By Ntombi Mhlongo
The government’s headache of finding an operator for the Five Star Hotel which is under construction at Ezulwini could finally be over.
For over three years, concerns have been raised that the project was a financial drain as it was taking long to be completed with the government not being able to find the much-needed operator.
However, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as the government has confirmed that it is in engagement with the world-renowned brand, the Hilton Group of Hotels to operate the hotel.
The hotel is being constructed together with the International Convention Centre (ICC), whose completion looks set to happen soon.
With the hotel, the implementation rate is estimated at 55 per cent and the main reason for the slow pace has been that the government was struggling to secure the operator.
In the past few months, there has been no activity at all in the hotel structure government, through the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, has been trying to secure the operator to give guidance on the look and feel of the finishes.
With the operator still not available, there is no budget allocation for the continuation of the construction for the current financial year yet interior works in the convention centre are progressing well.
The news of the Hilton Group being the targeted operator was revealed by the Minister of Economic Planning and Development Dr Tambo Gina in a report he tabled in Parliament on Wednesday.
The report was a response to questions posed by Members of Parliament (MPs) during the debate of the ministry’s annual performance report for the 2022/2023 financial year and budget estimates for 2023/2024.
The minister had been given 30 days by the MPs regarding efforts to secure an operator for the hotel.
Also, he had been asked to submit a detailed breakdown and budget estimates on the costs required to complete the entire project. In the report containing the response, the minister stated that the discussions are at an advanced stage with the Hilton Group and that input from other relevant government departments has also been sought.
“The plan is to finalize the agreement in the current financial year to enable the operator to prepare for the interior fit-out. With regards to the estimates for the cost to complete the projects, there are ongoing working sessions between the professional team and the contractor to agree and finalize the budget,” the minister said in the report.
He also stated that several items need to be reviewed before finalising the projected cost to completion. These, he said, include provisional amounts, specifications for finishes, materials and specifications for building services and others.
Furthermore, he assured that the target completion date for the projected cost to completion is by the end of May 2024. Meanwhile, the total estimated cost for the International Convention Centre (ICC) is E4 073 149 000 and FISH could be completed at a cost of E2 375 587 000.
This translates to a combined estimated total cost of E6 448 736 000.
Concerns have been raised that a lot of money was being spent on the project and that it was taking longer to complete.
Meanwhile, the Hilton brand is not a new thing in the Kingdom of Eswatini business sector as it made a landmark entry in 2019 by opening the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel in the capital city of Mbabane. The multi-million Emalangeni building was initiated by the Public Service Pension Fund, a parastatal under the Ministry of Public Service.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an economist said it will be very convenient for the Hilton Garden Inn to operate the five-star hotel.
“It is good that the Government of Eswatini has turned to the Hilton because this is a global brand that is positively perceived in the local market.
In terms of its profile, the Hilton (formerly known as Hilton Hotels) operates under the tag Hilton Hotels & Resorts which is a global brand of full-service hotels and resorts and the flagship brand of American multinational hospitality company Hilton.
According to Wikipedia, the original company was founded by Conrad Hilton. As of December 30, 2019, 584 Hilton Hotels & Resorts properties with 216,379 rooms in 94 countries and territories are located across six continents.
They include 61 properties that are owned or leased with 219,264 rooms, 272 that are managed with 119 612 rooms, and 251 that are franchised with 77 451 rooms.
In 2020, Fortune magazine ranked Hilton Hotels & Resorts at number one on their Fortune List of the Top 100 Companies to Work For in 2020 based on an employee survey of satisfaction. Hilton Hotels & Resorts is Hilton’s flagship brand and one of the largest hotel brands in the world.
The brand is targeted at both business and leisure travellers with locations in major city centres, near airports, convention centres, and popular vacation destinations around the world.