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Hilton gears up for regional expansion as travel market grows


HOTEL group Hilton will triple its presence in the Asia-Pacific in the next three to five years as it introduces new brands and expands the footprint of existing brands in the burgeoning travel market.

Growth in the global travel and tourism industry is being propelled by an emerging middle class as well as a hunger for experiences, highlighted Hilton's chief executive officer Christopher Nassetta, who described this period as the golden age of travel.

"Broadly, the global economy is pretty good," he went on to say, speaking to media in Singapore at a press event on Wednesday. "The bottom line is more people are travelling than ever before."

In terms of volume, the sweet spot will be in the mid-market segment of hotels, fuelled by demand from an increasingly affluent middle class, he reckoned. For the group, this includes brands such as Hampton by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn.

Commenting on the escalating trade war, Mr Nassetta told BT that there has not been any impact so far. While any slowdown in local economies as a result of the dispute could potentially have a knock-on effect on demand for hotel rooms, "we haven't seen that yet", he added.

The Hilton group - which celebrates its centennial next year - has a portfolio spanning 14 brands including luxury brands such as the Conrad and Waldorf Astoria, and the eponymous Hilton.

In a bid to better serve customers and attract new ones, the group is also poised to launch three new brands to "fill modest gaps" in its portfolio within the next three quarters.

Worldwide, the group has over 5,450 hotels, with another 2,370 hotels in the pipeline. Of the latter, 471 are in the Asia-Pacific, which is nearly twice the 243 operating hotels that it has in the region today.

Alan Watts, president (Asia-Pacific) of Hilton, said: "One in every four hotels being built in the Asia-Pacific today is a Hilton brand, and that's one in three in China. We're deploying and introducing new brands to new markets almost on a daily basis."

But while the group has made significant headway in China, it has struggled to gain traction in India, where it currently has 17 hotels but failed to hit an earlier target of 50 hotels by 2016. "We will ultimately build a big business in India. We're making progress but it has taken a lot of time," acknowledged Mr Nassetta. He attributed the slow going in the past to lacking the right partners in terms of property owners as well as lacking the right leadership within the group. "I believe we have both of those things now."

Here in Singapore, the group has three hotels - the Conrad Centennial, the Hilton and the Hilton Garden Inn Serangoon.