Hilton Hotels & Resorts is committed to two hotels in Uganda – Hilton Garden Inn and Hilton Kampala – to serve different market segments. Samantha Muna, the director of development for the hotel brand in East Africa spoke to The Independent’s Isaac Khisa about their plans and opportunities in the country’s hospitality industry.
As Director of Development for Hilton in East Africa, what exactly do you do?
As Developers, we view ourselves as the custodians of the growth of the company. My role is to work with investors and developers to identify opportunities that we can go into partnership with in order to open new hotels under our brands. A lot of people don’t know that we actually have as many as eight brands available, from the mid-market sector (Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton by Hilton) which are quicker and cheaper to build, through upscale products which includes Hilton Hotels & Resorts and right up to luxury level. We don’t build the properties ourselves, so finding the right partners to work with us is key to our expansion. In Uganda we are lucky to have two very good partners, TWED Property Development for Hilton Kampala and High Gate Investments for Hilton Garden Inn Kampala. Once we come to a mutual agreement we help our partners identify the best possible type of hotel and the right brand for them to maximise their investment.
What is your assessment of the hotel industry in Uganda compared to the rest of the East Africa region?
Every market has its own characteristics but in many ways Uganda is experiencing the same trends that apply to the broader region. Tourism arrivals in Uganda and on the continent are increasing year on year and there is a golden opportunity to support the growth of the industry. Our confidence in the market can be seen by the fact that we have committed to two hotels in different market segments. Hilton Garden Inn Kampala, which is due to open imminently, and Hilton Kampala under our flagship Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand.
How many properties and rooms does Hilton have in the region?
We’ve been in East Africa for nearly 50 years, Hilton Nairobi and Hilton Addis Ababa are two of our longest standing hotels on the entire African continent. Right now we have built our African presence up to 44 hotels and we have a further 56 in the pipeline. Increasing these numbers has become a renewed focus for us in recent years.
How has Hilton’s performance been amidst stiff competition?
We are a global company present in over 100 markets worldwide. This means there are always ups and downs as a result of economic trends, but what we focus on is continuing to better serve our customers and get ahead of the market.
What is driving your expansion into Kampala?
We see Kampala as an important regional center and will likely experience a strong increase in corporate activity and conferences during the next five years, resulting in hotel demand growth. So, we’ve been looking at the market here for some time but before we commit to a project, it is very important for us to have an established relationship with the right local partner who will build a hotel that matches the expectations of our customers.
What challenges does the hotel industry face and how can that be overcome?
We need to train and develop local talent so that the new hotels we are opening in the region are professionally operated and maintained. This is to ensure that we offer services that our international customers expect without having to over rely on ex-patriates. Currently, we are investing heavily in training programmes and partnerships with universities and schools in order to not only bring young people in at entry level jobs but inspire them to become our hotel managers of tomorrow. These sustainability initiatives form part of our ‘Travel with Purpose’ programme which has committed to double our social impact while halving our environmental footprint by 2030.
What other plans does Hilton have in the region?
Speaking about Uganda, aside from our projects in Kampala, we see potential in markets like Entebbe and Mbarara. In general anywhere that is a centre for tourism is interesting to us and an opportunity to explore as are any large cities with a sizeable business travel component.
What is the future outlook of the region’s hospitality industry?
If you look at Africa as a whole, the opportunity for the industry has never been greater. In 2018 demand for hotel accommodation on the continent grew by 6.8%, more than any other region globally. We’re positive about the outlook and firmly committed to further growth.