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KSA assumes global importance for Hilton

Makkah now hosts Hilton International’s largest property and further KSA openings are likely, says Guy B Epsom, sales & marketing director for the Arabian Peninsula.

Saudi Arabia has developed into one of Hilton International’s key global markets following a flurry of activity in the Kingdom in the last two years. The Jeddah Hilton has “stormed” since its 2001 opening, according to Guy B Epsom, sales & marketing director for the Arabian Peninsula, and in October, Makkah became the location of Hilton International’s largest property in the world.

That happened when the company was invited to take over 1200 serviced apartments adjacent to the existing 652 room Makkah Hilton property. The new Makkah Hilton Hotel and Towers can accommodate up to 10,000 guests in its 1,852 rooms.

Epsom is looking forward to further openings as business increases and the Kingdom’s tourism initiative takes shape.

“Our emphasis on Saudi Arabia is going to be much greater in coming years,” says Epsom. “We want to have a Hilton, or one our brands, in as many major cities as we can.”

The company’s, “first focus” will be the business centres of Riyadh and Al Khobar, followed, perhaps, by regions such as Abha and Taif, which would be focus areas for any future tourism initiative.

Saudi Arabia has said that it wants to grow tourism by increasing Umrah visitor numbers and offering those visitors additional packages and services that they can add to their trip to the holy cities.
There has been talk of increasing the Umrah visitor quota from around 2.5 million per year now to a maximum of 10 million.

As for whether or not Saudi Arabia’s tourism plans are for real, Epsom says, “I think that the Saudi tourism initiative is very new. A new structure of having ground operators work with overseas operators to bring business into Makkah and Madinah started in the middle of [2001] and had a few teething problems that affected occupancies.

He continues: “It’s now improved considerably and I think it will go from strength to strength. I also see that there are improvements being made to Jeddah airport. I think as all those things come into place, we’ll see business expand.”

Hilton International now manages 15 properties in the Middle East following the addition of Makkah Towers. In the last two years, it has opened in Jumeirah, central Dubai, Jeddah, Ras Al Khaimah and Kuwait.

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