How a 103-year-old hospitality brand stays ahead of the curve

How a 103-year-old hospitality brand stays ahead of the curve
This year, big openings include the first Hilton on the Palm Jumeirah, the first Waldorf astoria in Kuwait, the first Waldorf astoria in Qatar, and the first Conrad in Morocco. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 12 May 2022

How a 103-year-old hospitality brand stays ahead of the curve

How a 103-year-old hospitality brand stays ahead of the curve
  • Hilton’s regional president shares his plan to open 110 new hotels in the Middle East and North Africa in five years
  • 81% of travelers in a survey of 30,000 respondents said that sustainable travel is important to them

DUBAI: There is something reassuring about a hotel brand that has lasted and flourished for over 100 years. Besides weathering cataclysmic events during this period, the Hilton Group has endured the universal pandemic and emerged full of learning and strength.

“One of the reasons we have been in business for 103 years and doing that very well is anticipating trends and having great staff,” said Jochem-Jan Sleiffer, president, Middle East, Africa & Turkey, Hilton, in an interview with Arab News.

“I started my current role the year COVID-19 hit, and let’s say you get to know your team very well in a crisis. I got to see what people are made of, how they held hands to shoulder responsibility.” 




Jochem-Jan Sleiffer, president, Middle East, Africa & Turkey, Hilton.

The pandemic also changed the course of things to come. Current travel trends that help the brand stay ahead of the curve include focusing on sustainability, digital offerings, and the simplicity of a great bed and shower pressure.

“This is what people want. Sustainability is front and center: People had seen the globe differently when travel stopped and are very eco-conscious now,” he said. “It’s everything from offering farm-to-table local produce, reducing plastic water bottle usage, and planting local trees.”

Along the green trail

According to a 2022 report by Booking.com, 81 percent of travelers confirmed that sustainable travel is essential to them, with 50 percent saying that recent news about climate change has influenced them to make more sustainable travel choices.

The research is based on insights gathered from more than 30,000 travelers across 32 countries and territories, with 71 percent of global travelers wanting to travel more sustainably over the coming 12 months — a 10 percent increase year on year.

Sleiffer has worked in the hospitality industry for 30 years, starting his career at Hilton Amsterdam in 1990. Today, he oversees Hilton’s operations in the region, including 85 existing properties and 110 new ones that will open in the Middle East and North Africa in the next five years.

“We are growing our portfolio in the Middle East and North Africa by 130 percent,” said the hotelier.

“We increased revenue per available room 121 percent this year, up 8 percent compared to 2019 in our region. We are excited about new openings ahead — it’s a year of firsts for us.”

This year, big openings include the first Hilton on the Palm Jumeirah, the first Waldorf Astoria in Kuwait, the first Waldorf Astoria in Qatar, and the first Conrad in Morocco. Hilton currently operates 16 hotels in Saudi Arabia and has 45 in the pipeline.

“We see tremendous growth all over the region, but if I have to call out some countries, I would call out Saudi Arabia,” said Sleiffer. “It is a huge growth area for us with Vision 2030 We are fully aligned with the Ministry of Tourism. Saudi has mythical new openings that will allow us to be part of building a great story.”

On the home front

A trend arose during COVID-19 of an increase in domestic travelers discovering their own country; Sleiffer believes this will continue. Bloomberg reported late last year that the Kingdom expects 50 million visitors in 2022 — 45 percent of which are Saudi residents.

“That is one of the positives of COVID-19, that Saudis have rediscovered their own country as well,” he said. “All hotel operators are looking at Saudi now, but we have been in the Kingdom for a long, long time, and we already have a big presence in Makkah and Madinah. So our relationship with the Ministry of Tourism is very strong. Looking at the megaprojects, we want to be in all of those, too.”

While leisure travel has been a core part of growth over the last few years, Sleiffer said business travel is witnessing a renaissance.

“The leisure staycation business has helped us after the pandemic, but we also see big meetings; people want to reconnect with their teams,” he said. “We see it with people visiting from head office and team-building activities. It makes sense because colleagues have spent two years on virtual calls.”

