Q&A: Big Plans, Not Pipe Dreams

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What does your role entail?

It’s really about finding us new opportunities in Africa, for us to manage the properties on behalf of owners. So, basically, expanding our footprint in Africa.

What’s the Hilton take on what Africa has to offer?

We’re extremely optimistic about Africa. We’ve opened the office in Cape Town and that was the first step towards that commitment to expanding in Africa. We’re also increasing the size of the development office in Cape Town. We’re bringing in a new guy, in the form of Lasse Ristolainen. He’ll be joining the team from 1 July and he’ll be assisting me with growing the portfolio of hotels we have in Africa.

Does Hilton like to position itself as a more business or leisure hotel group?

There are elements of both among the properties. We’re probably known more for being a corporate hotel. But we do have a leisure component in a lot of our properties. We have resort properties – among them, one that opened in the Seychelles this year. It’s called Labriz Resort & Spa. We also have 16 hotels in Egypt and the majority of those are resort hotels, as well. So, we actually have a huge leisure component to our business.

Do you think the African continent has suffered from a negative perception of its business capabilities?

I don’t know if it’s necessarily that it’s suffered from it being not a viable business proposition. I think it’s more some of the other risks that are perceived around safety and security and things like that. As a business proposition, we are very optimistic about Africa. We’re seeing a lot of investors out of Europe and the US. They are approaching us now to get involved in opportunities in Africa and I think it’s slightly a reflection on their own economies, and how they are a little flat at the moment. It’s also that general premise – if you want to earn decent returns, then Africa is one of the last bastions of where to go to get that. It’s got a huge wealth of natural and cultural resources. The other thing, from a hotel perspective, is that it’s fairly under-represented by, particularly, the international brands.

How do you as a hotel group address issues such as safety?

One of the advantages we have, with international guests coming into Africa, is that they look for companies like Hilton, because they know that there will be strong standards around security for the hotel. Obviously, as part of our brand standards, we have security and what we have to do around it. We’ll also tailor it to the local conditions. It might be a little more intense in certain locations. For example, if you go to the Hilton Nairobi, there are the gate checks for incoming vehicles. Going into the property, there’ll be a metal detector and a scanner for your bag, etc. So, you do have to adapt your requirements, depending on the market. But, for us, it’s actually a strength, because it gives that international guest the security that they are going to be OK in that hotel.

Any other thoughts on Hilton’s African expansion?

We are very aggressive in terms of how we want to continue the expansion across the continent. We want to expand not just our core Hilton brand, but also our DoubleTree by Hilton brand. We have a couple of DoubleTrees in Tanzania at the moment and we’re looking to expand those further within Africa. We’re also looking at opportunities to increase our Hilton Garden Inn brand, which is our mid-market brand. In South Africa, we’ve got our Hampton by Hilton – our economy brand – to expand as well. We look at Middle East and Africa together. Currently, we have 50 hotels and we want to grow that by about 80% in the next four years. That’s confirmed projects, signed and construction under way. So, it’s not a pipe dream – it’s reality! Big plans!