Carlos Khneisser, Hilton Worldwide

Over the last 12 months, Hilton Worldwide has seen a series of milestones achieved across the Middle East. Carlos Khneisser, Vice President of Development, Middle East, Hilton Worldwide spoke to Europe Real Estate about Hilton’s projects across the MEA region and made predictions about the hospitality trends to watch in 2014.

Which are the most attractive cities and regions (in the GME) for hotel investments? We are focused on growing our portfolio across the region, with 48 hotels now under development across the Middle East**. As we expand our business into new markets, we are constantly reviewing development opportunities for our portfolio of award-winning brands.
Recently, we have focused particularly on Qatar because we see it as a major growth market for Hilton Worldwide alongside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), where we currently have 22 hotels under development. In fact, almost 50% of Hilton Worldwide MEA’s signings in 2013 were in either Qatar or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Other development markets include Kurdistan, with a pipeline of three hotels planned for Erbil and the region’s second city, Sulaymaniyah. Bahrain is also a focus for development, and last year we announced the opening of DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Bahrain–Juffair. This new development, located in one of Manama’s prime locations, is expected to welcome its guests in 2015.
Tell us a bit about Hilton Worldwide’s projects in the Middle East and how they are evolving. Over the last 12 months, Hilton Worldwide has seen a series of milestones achieved across the Middle East. Our portfolio has expanded with the introduction of our luxury brands in the UAE, with the opening of Conrad Dubai, Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah, as well as the multi-award winning Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah.
We have further expanded our full-service, upscale DoubleTree by Hilton brand in the region with four openings in KSA, Dubai, and Ras Al Khaimah. These are: DoubleTree by Hilton Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, DoubleTree by Hilton Al Barsha, DoubleTree by Hilton Jumeirah, and DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa, Marjan Island. We also recently announced DoubleTree by Hilton Unaizah in KSA.
In February 2014, we announced the first agreements for our mid-market Hilton Garden Inn brand in UAE, with two properties set to open in 2015 in prime locations. This was followed by a third Hilton Garden Inn signing with Majid Al Futtaim at the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai.
In Abu Dhabi, we have recently announced Hilton Saadiyat Island Resort, which is expected to open in 2017.
We also enjoyed a high number of signings in KSA and Qatar across our portfolio, including a new Hilton Hotels & Resorts property at Salwa Beach in Qatar, the largest of its kind in the Middle East and a first for Qatar. Last month, we signed an agreement with renowned investors Al Jaryan Trading & Contracting for a 207-room hotel in the Mall of Qatar. This is our first property for the Curio brand, a collection by Hilton portfolio in the Middle East.
The GME region is dynamic and diverse and continues to present significant opportunities to grow our portfolio, offer investors a wide choice of leading brands, and extend our world-class offerings to travelers from around the world.
Hilton Hotels & Resorts Qatar Hilton Hotels & Resorts Qatar
Will hospitality be one of the preferred sectors for investment in the GME region in the near future? Hospitality is a major growth industry across the region, and we see significant opportunity to expand our portfolio of brands across the Middle East.
We continue to see fast paced development in the luxury segment which explains the introduction of our luxury brands to the Middle East in 2013. With the successful openings of Conrad Dubai, Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah and Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, we have witnessed increases in the number of discerning travelers opting for personalized service at our award-winning properties in the region.
We also see opportunity for the significant growth of our recently introduced brands, including DoubleTree by Hilton, which operates in the upscale and full-service segment and offers investors a model that is suitable for both conversion and new build properties. In addition, the signings of three mid-market Hilton Garden Inn hotels marks the introduction of the upscale, yet affordable brand to the region. We look forward to making further announcements on agreements for Hilton Garden Inn, as well as our Hampton by Hilton brand in the not too distant future.
Do you think that the region's hospitality market will be influenced by Dubai's momentum after winning the bid to host Expo 2020 and if so, how? Tourism is a major factor in Dubai’s economic growth, contributing to 31% of Dubai’s GDP growth in 2012*. Hosting the Expo 2020 will have a significant impact on the tourism industry of Dubai, UAE, and the wider Middle East region. In addition to attracting further investment into the emirate, Expo 2020 firmly places the region at the forefront of global business and trade.
Furthermore, it creates an opportunity to showcase Dubai’s key strengths, with tourism at the core. It will certainly play an integral role in contributing to Dubai’s vision to attract 20 million visitors by 2020. Hilton Worldwide is delighted to represent a major part of the hotel market and will be looking forward to playing a key role in helping Dubai to achieve its vision for 2020.
We are committed to the development in the region over a long-term period. We are constantly growing our offer and focusing on a range of strategic priorities including expanding our luxury, upscale, and mid-market brands as well as our new brand Curio.
In your opinion, what are the hospitality trends to watch in 2014? While there will continue to be strong interest for luxury branded hotels and resorts in the region, there is also growing demand for mid-market options, particularly in Dubai.
This gives us a great platform to further develop our Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton by Hilton brands and to build awareness of our mid-market and value offering among growing audience of travelers in the emirate. In fact, in February 2014, we introduced our leading mid-priced Hilton Garden Inn brand in the UAE, with the signing of three properties, set to open by 2016. This aligns with the Dubai government’s vision to help increase the mid-market accommodation offering in the city.

* According to figures released by Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM). ** Middle East includes: Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, KSA, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. All figures as of 31.03.14

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