Raising Hilton Higher

With a sprawling luxury resort set to open soon on the shores of the Dead Sea, Hilton is continuing to make inroads into Jordan’s competitive hospitality market.

After taking over the management of the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Center in 2010, and opening a hotel in Aqaba last year under its DoubleTree brand, Hilton is set to expand its presence in Jordan even further with the opening of a new Dead Sea resort by the end of the year. Hilton’s Country Manager Kamel Ajami, believes the multimillion-dollar project will prove to be an exciting addition to Hilton’s growing roster of hotels in Jordan.

The number of Dead Sea and Aqaba hotels and resorts is growing. What sets yours apart from the rest?

The Hilton Dead Sea Resort & Spa is part of Samarah Complex. It caters for both business and leisure and it will be the first hotel to have a group of executive rooms, suites, and lounges in the Dead Sea area. The hotel has some unique features as well; we’ve designed the area leading to the beach as a manmade gorge, to give a cultural experience reminiscent of Petra as you make your way there, making the accessibility to the beach very easy.

The DoubleTree by Hilton brand that we have in Aqaba started in the United States and was hugely successful. The Jordan hotel was the first DoubleTree to open in the Middle East.

What is your target market?

Our Aqaba hotel has a corporate focus but we are also seeing an increase in the leisure market.  The Hilton Dead Sea resort & spa is divided between leisure from the Jordanian and overseas markets, and, in our case, the convention and conference traveler in general.

Weekends are usually busy with Jordanians and residents, while weekdays are usually occupied by international visitors coming to the Dead Sea for convention business or for leisure, which is a very healthy combination allowing for consistent occupancy levels.

Apart from your hotels, the Hilton has also been in charge of the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Center. How does the management of a convention center differ from hotels?

Conferences don’t have high and low seasons. They happen all year round. This creates better opportunities, not just for us, but for the surrounding hotels and outlets. This does mean that you have to work on conferences two or three years in advance. When Hilton took over at the end of 2010, they used the following two years to prepare for events for 2013 to 2016. We are now seeing some of those successes, such as the World Economic Forum, the Soccerex Asian Forum, and SOFEX gala dinners as well. Now we’re working on hosting ongoing, yearly events by opening it up for weddings, personal and social events and galas, in addition to corporate events, meetings, and conferences. We joined hands with Friends of Jordan Festival earlier this year, for example, and had a part in the Amman Jazz Festival, and we’re planning on creating our own exhibitions as well.

Aren’t you worried about the potential saturation of five star hotels in the country?

The more demand you have on a country, the more rooms you want, because this is how you grab the attention of your tourists. Jordan is a safe hub in the region and is a country that is also rich culturally and historically. It is open to the whole world and is very hospitable. There is demand for it. There is a need for five, four, and three stars. What we’re working on is trying to cover the market from all aspects and give as many services as the guests want.

So how do you plan on handling the competition?

Competition is healthy. No hotel or company is an island. You need to promote yourself as a destination that makes the most of the brand and has a lot of services to give. We, as Hilton, are confident about what we’re adding by coming here to the Dead Sea: services and hospitality, career advancement, and our company experiences. As one of the most experienced and recognized international hospitality companies, we’ve got a lot to offer. One of the most important is our corporate responsibility program, “Travel with Purpose,” which focuses on four pillars: creating opportunities, strengthening communities, celebrating cultures, and living sustainably.

How do you see tourism faring in Jordan at the moment?

According to reports we’ve received from the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) and Jordan Hotels Association (JHA), Jordan has had a very healthy start to the year. The Dead Sea specifically had a good first quarter, partly because of the conferences we held. In Aqaba, it is the same. All signs predict that Aqaba will become a leading destination in the near future, with a number of major projects setting up there, in addition to the local government’s strategies aimed at improving tourism in Jordan.

Is the government doing enough to help the hospitality sector?

Jordan is rebuilding the tourism sector following the effects from our surrounding environments. Everyone from the Ministry of Tourism to the JHA is really eager to work together and get tourism in the country back on its feet. The government is trying to sign agreements for new routes with airlines to come directly to Aqaba. They’re also working on new promotions to increase the average stay connected with Petra and Wadi Rum, in the hope of reinvigorating the old trail that extended from Amman, to the Dead Sea, to Petra and finally Aqaba.

The Ministry of Tourism is also working hard on establishing new channels for transit tourists who arrive to Jordan and have a few hours to kill. They can grab shuttle buses and go to areas not far from the airport, like Mount Nebo and the Baptism site, where visitor numbers have increased ever since the Pope’s visit. We’re also working together with the government to reduce fees on international shows so that we can encourage international tour operators and companies to bring people over.