More Value

Hilton Worldwide is one of the big players in global hospitality with over 4,500 hotels in nearly a hundred countries. That portfolio is growing, with Africa very much part of that development strategy, including the roll-out of a host of mid-market Hilton Garden Inn properties, as explained by Africa & Indian Ocean Vice-President Jan van der Putten to editor Dylan Rogers over coffee in Johannesburg. Hilton is no stranger to Africa, with a heritage that stretches as far back as 1969 with the opening of the Hilton Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. The Hilton in Nairobi, Kenya followed six months later and the rest, as they say, is history. 31 Hilton hotels are now dotted across Africa, including 17 in Egypt and three in South Africa. The group also boasts five DoubleTree by Hilton and two Conrad Hotels & Resorts properties, and soon a fourth of the 12 overall Hilton brands will have a presence on the African continent. Arguably the biggest Hilton talking point currently – as it relates to Africa – is the fact that the group is due to open 13 Hilton Garden Inn properties on the continent over the next few years. The first is expected to open in Tangier in Morocco in February/March, with further openings due in Swaziland, Namibia, Zambia, Nigeria, Kenya, Botswana, Ghana, and Uganda over the next few years. “It’s a brand that offers value for money,” says Van der Putten. “It doesn’t have the frills, thrills and expenses of a 5-star hotel. It’s a solid focused-service hotel and ideal for international travellers who go from A to B, staying one or two nights. It’s a great brand for Africa, is very reliable, and has everything you’re looking for when travelling.” For those new to the Hilton Garden Inn brand, Van der Putten explains where it sits in the traditional star grading scale. “We don’t classify stars because the star standards and expectations change from country to country,” he says. “We rank our products according to where we believe the requirements in world tourism are. We have luxury, full service and focused service. But it is between three and four stars.” Hilton has one of the most active hotel development pipelines in Africa, with at least six properties projected to open in Nigeria alone over the next three years, along with hotels in Accra (Ghana), Kinshasa (DRC), and the Hilton Garden Inn projects already mentioned. But that’s not where the Hilton African ambition ends and where the group sees opportunity. “It’s varied,” says Van der Putten. “A year ago I would have said Nigeria and I still think Nigeria offers fantastic opportunities, notwithstanding some of the issues the country has. East Africa has some great opportunities, with Kenya coming back and Ethiopia growing wonderfully. Mozambique has tremendous potential and from a business perspective countries like Angola are going to continue growing. Our guys are also working hard in Ghana, where there’s a resort development opportunity. Accra airport is very successful and Ghana is definitely one of the gateways into West Africa.”   With this in mind, the time is obviously right for Hilton to beef up its African offering with a host of mid-market hotel properties that complement the group’s already-extensive African portfolio that covers the more upscale segment. “Mid-market, focused service in countries and locations that are more mature in terms of travel is easier to position,” says Van der Putten. “But Africa is ready for that, because the inter-Africa travel is growing. Not every traveller wants a 5-star hotel and it’s not all about luxury. It’s about offering travellers what they need.” And Hilton clearly believes that travellers into and within Africa need more mid-market – or “focused service” – options than they currently enjoy, although Van der Putten is quick to point out that the group is in the business of identifying those needs, not changing travel culture. That, despite African business travel traditionally favouring the international groups and the 5-star options they offer. “I don’t think the industry should change the culture of the traveller,” he says. “We should facilitate the traveller and give him/her options. We’re not into changing culture. We offer the opportunity and the culture will adjust.” Look out for a Hilton Garden Inn, coming to a city near you.