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)
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Updated 12 May 2022

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.”

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World Economic Forum to return in-person as it aims to shed light on ‘History at a Turning Point’

Updated 18 May 2022

World Economic Forum to return in-person as it aims to shed light on ‘History at a Turning Point’

  • This year’s meeting will bring together about 2,500 leaders and experts from around the world, including more than 50 heads of state and government, more than 1,250 leaders from the private sector and nearly 100 Global Innovators and Technology Pioneers

LONDON: The World Economic Forum announced on Wednesday that the theme of its annual meeting for 2022 will be ‘History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies’ in its return to an in-person conference since the pandemic forced it to go virtual since 2020.

“The Annual Meeting is the first summit that brings global leaders together in this new situation characterized by an emerging multipolar world as a result of the pandemic and war,” said Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder and executive chairman.

This year’s meeting — which is happening in the spring rather than its usual January slot — returns after a two-year hiatus and will bring together about 2,500 leaders and experts from around the world, including more than 50 heads of state and government, more than 1,250 leaders from the private sector and nearly 100 Global Innovators and Technology Pioneers.

“The fact that nearly 2,500 leaders from politics, business, civil society and media come together in person demonstrates the need for a trusted, informal and action-oriented global platform to confront the issues in a crisis-driven world,” Schwab said.

Civil society will be represented by more than 200 leaders from NGOs, social entrepreneurs, academia, labour organizations, faith-based and religious groups, and at least 400 media leaders and reporting press. The Annual Meeting will also bring together younger generations, with 100 members of the Forum’s Global Shaper and Young Global Leader communities participating.

Against a backdrop of the global pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and geo-economic challenges, the meeting convenes at a strategic point where public figures and global leaders will meet in person to reconnect, exchange insights, gain fresh perspectives and advance solutions.

Topics that will be discussed at the annual meeting range from COVID-19 and climate change to education, technology and energy governance.

These include the Reskilling Revolution, an initiative to provide 1 billion people with better education, skills and jobs by 2030; an initiative on universal environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and disclosures to measure stakeholder capitalism; and the One Trillion Trees initiative, 1t.org, to protect our trees and forests and restore the planet’s ecosystems.

The programme will have six thematic pillars, including fostering global and regional cooperation; securing the economic recovery and shaping a new era of growth; building healthy and equitable societies; safeguarding climate, food and nature; driving industry transformation, and finally; harnessing the power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


Bank of England official warns of tough times for crypto

Updated 17 May 2022

Bank of England official warns of tough times for crypto

  • G7 to discuss crypto-asset regulation, says French central banker

RIYADH: Investors in crypto currencies should expect more difficult times ahead as tightening financial conditions around the world stoke appetite for safer assets, Bank of England Deputy Gov. Jon Cunliffe said on Tuesday.

Asked at a Wall Street Journal conference if rising interest rates would ramp up pressure on crypto currencies, Cunliffe said: “Yes, I think as this process continues, as (quantitative tightening) starts in the US ... I think we’ll see a move out of risky assets.” Cunliffe added that the conflict in Ukraine also had the potential to cause a renewed flight to safer assets.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, fell as low as $25,401 on Thursday, its lowest since Dec. 2020. It hit a record high of $69,000 in November. 

However, it traded higher on Tuesday, up 0.2 percent to $30,418 as of 08:52 a.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, was priced at $2,077, up 0.32 percent, according to data from CoinDesk.

G7 meeting

The regulation of crypto-assets is likely to be discussed at a meeting of Group of Seven finance chiefs this week in Germany, French central bank head Francois Villeroy de Galhau said on Tuesday.

“What happened in the recent past is a wake-up call for the urgent need for global regulation,” Villeroy told an emerging markets conference in Paris, referring to recent turbulence in crypto-asset markets.

“Europe paved the way with MICA (regulatory framework for crypto-assets), we will probably ... discuss these issues among many others at the G7 meeting in Germany this week,” he added.

Grayscale to launch digital assets

Grayscale will list an exchange-traded fund in Europe made up of companies representing the “Future of Finance,” the world’s largest cryptocurrency asset manager said in a statement on Monday. 

