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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Landmark Abu Dhabi hotel will no longer carry Hilton name after 45 years

Hilton Abu Dhabi on the Corniche will have a new operator from January 1

One of Abu Dhabi’s most famous hotels will no longer carry the Hilton name by the end of the year.

Hilton Abu Dhabi has been part of the Hilton chain since it opened on the Corniche 45 years ago.

It is still unclear which operator will take over on January 1 but negotiations are believed to be at an advanced stage.

The Hilton branch in Al Ain is also affected.

Hilton Abu Dhabi was once one of the few concrete buildings in the city. Victor Besa / The National
Hilton Abu Dhabi was once one of the few concrete buildings in the city. Victor Besa / The National

On Wednesday, Hilton confirmed to The National that the management contract was not being renewed.

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UPDATE: Radisson to take over landmark Hilton hotels in Abu Dhabi

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"Hilton has managed these properties on behalf of the owning company for 45 years, serving local and international guests during that time," said William Costley, vice president of operations for Hilton in the Arabian Peninsula and Turkey.

"We believe we have created wonderful memories for our millions of guests. While we will no longer be managing these hotels, we are glad to welcome guests to one of our 20 other hotels open in the UAE currently," he said.

It is unclear what will happen to the staff but Hilton said it valued the team members and they were welcome to apply for jobs at its existing hotels.

The move marks the end of an era in the city. Hilton Abu Dhabi was opened by Sheikh Zayed on May 23, 1973.

A photograph taken by French photographer Alain St-Hilaire around 1975 shows the building standing alone on the Corniche, surrounded by nothing but sand.

"The Hilton Abu Dhabi is an iconic hotel that helped kick-start the hotel boom in the city that continues to this day," said John Ollila, founder of loyaltylobby.com - a website that examines travel loyalty schemes.

"As such, it just does not feel appropriate to see a hotel with this history under any other brand. However, market change is inevitable and travellers may get used to it over time," he said.

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It is still uncertain as to why the hotels are exiting the Hilton brand. But speaking broadly about the hotel market, Mr Ollila said the cost of upgrading older buildings, airline route cuts, changing tastes and a push towards diversity in the market could all be factors.

"A common [reason] is that it can be challenging for an older property to fulfill updated brand standards without significant capital investment.

"Think about how hotel rooms have changed over the past few decades. The size of the bathroom has literally multiplied and the rooms themselves at full-service hotels have similarly grown in size," he said.

Hilton Abu Dhabi was not the first hotel to open in the city but it was the first international chain. It introduced foods that had not appeared in the emirate before such as iceberg lettuce, smoked salmon and avocado. French food dominated the menus and everything had to be flown in from London. The hotel also played a role in the internationalism of the city, hosting discos, DJs and stars such as Tina Turner from the late 1970s on.

An advert for Hilton Abu Dhabi that appeared in Gulf Mirror, May 1973.
An advert for Hilton Abu Dhabi that appeared in Gulf Mirror, May 1973.

A refurbishment in the 1990s included the opening of the Hiltonia beach club, while a new wing added rooms.

In an article for the hotel’s 45th anniversary this year, manager Hans Schiller said it was very seldom that a hotel still had a unique spirit 45 years after it opened.

“Look at all the modernity around us and people still like to come here,” he said.

There has been a number of rebrands in the UAE over the past few months. In June it was announced the Hyatt Capital Gate in Abu Dhabi will be rebranded as an Andaz hotel. A month later, Al Habtoor Group said it was rebranding three of its Dubai properties as Hilton hotels.

"It is quite possible some brands were not right for the market and didn't have enough pull with the travellers," said Mr Ollila. "Other brands perhaps wanted to break into the market and cut a deal when it comes to the fees they charge properties or allow hotels to be self-managed."

While Hilton will now leave the Corniche and Al Ain properties, it has already announced new ventures on Yas and Saadiyat islands

And the next chapter awaits for an Abu Dhabi landmark.

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