Q&A: Hilton – 100 not out

After celebrating 100 years in business, and 50 years in Africa, Hilton Hotels and Resorts has big plans for 2020. Jan Van der Putten, Area Vice-President, Africa & Indian Ocean, shares his thoughts on the past year and the road ahead.


Q: How would you describe 2019, from a Hilton point of view?

A: 2019 was a truly memorable year for us as we celebrated our 100th anniversary as a company. This global milestone also allowed us to reflect on the contribution of our teams in Africa during that time and we also marked 50- year anniversaries at some of our landmark properties here too.

Q: Reflecting on 2019, what was the biggest talking point in the global hotel industry?

A: There has long been an acknowledgement of the potential for developing affordable, quality branded hotels – particularly for business travel – but we are really starting to see the momentum. In Africa, 2019 was the year when the mid-market sector finally began to arrive. Hilton launched its Hilton Garden Inn brand in three new markets (Uganda, Eswatini and Botswana) with South Africa and Namibia set to follow soon.

Q: What are you predicting the biggest issue or challenge will be for the hospitality industry in 2020?

A: The biggest challenges are always the ones which you don’t see coming, political instability or natural disasters that might affect people’s ability to travel. We are fortunate in that the global scope of our business and indeed our broad presence across Africa helps us mitigate where there are any local challenges or areas of uncertainty by offsetting this in other locations. Broadly speaking, much of the continent is as stable as it has ever been, but we must not become complacent and stay ready to react to any situation from both a commercial and operational point of view.

Q: What would Hilton like to achieve in 2020?

A: We want to remain the number one choice for owners, guests and our team members – setting ourselves up for another century of success. One of the ways we intend to do this is by embracing our commitment to sustainable travel and tourism, in particular via what we are terming our ‘Big Five’ focus areas to support sustainable growth. These are: Youth Opportunity, Water Stewardship, Anti-Human Trafficking, Local Sourcing and Protecting Wildlife. Having launched the platform in October 2018, we’ve been working hard to lay the ground work for our teams to undergo the necessary training and to meet with the right partners to begin scaling up our impact, and that is something I want to see happen this year.

Q: From an African development point of view, do you have any new properties expected to open in 2020?

A: We hope to open at least four new hotels this year across the continent. Here in South Africa we hope to see our first Hilton Garden Inn property open its doors at Umhlanaga Arch, whilst we are also on track to open the brand’s first hotel in Namibia – right next door to our existing Hilton. We are also working towards the opening of DoubleTree by Hilton Addis Ababa Airport and Hilton Taghazout Bay in Morocco, which is another top-class addition to our growing presence in that market.

Q: Is Hilton looking to unveil any new brands in Africa in the short-term?

A: We’ve recently signed deals to bring both our Canopy by Hilton lifestyle brand and the mid-market Hampton by Hilton to Africa for the first time. Canopy is a brand designed to reflect the local neighbourhood culture of its locations – it will make its African debut in Cape Town in the Longkloof district. Meanwhile Hampton by Hilton is what we call a focused service product in the midscale sector and is phenomenally successful globally with over 2,000 hotels.

Q: What’s your view on the current state of the African business travel industry?

A: It is clear that in the present global economic climate, for many businesses value and flexibility are top of mind when it comes to travel. As an industry it will become increasingly important for us to work together to deliver seamless and connected travel experiences that make business travel easier and more cost effective. Business travellers comprise a significant proportion of our guests and we are constantly looking at ways to adapt and improve their experiences to this effect. Many of our hotels are now equipped with ‘digital key’ and the ability to select a room via their Honors App, which enables guests to avoid lengthy check-in procedures by arriving prepared.

Q: Having celebrated 100 years last year, what do you hope the next 100 years will bring the hospitality industry?

A: I am a great believer in the hospitality industry as a source of opportunity for employment and economic growth. This is particularly pertinent in many African countries where the challenge of youth unemployment remains high on the agenda; building infrastructure to support the continued growth of the travel and tourism industry will offer enormous numbers of young people a route towards not only employment, but a fulfilling long-term career with international prospects. I hope that by 2119 the industry will have played a significant part.