Hilton celebrates 50th year in Ethiopia.

Mulatu Teshome (PhD), former president of Ethiopia, waited outside the main hall of Hilton Addis to greet his successor, Sahle-Work Zewde, last Thursday. Together, joined by Claus Steiner, general manager of Hilton Addis, they made their way to the hall of the Hilton where the international franchise hotel was celebrating its 50th birthday in Addis Abeba.

The who’s who of the business, diplomatic and cultural community was invited. Everyone was in a party mood. The hall was illuminated with blue lighting. Sushi, salmon and cake were served and cocktails were ubiquitous. There was also a live performance featuring musicians such as Kuku Sebisibe and Chelina Yeshiwondim.

For the night, Hilton looked like an international hotel at the top of its game. Under the surface, the hotel has over the past two decades fared badly as competition, labour disputes and old age blighted the image of a once-fashionable hangout for the city’s well-to-do.

For almost three decades, until Sheraton Addis opened its doors in 1998, it was the only franchise in the country. Opened by Emperor Haile Selassie just six years after the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, which had its headquarters in Addis Abeba, and eight years after the Economic Commission for Africa (UN-ECA) moved into Africa Hall, the hotel was intended to cater to the growing international community the capital hosts.

But the hotel meant more to the generation raised under the Dergue's dreary economic conditions. Hilton Addis's 60,000Sqm compound represented a certain elegance and class to aspire to. But that was then.

The opening of several international franchises beginning in the late 1990s introduced competition the hotel was hard-pressed to overcome. Lack of renovations - mismatched furniture, worn carpets and leaking ceilings - led to a five-star rating falling to three by the Ministry of Culture & Tourism. In 2017, a dispute over salaries, benefits and promotions led to a fall out between management and staff.

With a distinguished past and a complicated present, the future of the hotel remains unclear. The hotel's contract with Hilton Worldwide, which gets 20pc of the profits, ends this year, though it could be renewed under the same contract or, as widely discussed, privatised.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 18,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1029]

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