BRAND LOYALTY

Lebanon 2016 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Naif Zureikat, Cluster General Manager of Hilton Hotels & Resorts, on the group's operations in the country, its contribution to help boost tourism, and his aims for the future.

Naif Zureikat
BIOGRAPHY
Naif Zureikat is the Cluster General Manager of Hilton Hotels & Resorts. He first joined Hilton Worldwide in 2009 as the General Manager of the King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre (KHBTCC) in Jordan, the largest convention center in the region. Zureikat, worked for Sheraton hotels for more than 26 years. He has over the course of his career worked across the Middle East, Africa, Cyprus, the US, and Canada. Zureikat has been instrumental in significant CSR projects for Hilton Hotels Beirut, including collaborations with the Lebanese Food Bank and the Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation.

How did Hilton Hotels start operations in Lebanon and how has the company expanded over time?

Hilton Worldwide is one of the most recognizable hotel chains in the world comprising more than 4,660 managed, franchised, owned, and leased hotels and timeshare properties with nearly 765,000 rooms in 102 countries and territories. We have long been present in the region and opened our fist hotel in Lebanon in 2012, the Al Habtoor Grand in Beirut.

What factors make Lebanon an attractive destination for tourism?

Lebanon has a great deal to offer visitors including history and culture: the food, the nightlife, the beaches, the attractions, the rich history and historical sites, the mild climate, and many other factors. These have made Lebanon one of the most visited countries for tourism in the Middle East. Beirut has plenty to offer in terms of variety of dining places, entertainment, mountains, coastal sceneries, and cultural events. Beirut has always been a city that generated an artistic flair, and the city always features artistic activities. Lebanon is also a hub for major events and conferences. The biggest bulk of business comes from the pharmaceutical companies, many of which are based in Lebanon and host several conferences throughout the year. In addition, Lebanon has long had a tradition as being known as a medical tourism destination due to the good quality and competitive prices of its medical services.

What is the potential for Lebanon to become a hub for business tourism, and how can Hilton contribute to that?

The business segment represents a significant share of the total tourism industry in Lebanon and companies continue to send their employees to work in Lebanon. Multinationals have kept their presence in the market. Hilton is a hotel engine of 4,600 hotels around the globe, and we operate many services in the Lebanese market that influence large companies to come and stay with us, for example, we have the largest conference room in Lebanon with a capacity of 2,000 people. Our presence here is key to drive businesses that are associated with Hilton or using Hilton all over the world.

In light of the recent fall in occupancy rates, what has been Hilton's strategy to counter this problem?

Hilton pays rigorous attention to managing its business channels; our HHonors loyalty program has more than 50 million members and contributes to maintaining our numbers and guests in the country. Also, the Hilton name is well established and carries a great deal of brand loyalty and trust. Our strategy is based on capturing the maximum number of corporate travelers and pushing for MICE tourists to keep coming into the country.

What are some aspects of your current renovation plan?

We always strive to provide our guests with the ultimate comfort and exceptional travel experiences, whether they visit us for business or for leisure. The overall plan includes the complete renovation of both Hilton Beirut Habtoor Grand and Hilton Beirut Metropolitan Palace; we have started with the refurbishment of public facilities, such as the ballrooms and the lobbies. The rest of the renovation plan will be thoroughly executed throughout the coming years, while maintaining utmost guest satisfaction and service.

What would you like Hilton to achieve under your lead in the following two years?

We are geared to continue being the number one hotel in Lebanon. All of our plans and focus is leading toward that ultimate goal, and today we have probably the best position in the local market. If you look at travel advisory websites, we are ahead of our competition and we plan to keep it that way. Our key elements here are team members, quality service, and making people feel at home. Hilton has sought to maintain the quality services people identify us with, and we want to continue growing and improving our services and upgrading our hotels in order to meet the expectations of our clients.