The Hilton was one of the first foreign hotel chains to enter Egypt, paving the way for many others to follow suit. In this interview, Mohab Ghali discusses the Hilton’s socio-economic impact in Egypt, the recovery of the tourism sector, and some of the company’s CSR initiatives in education and the environment.
The Hilton has been present in Egypt for 60 years and has 16 properties all over the country. How important is the role of the Hilton in the tourism sector in Egypt?
First, we are known in Egypt to be the school of hotels. We’ve been the first in most places in Egypt. We cater to diversified sorts of clients be they leisure, or corporate, or FITs. So, we’re quite diversified in what we offer based at the various destinations that we have. I believe we have almost 6,500 team members, the majority is Egyptian, and so we have a strong impact on the community. As I mentioned, we have never exited Egypt, not even during the revolution. Part of our GMs are consulting with the Ministry of Tourism on various issues, so we are quite active. We are actually one of the biggest hotel chains in Egypt in terms of volume, and there was a time when we were number one. However, we now have 16 properties (6,610 rooms) here in Egypt, which is a substantial amount, and we are growing almost 40%. Hence, we definitely are one of the biggest players and thus contribute to tourism big time.
Can you tell us more about the Hilton Hotel group worldwide?
We have 17 brands and 5,600 hotels in 113 countries with 913,000 rooms. We had huge success in 2018 with our expansion. Despite not being the number one hotel chain in the world, we have the biggest pipeline of rooms in the industry. We have 2,700 hotels under construction now, which is the biggest in the pipeline now.
What is the role that Hilton Egypt plays within the group?
First of all Hilton will complete 100 years as a company this year and 60 years in Egypt. So, you can imagine how big, old, and mature Hilton is in the region. It is very sentimental. Egypt is one of the most important locations to us, even though we might not have the biggest number of hotel rooms in the country as well as revenue generation; however, it’s a very important country to us. For that reason, we are always here trying to expand and trying to improve. Therefore, we have this strategy that helps us always go back to when we used to pioneer in this part of the world.
Before 2011, most of Egypt’s visitors were coming from Russia, Britain and Germany. Now, German tourists are number one, followed by British, and then Ukrainians. There was an interview that in 2017 that mentioned that 40% of your visitors were from the domestic market. What is your view on the changes that you have experienced in the last few years since the tourism sector has changed dramatically?
As mentioned, we had to adapt. So, there was what we call a force-majeure crisis and we had a tough year. We had to depend on various markets and the local market was one of them. However, we also have Asians, Chinese, Indians, Vietnamese, Ukrainians and Eastern Europeans. We had to diversify our business and change the business model a little bit, as well as the clients that we are accommodating in our hotels. I think we have managed to a very big extent to reach there because the Russian flights are not yet back, neither are the British; however, we are running a very high occupancy. I think Egypt this year, according to the ministry of tourism, will run anywhere between 75-80% occupancy, which is a high percentage despite not having the full business back into the country.
It seems that 2019 is more or less a year like 2010. For the first 9 months of 2018, the numbers increased 40% compared to 2017, and the numbers were closer to 2010.
Yeah we did 11.3 million visitors in 2018 versus 8.3 million the year before (according to a World Tourism Organization) so this is a substantial increase. I think you will see further growth this year as well.
Egypt is gaining track as a tourist destination, with Bloomberg ranking the country as one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world, and CNN ranking Egypt the 2nd best place to visit in 2018.
Luxor is one of the places too, and we have an outstanding hotel there. It is flourishing. As far as the situation and stability with politics and security are in place, we will continue to grow, even exceeding the number in 2010.
I have a question more about the 100 years of your foundation. On such a special anniversary, what can we expect from you to commemorate 100 years of operation?
We are in the countdown towards our company’s 100-year anniversary. We have tied up with some organizations in the U.S. to look at the Hilton effect during the last 100 years. Hilton was the first international company that went out from the U.S. and started opening hotels in Egypt and Turkey and so on. We were the only ones. So, we wanted to measure the impact and effect of the Hilton in those destinations, and what we have done for the economies of these nations. I’ve seen this myself in the UAE, where I went to one of the emirates called Ras Al Khaimah, with one hotel which was a Hilton. We ended up with 7 properties and 4 brands. We managed to convert this destination from nothing to a touristic destination that receives a million tourists a year.
I think we’ve done the same in Egypt. Everyone has come afterwards, once they’ve seen the success our company has had in the country. This is a very easy model that we have done in a lot of destinations and the impact of Hilton in 100 years. Hilton was the first company to have rooms service, TVs in the room, Pina Coladas. We were the first to launch the Digital Check, where you can check in into your room via mobile app without having to check in at the reception.
We have implemented a lot of innovations. We have impacted the economy, and also innovated a lot in the industry. We also look at the environmental part. Our CEO has decided to cut our carbon footprint by 50% and double our social investment impact by 2030. Hence, there are real milestones for us. As I mentioned before, we needed to adapt and work on our environment and cost together. We have a program called “the light stay”, which is part of our Travel with Purpose CSR program. It is an award-winning tool where we measure the footprint and how much we save in energy, waste and water.
I have lately signed a partnership with the UNICEF and the Ministry of Youth, where we will train 750 youth, mainly females, from South of Egypt, in the next five years. We even started to recruit some of them in our hotels after training them. So, Hilton’s 100 years involves many aspects. It’s the impact we create in the world, industry, tourism, and hotels. It’s environmental. We will highlight it more because maybe it’s not seen, but we really do it on a daily basis, and is part of our culture as we speak right now.
Another impact of Hilton on the Egyptian community is that we have held a research that showed us that for every $1 a Hilton honors guest spends; they spend another 1.11 dollars in the Egyptian community. So, we have 85 million Hilton honors members in our loyalty program. They are heavily using our properties, representing 30-40% of our business. For every dollar they spend in our hotel, they go out and spend 1.11 dollars around the community. This is just a small example of the impact and the effect of Hilton has.
Hilton has served 3 billion guests in the last 100 years. We had almost 10 million employees since the Hilton started. Our economic impact is almost a trillion dollars. This is a snapshot of how big the company is. As we stand, I think we have almost 400,000 team members working. I gave you the overall picture of Egypt. We have almost 7,000 team members, and that impact is only on these. Let alone the impact on the other services and facilities via the 7,000. With 6,600 rooms, we have quite a heavy weight.