With over four decades of experience as part of the Hilton family, German-born Wolfgang Maier, the Conrad Cairo’s new general manager, has many success stories to share. We talk to Maier about the properties he’s managed across five continents, the challenges facing Egypt's tourism sector and his plans for the Cairo property.
by Noha Mohammed
You’ve been with the Hilton family for 40 years and have worked across 13 destinations in different continents. What are the highlights of your career?
Every hotel, every country and every team was unique and each location has its usual pros and cons. Usually, it’s the positive memories that remain and one misses such as the celebrities I had the pleasure to look after during my time at the Kahala Hilton in Hawaii, in Sydney/Australia, where I managed the Airport Hilton and where I got married, the Hilton Beijing in China, where my daughters were born or in Kuching, Malaysia, where I developed a unique “Longhouse Resort” to support sustainable tourism arrivals.
Last year you beat out 350 hotel industry professionals to nab the General Manager of the Year Award. Tell us about that.
The nomination and award came as a surprise to me. There were many others who would have deserved likewise to win. I suppose the fact that we were able to achieve excellent overall business results despite being in an aging property with tremendous new competition and challenges in the market. Despite this, the hotel was able to achieve in excess of its fair market share. Further, we were recognized for our efforts in achieving our quality targets.
A personal objective of mine to support career growth of our management team by coaching, counseling and mentoring many colleagues to prepare them for new roles was also achieved.[caption id="attachment_454766" align="aligncenter" width="620"] Wolfgang Maier[/caption]
Your career goes back to the 1970s with Hilton. How different was the tourism industry back then, particularly in the Middle East?
Tourism in the Middle East was all about the many historic sites in Egypt and the Red Sea resorts. The Gulf States only embarked on tourism in the 1990s. Nowadays tourists seek luxury, adventure and relaxation, which this part of the world certainly provides for. Your first posting outside your native Germany was to the Gulf, Kuwait to be exact. You’ve also held key management posts in other Gulf countries. Do you feel this experience will help you transition easily to your new post in Cairo? Or would you say that each country is too different to compare to others?
Of course, many cultural aspects are the same but there are many changes as you travel from country to country in the characteristics of the people and even the dialect of the language. The Middle Eastern market is truly unique in terms of the diverse tourist attractions and the strong cultural heritage that it offers. How would you say Egypt compares to other destinations in the Middle East and Africa, especially since the two regions are diverse geographically?
Egypt is, and will always be, a unique tourism destination and is one of the region’s main tourism and business hubs, rich with culture that is unique, and a diverse collection of antiquities, monuments and historic sites from diverse eras which are not found anywhere else in the world, including the Great Giza Pyramids which are one of the seven wonders of the world. That, in addition to spectacular beaches, and world-class diving spots, heritage of history and culture that are legendary, beautiful desert safari spots, all-year-round amazing weather, and above all the people; who are one of the most hospitable nations.
Over the past few decades the Middle East has seen vast changes in its political, economic and travel climate. How do you assess the development in this area?
The whole world currently seems to be changing politically and economically; Egypt experienced some challenging years which burdened the whole country, the people and the economy. However, we’ve been able to sustain successful operations in Egypt throughout the past four years and are now hopefully on a positive path to restore the confidence and to win back the hearts and minds of its visitors.
The Hilton, a favorite among Egyptian guests, has an impressive footprint across the Africa/Middle East region. Tell us about the giant’s phenomenal expansion recently.
Hilton Worldwide is the largest and first international hospitality operator in Egypt with over 50 years of success. We currently operate 18 hotels in Egypt and have more hotels in the pipeline. We are constantly exploring further opportunities in Egypt as a key market, working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure that we are playing an active role in the process of further developing the local tourism sector. In fact, and despite all the challenges, we managed to grow our portfolio in the last couple of years through opening two new hotels in Alexandria: Hilton Alexandria Corniche & Hilton Alexandria King’s Ranch. We continued with our expansion plan by introducing new Hilton Worldwide brands to Egypt: in 2015 we signed the management contract of the first DoubleTree by Hilton, to be located in Ain Sokhna, in addition to another Hilton hotel in Ain Sokhna, both scheduled to open in the near future.
We have a great team here at the Conrad and with the start of a new year with new leadership there are many ideas and objectives we are setting out to achieve. First and foremost, we want to focus on enhancing the unique culinary experience that we offer in our restaurants and bar/lounge with new promotions and additional entertainment — we’re working on this now — watch this space in the coming weeks!
In light of political instability and more worryingly the threat of terrorism, what do you think Egypt’s tourism sector needs to do to recover and regain its regional and international footing?
We trust in our local authorities and support them whenever and wherever we could, and we share the same priorities with Egypt, believing that security is key.
Recent players such as Dubai are moving toward a monopoly on the regional market, perhaps looking to edge out destinations like Egypt. What needs to be done so that more traditional destinations like Egypt can get back in the race?
Tourism arrivals have been growing worldwide on a continued basis and market share depends on a lot of different factors such as currency strengths, security, stability, competitive air fares, variety of hotels and so on. It is a very competitive business wherever you in the world you go.
What is your own favorite destination here in Egypt and why?
Luxor; in view of the great historic sights and the relaxing Nile view from the balcony of the spectacular Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa.