What’s in a Name?

“Hilton stands for hospitality”; and perhaps even more so in MEA: Interview with Rudi Jagersbacher, President, Middle East and Africa, Hilton

Based at the Hilton Worldwide area offices in Dubai Internet City, Rudi Jagersbacher leads the company’s operations across the area. We met with him at the prestigious Waldorf Astoria in Berlin and asked the leading question: “How’s business?”

From the trading point of view, we have had very strong results in the last few years, particularly in markets where initially, strategically, we didn’t think they would be. We currently have a hundred hotels operating in the MEA region, and we have 150 in the pipeline. We, as a company, have 14 brands, but we are only operating about 6 brands in my region. Basically, we see huge developments in the luxury market – Waldorf Astorias and Conrads, we have Curio – a Collection by Hilton, which is really strong now, of course Hilton is the main brand, and Doubletree by Hilton. Since 2011, we have worked further on innovation, looking for example at Mecca as a destination. We were one of the first going into the religious tourism market many years ago, as we knew this this would develop quickly. We are building 6,000 rooms there. Altogether, we will have around 40 hotels just in Saudi Arabia. As the trends are moving to different stages, you no longer have the basic Hilton brand; you actually have an array of markets. We have an asset- light model, meaning that from an investment point of view, we look for investors and manage their hotels. This enables us to have the largest pipeline in terms of any competitor in our industry in the MEA region. It’s a testimony of how we run our brands and the confidence of the investor community – proven by the fact that nearly 60% of all our new builds come from existing owners.

What would you say are the key differentiators of the Hilton Group as opposed to the competitors?

The first one is the brand. Brand recognition of Hilton versus everybody else. Hilton stands for hospitality, so therefore, fundamentally, does the brand. Secondly, it’s the team members and thirdly it’s the offering in terms of brand acquisitions. This is why we add the Hilton name to our brands – like Doubletree by Hilton and so on – because we are very proud of the originator of Hilton – who was Conrad Hilton. What was originally established has obviously developed over the years, but you cannot lose that traditional aspect. You have to infuse this with some entrepreneurial skills and be different in terms of delivery.

WE CURRENTLY HAVE A HUNDRED HOTELS OPERATING IN THE MEA REGION, AND WE HAVE 150 IN THE PIPELINE

What about innovation? How important is this for the group?

It’s fair to say that this innovation continues. Hilton is a brand known for innovation. The Digital Key is an example of something that sets us apart from the competitors, as we are the only ones doing this at scale. The things we need to do really well are fundamental and simple. How many times have you been in a very busy hotel and there is a queue on the way in and a queue on the way out? That is no longer a problem. As long as you are a Hilton Honors member, you can select your room, book it, and arrive and leave at your convenience. That journey is really important. It’s been happening in the air transport sector for some time now, and people expect that kind of convenience. This is available in 1400 of our hotels and will soon be in 2500.

We can be global, and we are global, but we have to act local, whether it be design, location, service offering, or recruitment

What about people that prefer the “old style” check in?

Some people will always prefer the more traditional aspects of the welcome, but what’s important is giving people the choice. In many places in Africa and the Middle East, people expect a much higher level of service than in the west, and we recognise and deliver this as well. We can be global, and we are global, but we have to act local, whether it be design, location, service offering, or recruitment. Hiring people from the locality where we are developing properties is fundamental. That’s where our training programmes take on a whole new level of importance.