Hilton is a hospitality giant, and while Kamel Ajami is the VP of operations for only the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Levant, his 16 hotels account for approximately 27% of Hilton’s supply in the MENA region. Even more impressive, his 32 pipeline hotels are responsible for just under half of Hilton’s pipeline of 79 hotels in MENA. Under his leadership, Hilton’s footprint in KSA and the Levant is set to triple in the region.
“To put this into perspective,” Ajami says, “according to STR data, Hilton has more rooms under construction in Saudi Arabia alone than any other company has in the entire GCC.”
He has certainly overseen many openings and signings for the region during his tenure. Last year, KSA’s first Conrad Hotels & Resorts’ property, Conrad Makkah, opened its doors, and in March this year, Hilton opened Jordan’s first Hilton Hotels & Resorts property, Hilton Dead Sea Resort & Spa. The operator expects to debut the Embassy by Hilton brand in the Middle East in 2020 with the opening of a property in Riyadh that will also come under Ajami’s command.
All of this translates to a growing team in this region and, in line with the mothership’s focus on human resources (HR), Ajami is keen to push the development of young talent. The company has made progress towards Saudisation and other nationalisation initiatives, and has partnered with the KSA government on HR programmes, while in Jordan, Hilton is working in partnership with the Queen of Jordan, on an initiative to establish a hospitality university and a youth job service. Like many other operators, Hilton is also working to attract more women to careers in the hospitality industry, and to help its own female team members reach leadership positions.
This year has seen personal career development for Ajami as well. In 2017, his remit was expanded to include Jordan and Lebanon (the Levant); previously, he was vice president of operations for Saudi Arabia. He has been working in the hospitality industry for 36 years, seven of which have been spent working in Middle Eastern and North African hotels. He is now based in Jeddah, with a Hilton regional office established there for the first time — at the end of last year, Hilton was named Saudi Arabia’s best workplace by the Great Places to Work organisation.
“I am proud to be a hotelier and, as a Jordanian, I am particularly proud of the tradition, status, and potential of the hospitality industry in the Middle East,” he says.
“When I talk about a vision for the future of the company, it is more a vision for how I intend Hilton to play a leading role in helping our industry to empower and enable the people and cultures of this region to thrive.”