For business and leisure travelers, the top source market for the Middle East and North Africa hotels in the first quarter of 2022 were actually residents enjoying staycations. Guests flying in from the UK comprised the second top source market. Hilton’s focus is an international, consistent standard with a local flavor in each country.

“Developing local talent is high on our agenda,” Sleiffer said. “We want to hire locally as much as we can to reflect local communities.”


Saudi hotelier Elaf Group expands its presence with newly launched brand Joudyan 

Saudi hotelier Elaf Group expands its presence with newly launched brand Joudyan 
Updated 59 min 12 sec ago

Saudi hotelier Elaf Group expands its presence with newly launched brand Joudyan 

Saudi hotelier Elaf Group expands its presence with newly launched brand Joudyan 

RIYADH: Elaf Group, one of the leading hospitality players in the region, is now set to focus on expanding its presence with the opening of its first property under the newly launched hotel brand Joudyan in Riyadh later this week. 

This will be Elaf Group’s first hotel in Riyadh and the opening of Joudyan in the capital will be followed up with other cities outside of Riyadh.  

In an exclusive interview with Arab News on the sidelines of the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Riyadh, Ahmed Al-Azzouni, director of marketing and public relations, Elaf Group, said they intend to expand in the Eastern Province and the north and south as well.  

“Joudyan will be the focus of Elaf Group’s expansion plan in the Kingdom,” he said. 

Elaf Group which offers a mix of five- and four-star hotels, promises to offer a “unique experience” of the local feel of the Kingdom to the visitors. 

Al-Azzouni added: “The hotel in Jeddah will be in the Red Sea Mall. We’re currently renovating the property and it will be reopened as Joudyan brand.” 

He said they are confident that Joudyan will soon carve a niche for itself in the hospitality industry. 

"The new brand would have multiple locations across the Kingdom,” informed Al-Azzouni. “The official opening of the first Joudyan brand would be in Riyadh this week. It will soon be followed by the opening of the second hotel in Jeddah during the second half of 2023.” 

Talking about the new brand name, Al-Azzouni explained that when you dissect the word Joudyan, joud is from the Arabic word which means alkaram or generosity. “We made sure that we created a new name that reflects that (generosity),” Al-Azzouni explained. 

“Generosity is part of the Saudi culture. And that’s what we intend to make sure our guests feel about us when they come visit us. We will also make sure that that is our core brand essence and how we do business,” he continued. 

As for Elaf hotels, Al-Azzouni informed they will be concentrated in Makkah and Madinah due to the Elaf name having its roots in the holy cities. 

The company is also planning to expand across the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Middle East regions while setting its eyes on the European market. 

“We are open to any kind of ventures and investment opportunities that is mutually beneficial to all parties,” Al-Azzouni said talking about the company’s future plans.  

Going on to discuss the overall outlook of the hospitality industry, Al-Azzouni said things were catching up with 2019. “We have seen positive numbers and things are going back to where we were in 2019,” he informed. “We’re almost there and we can feel it in different sectors including hospitality and travel and tourism. We see a positive outlook for 2023 and beyond.”   

Not surprisingly then that the group is currently working on the completion of extensive renovation and upgrading efforts in all its hotels in order to keep pace with the rapid growth in the tourism and hospitality sectors.   


Oil Updates — Crude up; Iraq plans to raise oil exports by 250k bpd in 2023 

Oil Updates — Crude up; Iraq plans to raise oil exports by 250k bpd in 2023 
Updated 30 November 2022

Oil Updates — Crude up; Iraq plans to raise oil exports by 250k bpd in 2023 

Oil Updates — Crude up; Iraq plans to raise oil exports by 250k bpd in 2023 

RIYADH: Oil prices posted gains of more than 1 percent in Asian trade on Wednesday on falling US crude inventories and a lower greenback.  

Brent crude futures firmed 95 cents or 1.14 percent to $83.98 per barrel by 0411 GMT, while US West Texas Intermediate crude futures climbed 80 cents or 1.02 percent to $79.00 per barrel. 

Venezuela to sign new contracts to boost oil output at joint ventures 

Venezuela will soon sign new contracts to boost oil joint ventures between state firm PDVSA and private energy companies, the country’s Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami said on Tuesday, a move that will benefit Chevron Corp.  

