Hilton, the New York Stock Exchange-listed hotel operator, plans to double its portfolio of 169 hotels in the Middle East and Africa over the next five years, with a focus on expanding in the Arab world’s two largest economies – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – lies.

“Last year it was a little slow… in terms of the number of openings. [However] The good news is that we signed some new hotels during the pandemic, which shows the strength of our brand, ”Jochem-Jan Sleiffer, Hilton President for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, told The National on the sidelines on Tuesday of the Arab travel market.

Arabian Travel Market at the latest

“If I look at the entire region … there is still an opportunity to double the number of hotels within the next three to five years.”

The operator has expanded its pipeline of new properties to 173 hotels, most of which are under construction, Sleiffer said.

“Some of the openings planned for this year will be postponed until next year. [But] We’re going to see a big migration in 2022 and 2023, ”he said.

In the Middle East, Hilton currently operates 60 hotels and 86 hotels are in the development process. The regional portfolio will more than double as the pipeline matures.

In the United Arab Emirates, the company has 30 hotels and 17 in the pipeline, while in Saudi Arabia it has a portfolio of 14 hotels and a three times larger pipeline of new properties.

“We saw the demand before the pandemic and we see the demand now. The demand is enormous, ”said Sleiffer. “We have 150 million Hilton Honors members and these people want to travel, they really want to travel.”

Hilton has ambitious plans to expand in Saudi Arabia, a market that offers both recreational and religious tourism opportunities. The kingdom is home to the holiest sites in Islam, which attracted millions of pilgrims before the pandemic – a group that Hilton expects will continue to fuel demand for hotels.

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Arabian Travel Market – in pictures

A number of hospitality support measures were unveiled at Dubai’s Arabian Travel Market, including a month-long trial to simplify Covid-19 rules for bars, restaurants and live venues. Antonie Robertson / The National

The Arabian Travel Market 2021 exhibition opened on May 16 at the World Trade Center in Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National

Leading industry leaders, ministers, airline executives and hoteliers will meet during the four-day event. Antonie Robertson / The National

Organizers say it is the world’s first personal travel and tourism event since the pandemic broke out. Antonie Robertson / The National

This year’s event comes at a crucial time as the global aviation and tourism industries battle the Covid-19 pandemic. Antonie Robertson / The National

A man makes handicrafts at the Saudi Arabia stand at the Arabian Travel Market exhibition. Antonie Robertson / The National

Coffee is served at the Saudi Arabia booth at the Arabian Travel Market. Antonie Robertson / The National

The Emirates Airlines are on the Arabian Travel Market. Antonie Robertson / The National

Saudi Arabia is on the Arabian Travel Market. Antonie Robertson / The National

This year’s exhibition is themed “A New Dawn for Travel and Tourism”. Antonie Robertson / The National

The Morocco booth at the Arabian Travel Market. Pawan Singh / The National

Visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai stand at the Arabian Travel Market. Pawan Singh / The National

Visitors tour some of the booths at the Arabian Travel Market. Pawan Singh / The National

This year’s event will focus on the current state of the industry, advances in vaccines, and future trends. Pawan Singh / The National

Visitors to the booth in Abu Dhabi view a model of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at the Arabian Travel Market. Pawan Singh / The National

Visitors view the exhibition in Dubai at the Arabian Travel Market. Pawan Singh / The National

A craftsman makes handicrafts at the Saudi Arabia stand at the Arabian Travel Market. Pawan Singh / The National

Visitors to the booth of Saudi Arabia. Pawan Singh / The National

Egypt stands in the Arab travel market. Pawan Singh / The National.

The booth in Dubai with a model of the Burj Khalifa in the foreground at the Arabian Travel Market. Pawan Singh / The National.

Expo 2020 Dubai is on the Arabian Travel Market. Expo 2020 Dubai, which has been delayed compared to the previous year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will open on October 1st. Pawan Singh / The National.

Visitors explore the Expo 2020 Dubai booth at the Arabian Travel Market. Pawan Singh / The National.

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“Religious travel will always be a great base for the business going to this country,” he said, adding that the kingdom has the potential to be “much bigger” than any other market in the region.

The opening of the Saudi Arabian market after 14 months is also a “big deal” for Hilton, not only for its activities in the Middle East, but also for its European properties, which consider the kingdom to be an important source market.

Like other hotel operators, Hilton has benefited from an increase in the UAE’s stay business, Sleiffer said.

“There is very little [corporate] Business … it’s free time. People have figured out how many things you can actually do here, ”he said, adding that Hilton has been moving very quickly with the trend and some of its beach features have done very well despite pandemic headwinds.

The government’s vaccination campaign in the United Arab Emirates also helped boost Hilton’s business. The operator now counts the residents as the largest source market, followed by Russia and some other Central Asian countries.

Mr. Sleiffer anticipates that it will take about a year and a half to two years for business in the corporate sector to fully recover. There was very little demand for MICE (Meetings, Incentive Conferences and Exhibitions) businesses in 2021, but there are signs of a pick-up in the second half of next year as people “are eager to get back together” .

A hospitality veteran who has been with Hilton for more than three decades, Mr. Sleiffer assumed leadership roles in the region last January.

With the hotel industry still grappling with uncertainties, he is calling for a vaccination record or similar centralized intergovernmental system that can help ease travel restrictions.

“The sooner governments can come together to decide on a vaccination card, a digital passport,” the better it will be for the hotel industry as people can travel safely, he added.