First mover

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If there was a pioneering international hotelier in the Middle East, it would have to be Hilton Worldwide. On countless occasions, the global giant has established a hotel in the middle of nowhere, only to see it gradually become the centrepoint of many.

Take Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai, for example. When Hilton opened its beach resort there in 2000 it was the standalone development, a lone hotel with miles of desert between it and the rest of Dubai.

Today it is dwarfed by not only a coastline of resorts but also a barrage of skyscraper residences creating three new suburbs, with numerous more buildings, including a mall next door, to come.

In the UAE’s northernmost emirate, Hilton was the first international brand in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), taking on a rundown building in the centre of town and turning it into a booming property that prompted the government to build the operator an expansive resort along 2km of beach. Hilton Worldwide will manage six properties in RAK by next year, including its new flagship Waldorf Astoria, and the emirate is fast becoming the latest luxury tourist destination in the region.

Elsewhere, Hilton was among the first hotel operators in Saudi Arabia, including launching in Jeddah in 2002, before the kingdom took active steps to boost tourism in the coastal city. It has plans to launch in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in the near future, as well as in Uganda, Sharjah and Lebanon. And it is one of the few international hoteliers prepared to stick to its commitments in Egypt, where the company is pushing ahead with plans for several new hotels despite political uncertainty presently affecting the tourism industry.

In total, the company has 60 hotels across the Middle East and Africa, with a further 12,349 rooms in 35 properties under active construction, making it by far one of the fastest-growing hoteliers in the region.

According to consultancy STR Global, Hilton’s regionwide expansion accounts for more than ten percent of the entire MEA hotel pipeline.

And Hilton Worldwide MEA president Rudi Jagersbacher says there are even more new destinations in his sights — many that others are not yet even contemplating.

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