The US Treasury Department on Saturday authorized the No. 2 US oil producer to expand operations at its Venezuela joint ventures. That authorization is expected to help the country grow crude production and exports following almost four years of harsh US oil trading sanctions. 

US President Joe Biden’s administration has said sanctions on Venezuela could be eased further depending on the progress of key political talks that resumed this month in Mexico aimed at agreeing to a presidential election and other demands. 

El Aissami made the announcement on Twitter following a meeting with Chevron’s top executive in Venezuela, Javier La Rosa. Chevron was authorized earlier this year by Washington to meet Venezuelan officials, including those individually sanctioned like El Aissami. 

“It is a regular practice for Chevron Venezuela leadership to meet with authorized PDVSA and government representatives in relation to the activities that the company is authorized to undertake in the country,” Chevron said in a statement.  

Chevron is a minority partner in four oil joint ventures in Venezuela with PDVSA, which have produced this year between 60,000 and 100,000 barrels per day of crude. The new license authorizes the US company to export its projects’ oil to the US.  

Iraq plans to raise oil exports by 250,000 bpd in 2023 

Iraq has plans to raise oil exports by 250,000 barrels per day in the second half of next year to reach 3.6 million bpd from the current 3.35 million bpd, Iraq’s state news agency quoted Saadoun Mohsen, a senior official at the country’s state oil marketer SOMO, as saying on Tuesday. 

EU inches toward deal on Russian oil price cap this week 

EU countries are inching toward a deal this week on a price cap on Russian oil, a way to adjust the cap in future, and on linking it to a package of new sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, diplomats said on Tuesday. 

The deadline for a deal is Dec. 5 because that is when the EU’s own full embargo on purchases of Russian seaborne oil, agreed upon at the end of May, kicks in. 

The price cap, a softer measure proposed by the Group of Seven nations, is supposed to replace the tougher EU plan to protect global supply and prevent a price surge, but there is disagreement among the 27 EU countries on the level of the cap. 

“Consultations have been ongoing since last Wednesday and we are inching toward an agreement, we are closer and closer,” Reuters reported quoting one senior EU diplomat involved in the negotiations.  

The G7 proposal, presented to EU governments by the European Commission, was a price cap in the range of $65-70 per barrel — a level that diplomats said was fixed in September when Russian oil traded at $68-76 per barrel on the market. 

“The idea was that a cap of around 5 percent below the market price would work to make the Russians sell while reducing their revenues,” a second senior diplomat said. “But since then prices have kept falling and are now below the cap level, so that level achieves no objective,” he said. 

Poland, Lithuania and Estonia, therefore, rejected the G7 proposal saying the cap should be closer to Russian production costs, which are estimated at about $20-25 per barrel. The three countries, which all border Russia, back a $30 price cap. 

They also argued that, given changing global oil markets and Russia’s ability to finance the war, the price cap should not be set in stone, but be a dynamic tool that could be reviewed often under a mechanism yet to be agreed. 

(With input from Reuters)  


Saudi Tourism Development Fund signs partnership agreement with Hilton

Saudi Tourism Development Fund signs partnership agreement with Hilton
Updated 30 November 2022

Saudi Tourism Development Fund signs partnership agreement with Hilton

Saudi Tourism Development Fund signs partnership agreement with Hilton
  • The new accord will help them launch several projects in the hospitality sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Development Fund signed an agreement with Hilton on Tuesday to promote strategic partnerships between the two entities. 
The new accord will help them launch several projects in the hospitality sector, wrote state agency SPA.
Hilton will provide its global experience to help the Tourism Development Fund develop hospitality establishments and entertainment facilities for tourists. 
The changes are inspired by the needs of family-oriented attractions, such as water parks, restaurants and cafes, and adventure activities.


SEVEN invests over $13bn to build entertainment destinations in Saudi Arabia

SEVEN invests over $13bn to build entertainment destinations in Saudi Arabia
Updated 44 min 24 sec ago

SEVEN invests over $13bn to build entertainment destinations in Saudi Arabia

SEVEN invests over $13bn to build entertainment destinations in Saudi Arabia
  • The new destinations will include more than 150 entertainment areas in a bid to spur the industry’s growth

RIYADH: The Saudi Entertainment Ventures announced it will invest over $13 billion in establishing 21 entertainment destinations across 14 cities in the Kingdom.

