Staying relevant

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Hilton Worldwide operates eleven brands in 93 countries worldwide. This week the company announced the signing of agreements to open two Hilton Garden Inns in Nigeria. Hilton Worldwide executive team visited Addis Ababa to participate in the African Hotel Investment Forum 2014. Among the members was Simon Vincent who is the Executive Vice President & President, of Europe, Middle East & Africa for Hilton Worldwide. Capital’s Eskedar Kifle sat down with Vincent to talk about  Hilton Addis and their plans to make their mark  on the African continent;

Capital: Tell us why you are here.
Simon Vincent:
We are here in Addis Ababa for the African Investment conference which is an important date on the calendar for all hospitality professionals and investors in Africa. At this particular conference, we are showcasing our new modular design for our economy and mid market hotel products which includes brands like the Hampton and the Hilton Garden Inn. We have a modular room concept which is actually built in China and is shipped over here and we believe it will help accelerate our growth in Africa quiet considerably.
Capital: Tell us more about the two brands you mentioned and the modular designs?
Vincent:
Hilton Worldwide operates eleven brands globally from economy sectors all the way to luxury. We have the Hampton in the economy segment and Hilton Garden Inn in the mid market, we have Double Tree which is our conversion brand, and then there is the Hilton which is our main brand, and then Conrad, Waldorf Astoria and Curio which is our collection brand.
The modular rooms are targeted at our economy and mid market brands. Our thinking is that we would use these modular rooms to accelerate our development in Africa. The components and the rooms themselves are made out of shipping containers, they are manufactured in China in manufacturing conditions in specific factories and they are literally shipped to Africa all pre assembled and pre completed. So, it is a much quicker process, we are able to control the quality and we believe it will be an attractive proposition as well from a construction point of view.
Capital: Is there any compromise with quality at all? And are these modules for only the African market?
Vincent:
No, not at all. I don’t know if you have gotten the chance to look at the sample room we are showcasing. I think if anything, it enhances the quality. It is not only for Africa, we use it elsewhere. We believe just given the logistical challenge in Africa and given some of the infrastructure issues and some of the quality issues in construction in Africa, this would be a great product to bring to Africa but it is not specific to the African market, if we have opportunities in London, Moscow or Berlin, we will do it there as well. 
Capital: What about production cost, how much cheaper is it?
Vincent:
It will be cheaper but it is difficult to say at this point in time how cheap it is. Each project is different; it depends on how many rooms there are. But we think it will be considerably cheaper.
Capital: Other international hotel chains are bringing in their different brands. Are you planning to do that here?
Vincent:
We have got a whole family of brands, we have got 11 brands. We are looking to expand our presence and we have in all markets between 2007 and 2014 across all of our brands. We are always looking for opportunities but our principle investment remains the Hilton in Addis. We have been here since 1969 and it is an iconic hotel in the local market place and it is a hotel we are very proud of.
Capital: The Hilton in Addis is an iconic hotel but it is also very old and your usual customers are also those that have sort of grown old with the hotel instead of the younger generation. What is your comment on that?
Vincent:
We are working with governmental partners to invest in the master plan for the hotel to upgrade the facilities here and that is an on going dialogue but it is something we are both very committed to doing. I think a lot of the technological innovation we are talking about is designed to attract the next generation of Hilton Worldwide customers.
As you look at our profile of customers on global basis, we have got 40 million members in our Hilton Honors program and we have got a significant mix in terms of demographics and we are very focused on making sure that we are relevant to generation x and generation y. I talked about e-check in for instance, the use of smart technology. That is a very good example of where we are looking to refine and develop our proposition in that respect.
Capital: When will you be launching the e-check-in service in Africa or Ethiopia and do you think the issues with the local internet access be a problem for that?
Vincent:
It will be into Africa by the end of 2015, I hope earlier but end of 2015 is realistic.  Infrastructure is improving all the time, this is a long term business and in the times I have been coming to Addis over the course of the last 18 months, I have seen improvements in the technology and I think it will continue to improve.