The ETF, tracking the “Bloomberg Grayscale Future of Finance Index,” will be listed on the London Stock Exchange, Italy’s Borsa Italiana and Germany’s Deutsche Börse Xetra and begin trading on May 17. It is the first time that US-based Grayscale has listed a fund in Europe.

The index contains a mixture of companies involved in digital currencies including asset managers, exchanges, brokers, technology firms, as well as firms directly involved in cryptocurrency mining. “For us, the digital economy is primarily being driven through the proliferation of digital assets,” said Grayscale CEO Michael Sonnenshein.

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NEOM ‘fully under Saudi sovereignty, regulations,’ says government official refuting inaccurate media reports

Updated 16 May 2022

NEOM ‘fully under Saudi sovereignty, regulations,’ says government official refuting inaccurate media reports

RIYADH: NEOM, a project fully owned by Saudi Public Investment Fund, is “completely under Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty and regulations,” the Saudi Press Agency reported early Monday, citing an official source.

The clarification came after NEOM's tourism sector head Andrew McEvoy made comments to media during his participation at Arabian Travel Market in Dubai about demographic status within the megacity, suggesting that residents within NEOM will have a special status, distinguishing them from others.


Read More: NEOM seeks to regenerate the area, offer ‘guilt-free’ vacations


NEOM City will have some special regulations related to investment reflecting its strategy as part of the Kingdom's Vision 2030, to make 'the city of the future' an effective driver in supporting the Saudi economy and the prosperity of the region, according to the company.

Economic legislation specific to the project area will be developed to achieve the best concepts of governance of economic zones in the world, making NEOM one of the most important attractions globally, SPA quoted the source as saying.

The point was underlined by Manar Al-Munif, chief investment officer of NEOM, while speaking at the Saudi-Thai Economic Forum in Riyadh on May 16.

She said the $500-billion future city will have its own regulations based on best practices from around the world that will allow businesses to grow and develop.

Al-Munif revealed that NEOM is the largest Environmental, Social, and Governance initiative in the world, and added that the project will create several investment opportunities for businesses. 

“We have identified a number of investment opportunities across 16 sectors in NEOM. These sectors represent the future, and we have outlined 150 investment initiatives. Each of these initiatives is going to have hundreds of opportunities regardless if it is a direct investment, joint venture, or merging,” Al-Munif added. 

She also said the NEOM project is trying to reinvent and introduce environmental factors, thus ensuring harmony with nature. 


Top CEO Conference and Awards to recognize industry leaders in GCC

Updated 15 May 2022

Top CEO Conference and Awards to recognize industry leaders in GCC

  • Publicly listed firms in GCC bourses are evaluation on their annual financial performance

DUBAI: Braving the setbacks they had faced during the pandemic, head honchos of top companies will be attending the Top CEO Conference and Awards to be held in the city from May 17-18 to celebrate leadership in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

According to the organizer’s statement, the Top CEO Awards are based on the financial performance, size and corporate governance of GCC-listed companies.

Julien Hawari, organizer of the TOP CEO, Special Edition, said in the statement: “All of the publicly listed companies in the Arabian Gulf stock markets are evaluated on their annual financial performance, and the ranking is not a result of a nomination by a jury relying on undisclosed metrics.”

The statement added that companies are evaluated if they are listed on any of the seven GCC stock markets. Moreover, Hawkamah Institute has provided corporate governance guidelines developed by the Top CEO in partnership with INSEAD Business School.

One of the Big Four has audited the results, and KPMG is auditing the Top CEO ranking for the 2022 awards, the statement said, while adding that Arab News and Al Arabiya News channel were chosen as media partners of the event.

According to Hawari, the awards were created in 2012 to recognize those who created value and boosted the region’s economy while maintaining transparency and good corporate governance.

FASTFACT

One of the Big Four has audited the results, and KPMG is auditing the Top CEO ranking for the 2022 awards.