The company, known as SEVEN and owned by the Public Investment Fund, said the new destinations will include more than 150 entertainment areas in a bid to spur the industry’s growth and attract tourists, reported the Saudi Press Agency.

“The announcement comes in conjunction with the efforts seeking to consolidate the sector’s position as a basic pillar for diversifying sources of national income, creating jobs, and contributing to raising the quality of life for citizens and residents, in addition to supporting the empowerment of Saudi cities to obtain a better position among global cities,” the statement read.

Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Daoud, chairman of SEVEN’s board of directors, said the new entertainment areas aim to enhance visitor experiences and establish partnerships with key global entertainment leaders.

“We believe the entertainment sector in the Kingdom is full of opportunities, and its role in the local economy is growing, and that it constitutes a solid basis for job creation, as it is a strong engine for many other economic sectors,” he said.

With the new venture, Al-Daoud said SEVEN would work to provide opportunities for local small and medium companies and develop Saudi talent through global partnerships.

The company had earlier started construction work on one of its entertainment destinations at “Al-Hamra” district in Riyadh, with an investment of over $800 million.

The project will include indoor viewing wheel, surfing area, air-flying zones and electric karting tracks. It is expected to attract 6 million visitors annually, according to the company’s statement.

SEVEN was formed in December 2017 as part of Riyadh’s push to localize Saudi spending on entertainment under the Vision 2030 mandate. 

The company plans to develop over 20 entertainment complexes, 50 cinemas and two theme parks in the Kingdom.

SEVEN’s pipeline includes projects in Dammam, Jeddah, Makkah, Obhur and Riyadh, as well as its planned entertainment complex in Abha, which will have a built-up area of over 70,000 square meters.


KAPSARC study concludes OPEC+ efforts to stabilize market cut price volatility by 50%

KAPSARC study concludes OPEC+ efforts to stabilize market cut price volatility by 50%
Updated 29 November 2022

KAPSARC study concludes OPEC+ efforts to stabilize market cut price volatility by 50%

KAPSARC study concludes OPEC+ efforts to stabilize market cut price volatility by 50%
  • OPEC+’s market-stabilization efforts appear to have lifted the average price from $18 to $54 during the pandemic demand shock

RIYADH: OPEC+’s management of spare capacity reduced crude oil price volatility by up to 50%, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study published by King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) in the Energy Journal.

The study “Oil Market Stabilization: The Performance of OPEC and Its Allies” further highlights that, OPEC+’s market-stabilization efforts appear to have lifted the average price from $18 to $54 during the pandemic demand shock, but to have decreased the average price before the pandemic by $2.50, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The reduction in oil price volatility lowered macroeconomic costs of adjustment to the pandemic and contributed to higher social welfare.

The study developed an economic mode to calculate the crude oil price that would have prevailed if OPEC+ had not attempted to stabilize the oil market using its spare capacity.

“OPEC’s role has been critical in reducing price volatility directly— by acting as a swing producer that offsets shocks to supply and demand. Its spare capacity policy is an effective tool to achieve this strategic objective,” KAPSARC President Fahad Alajlan said.

“The value to the world economy of stabilizing the oil market is substantial. In a previous peer-reviewed study, we calculated that OPEC’s management of its spare capacity annually increased world’s GDP by almost $200 billion,” Research Fellow and report co-author Hossa Almutairi said.

The economic importance of stabilizing the price of oil derives from the rigidity of global oil demand and non-OPEC oil supplies. Any shock to supply or demand requires a relatively large price adjustment to restore market equilibrium, SPA reported.

The negative impact on the global economy of the resulting price volatility was amplified by oil’s position as the leading commodity in international trade.

“The period covered by our study ends in August 2021, but I believe that OPEC+’s market stabilization efforts have consistently continued until today. We will quantify their impacts with our model once sufficient data is available,” Axel Pierru, Energy Macro & Microeconomics Program Director, said.