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RIYAD: The Hilton Garden Inn Riyadh Financial District is the latest opening in Saudi Arabia by the famous American hotelier, but the company has big plans in sight for the Kingdom, including more than 40 new properties and the recruitment of thousands of Saudi professionals.

“Saudi Arabia is an important market for us,” Jochem-Jan Sleiffer, president of Hilton Middle East, Africa and Turkey told Arab News. “We try to develop all our different brands as much as possible in the right cities. “

Hilton, which has a regional office in Jeddah, now has 18 brands in 119 countries and more than 6,500 properties worldwide. The Middle East now has 61 Hilton hotels and 85 more in the pipeline, including 41 in Saudi Arabia over the next three to four years.

“If I look at Saudi Arabia, every city, every country should at least have a Hampton or a Garden Inn,” Sleiffer said. “Mid-range hotels are expected to be found in every city in Saudi Arabia, and there is currently more demand for hotels than supply. “

The Waldorf Astoria, Hilton’s most luxurious brand, has had a presence in Jeddah for many years, alongside brands such as Conrad, Hampton and DoubleTree. When deciding which brand to introduce in a given city, Sleiffer said market analysis and future forecasting are needed to understand the demographics of potential customers.

Of the 41 pipeline projects, most will be “high-end”, like DoubleTree, while others will target the mid-market segment, like Garden Inn. “That’s where the big, high-end and mid-range are. Before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia had high demand in the business and religious tourism segment, but now the demand for leisure is much higher, ”he said.

With international travel resuming to the Kingdom on May 17, Sleiffer said people desperately wanted to travel again and to places they had not been before, such as Saudi Arabia.

“Over the next two years, we expect to hire approximately 2,000 people. Over the next 10 years, 10,000 people, half of whom will be Saudis. I want the Saudis to run these hotels. We have training programs and we have a Hilton University that has over 5,000 online training courses. “

The president of Hilton said that according to figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council, one in 10 jobs is in hospitality and tourism, but added: “Saudi Arabia is weak on this, so we have to talk about it here as well. This will happen, I have no doubt, take the example of Hilton Riyadh, where 44% of the current staff is Saudi.

The demand is certainly there, as a survey in December commissioned by The Red Sea Development Co. found that around nine in ten young Saudis surveyed said they would be keen on working in the tourism and hospitality industries, versus 77% who said they were interested. in a job in petrochemicals.

When the pandemic hit over a year ago, Hilton focused on three things: staff and guest safety, the community around hotels, and property.

This involved postponing investment deals to help preserve liquidity, adjusting to security protocols, and making layoffs if necessary. However, as vaccination rates increased, Hilton began to rehire at an accelerated rate, Sleiffer said.

“We focus on the contact points in the room, switches and remotes. We developed Hilton CleanStay and Hilton EventReady for meetings, ”he added.

Mobile check-in and digital key – developed by Hilton before the pandemic – have been an important feature that has decreased interactions between staff and guests, reducing the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Sleiffer also hopes to expand the Hilton brand to the Kingdom’s megaprojects, such as NEOM and the Red Sea Project.

“There is more to come,” he said, mentioning his enthusiasm for the upcoming Formula 1 race in Jeddah in December this year, where Hilton is the official sponsor of McLaren Racing.

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