The statement added that there are 10 categories of companies to be divided into, and the Top 10 CEOs in each category are recognized, totaling 100 awards.

The 10 categories are banking, energy and utility, financial services and investment, insurance, logistics and industrials, malls, real estate and construction, mining, metals and chemicals, retail, FMCG and consumer care, Shariah-compliant banks and financial services and telecom, tech and media.

Commenting on the event, Hawari said: “Global market forces are coming together in the post-pandemic economies to rebuild communities and businesses, and our region is no different.”

Compared to the pause of business in 2020 and slow growth in 2021, the first three months of 2022 saw Arabian Gulf stock markets increase by the most since the global financial meltdown.


Pakistan’s oil, food bill swells to $24.8 billion amid rising commodity prices, rupee depreciation

Updated 15 May 2022

Pakistan’s oil, food bill swells to $24.8 billion amid rising commodity prices, rupee depreciation

  • Petroleum products make up for 26% of Pakistan's overall imports worth $65.53 billion
  • Finance minister says he will talk to the IMF but refuses to withdraw energy subsidies

KARACHI: Pakistan’s oil and food import bills have swelled to $24.8 billion during the current fiscal year due to increasing global commodity prices and weakening national currency, according to official data and analysts. 

The oil and food import bills of the South Asian country, which is struggling with a worsening balance-of-payment crisis in the face of declining foreign exchange reserves, rose by 96 percent and 12.3 percent respectively from July 2021 till April 2022. 

Pakistan imported oil products worth $17.03 billion during this period, compared to imports worth $8.69 billion during the corresponding period last year. It contributed 26 percent to the country’s overall $65.53 billion imports, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). 

The food import bill during the period stood at $7.75 billion against the $6.9 billion recorded during the same period last year. The import of palm oil worth over $3 billion alone made up for a major share of the import bill, which surged by 44 percent from July till April. 

“The surging global commodity prices are a major reason behind high oil and food prices, mainly due to the Russia-Ukraine war and revival of COVID-19 that have disrupted the supply and demand balance,” Ahsan Mehanti, chief executive officer of the Arif Habib Commodities investment firm, told Arab News on Sunday. 

“Inflation triggered by the import of energy and food items at higher prices will continue to persist as long as the rupee does not recover.” 

The Pakistani currency continues to hit new lows against the United States (US) dollar as the demand for import payments continues to build pressure on the rupee. On Friday, the rupee hit yet another historic low as the greenback closed at Rs192.53 in the interbank market.    

The US dollar has gained 6 percent or Rs10.98 against the rupee since April 16, when it was trading at Rs181.55.  

Experts believe the Pakistani currency will recoup some of the lost ground after Islamabad and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sign a deal for the revival of $6 billion loan program. 

“We see the dollar hitting Rs200 mark against the rupee before falling back to around Rs180,” Mehanti said. "We expect the rupee to recover after Pakistan signs a deal with the IMF next week." 

Pakistan and the IMF are currently negotiating the country's seventh review under the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF), which has so far disbursed $3 billion. Islamabad is expected to receive another $1 billion after the completion of the review.    

The review has been stalled since the previous government announced in February around $1.7 billion relief in energy prices while deviating from the objectives of the IMF program.  

“I am going to talk to the IMF and will find out the solution to the issue amicably,” Miftah Ismail, the Pakistani finance minister, said at a press conference in Islamabad on Sunday. 

“The government has no intention to further increase the petroleum prices. The prime minister has refused to burden the people further.” 

Pakistan’s imports of machinery also posted an increase by 20.5 percent to $9.5 billion from July till April as compared to $7.9 billion during the same period last year. Imports of telecom equipment jumped by 14 percent to $2.4 billion, while mobile phone imports rose by 7.4 percent to $1.8 billion.   

The South Asian nation imported vehicles worth $3.7 billion, which shows over 60 percent growth in 10 months of the current fiscal year.   

Pakistan suffered $39.3 billion trade deficit from July till April due to the highest ever imports of $65.53 billion. Experts call for addressing the situation by restricting the import of non-essential and luxurious goods.