Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta

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Christopher NassettaHilton Worldwide executives gathered in Chennai, India, last month for the opening of Hilton Hotels and Resorts' fourth property in the country. Contributor Ramsey Qubein talked with Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta about the company's expansion plans for India.

Q: Hilton Worldwide has announced ambitious growth plans throughout India in the coming five years. How many hotel agreements have been signed, and what is the exact growth pipeline?

A: The pace of growth is incredible, with both domestic and inbound travel growing rapidly. There are still very few branded hotel rooms compared to other markets, which represents a significant opportunity for Hilton Worldwide. Currently there are about 51,000 branded hotel rooms throughout the whole of India, which is roughly 8,500 fewer branded rooms than what's available in New York City.

In terms of development, currently we are focusing a significant amount of our efforts in the Asia-Pacific region overall, with 112 hotels and more than 32,900 rooms in the pipeline, and I foresee phenomenal opportunities for our company in India specifically. We will more than triple our presence in India over the next two years, from the four hotels we have open today to 14. Our pipeline currently includes approximately 20 hotels and nearly 3,700 rooms, many of which are already under construction. Ultimately, in the next five years, we plan to open more than 50 hotels in India, representing at least six of our brands.

Q: How will the Hilton brand play a part in your growth strategy in India?

A: Currently the Hilton brand has more than 126 properties under way, of which 57 are in the Asia-Pacific region.

We have opened three Hilton hotels in India since last February and have another 10 in the pipeline. Over the next two years we still anticipate that about half of the Indian properties we'll open will be Hilton hotels.

Q: Starwood, InterContinental Hotels Group and Marriott are also touting a hefty pipeline in India. How will Hilton fare with its competitors?

A: In terms of our presence in India, our goal is to be No. 1 among all of the globally branded hospitality companies within five years.

We have dedicated the last few years in India to establishing an operations infrastructure, opening a few hotels and building a strong development pipeline. We have also made the strategic decision to offer a flexible approach to potential owners and developers, either through a management agreement or franchise model. To support this, we've created a team in India that is equipped with deep local domain, industry knowledge and technical know-how as well as strong connections with reputable developers.

Q: Do you see a strong market for upscale and luxury brands like Waldorf Astoria and Conrad?

A: Currently the market in India is showing a strong need for focused-service, midmarket hotels, and we will be among the first to open such a hotel, Hampton by Hilton, in the country.

I also see great opportunities to introduce some of our other full-service and luxury brands to India. We will open our first DoubleTree by Hilton, one of our full-service brands, in the country soon. On the luxury side, we have plans to introduce our Conrad Hotels & Resorts brand in India, with properties in Bangalore and Mumbai expected to open in the next few years. We also see potential for our other premium luxury brand, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, but we are waiting to find the right location and the right partner.

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