton. But he also fronts up when asked the difficult questions, such as when I put it to him that some international hotel brands have been criticised for charging into Africa, attaching their name to a property, and then providing little in the way of support. “With us, that couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Nassetta. “Firstly, we’re not new to the region, we’ve made proper investments over long periods of time, built a network of sales people, and we’ve got our Hilton HHonours loyalty programme that we’ve built up and invested in. As we’ve expanded on the continent, we’ve done nothing but invest more. So, I would be surprised if that criticism was levelled against us.” Indeed they do have a long history in Africa, stretching back over half a century to the opening of the iconic Nile Hilton in 1959. “We’ve been in North Africa for over 50 years and in Ethiopia for some 43 years,” says Nassetta. “But we haven’t really had a meaningful presence in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Which brings us to the here and now. The big Hilton news from a South African perspective is that the Pezula Resort & Spa in Knysna will shortly be joining the Hilton stable as a member of the luxury portfolio of Conrad Hotels & Resorts, following the signing of a management agreement with resort owners, Alderney Establishment. That will bring to four the number of Hilton properties in South Africa, with the new DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Cape Town set to make it five by the end of the year. There’s also the Hilton Windhoek, which opened in 2011, as well as plenty in the pipeline for the rest of the continent. “We have a good base today with 33 hotels in the region, and a pipeline of 19 more,” says Nassetta. “We’re building in the likes of Freetown (Sierra Leone), Kampala (Uganda), N’Djamena (Chad). We’re looking at Africa as a whole. We believe that every capital has the opportunity to make sure that one of our brands is represented well to meet our customer demands.” It’s no surprise that Hilton is upping its game in Africa, as just about every major business travel brand is looking for an opportunity to tap into the opportunity that the continent offers. “Honestly, up until four years ago, Africa was not a primary focus,” says Nassetta. “We were here, doing business, but in terms of growth, we did not have a development team or major offices.” That’s all changed now. “The reason for Africa now, is really simply, mass growth.  We think this region of the world provides amazing growth opportunities. The African region is clearly one of the highest percentage growth areas in the world.” “We think the demand is here and there are huge opportunities for us to grow not just the Hilton brand, but probably a handful of brands that we have in our family of brands.” That family of brands includes Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Hilton, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton, Homewood Suites, Home2 Suites and Hilton Grand Vacations. Expect to see more of these brands popping up across Africa, with Nassetta revealing that the smaller hotels will be their focus, with the likes of the Hilton, DoubleTree, Garden Inn and Hampton brands. Hilton is in Africa, and it appears that it’s here to stay. Dylan Rogers
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